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32nd Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków | the air

It’s no coincidence that the four basic elements that we and our world are made of – the earth, fire, water and air – arise at the very beginning of the Tanakh, which is the Hebrew Bible.

Discussing their presence and their driving force in the broadly understood Jewish culture, (thus not limited only to the Ashkenazi cultural area), we reached the fourth and the last of the elements – the air.

Three core meanings fit within the word “air”, which in the Tanakh, has the form of RUAH:
1. SPIRIT (Holy Spirit ) – Ruah Elohim (Judg. 6:34; 1 Sam. 16:14; 1 Kgs. 18:12)
2. BREATH, THE BREATH OF LIFE (cf. Ezek. 37: 5, Job 12:10 )
3. WIND (Exod. 10:13 Num. 11:31 )

RUAH appears in the Tanakh for almost 400 times. With a metaphor, one may say that Ruah fills the entire Tanakh, as Ruah is this invisible “white fire”, whilst the Torah was written on the black fire. And so far as the Torah is compared to the element of water – this is the source of life for every religious Jew, pouring with a pure stream into their heart and mind – Ruah is the breath of life for each word, the center of the spirit, inner energy of life, space for freedom, both between the living letters of the Torah and between people. It is solely up to us, up to our will, either tainted with hatred or full of compassion, what we do with our common air which we breathe together, equally, “in a twin manner”, irrespectively of the place, religion, politics or race. Sooner or later, each of us will breathe their last breath, so isn’t it worthwhile to care for the purity of our relations beforehand? Let us forget about the unattainable “love of thy neighbor”: mutual respect; live/breathe and let live/breathe is enough.

That is why, when creating the Festival, we search for the common values in the Jewish world, a connecting element, a bond for our separate characteristics and personalities. Most apparently, such values do exist, since, for the 35 years of the Festival’s history, it is easier for us to breathe within the space of the mutually respected values.

The believers will find consolation, for example in Psalm 104: When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104; 29-20, New International Version).

When looking for this “common element”, which contains all the three basic meanings of the word RUAH – Spirit, Breath, Wind and which, as a Jewish “sign” is legible for (almost) everyone, this year we refer to the notion /instrument, whose sound – because of the awareness of the breath – expresses both Ruah Elohim, Divine Presence, and our human presence, as much flawed as invaluable, whereas, owing to the air/wind it reaches and penetrates the most remote corners of the human spirit and their world.

This word /image / instrument is SHOFAR.

Similarly as a shofar, the JCF jest is the instrument of our mind. It gets life from breath, spirit and wind.

The Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow praises Israel: both the biblical and contemporary one. As much as our knowledge, skills and possibilities permit, it is a small, and yet common space in which Israel meets Diaspora, making the Jewish universe complete.

Our self-awareness, the strength and depth of the breath, the ability of spiritual attunement, like undisturbed intentions determine the power and purity of the sounds which we have been sending to the world already for 35 years. Likewise, the air of the entire Israel, gives the life to the sound to the likeness of the spirit which gives the life to the body.

Janusz Makuch

founder and director
of the Jewish Culture Festival