Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Polish Fashion Entrepreneur Makes Being Jewish Sexy

January 30, 2014

This article was originally published in The Times of Israel.


In Poland it used to be that you didn’t wear your Jewish identity on your sleeve. But things have changed. Today, thanks to Jewish sartorial entrepreneur Antonina Samecka, the country’s most fashion forward citizens — Jews and non-Jews alike — are wearing Hebrew words and Jewish symbols not only on their sleeves, but also on their fronts, backs and heads

Samecka and her business and creative partner Klara Kowtun (who is not Jewish) are the owners of RISK Made in Warsaw, a fast-growing fashion brand with a unique concept. RISK’s designs, all made of grey sweatshirt fleece material, may be inspired by hoodies worn to the gym, but the company’s tailored garments (blazers, dresses, coats, and most surprisingly, ball gowns and tuxedos) are stylish enough to wear either to work or out for an evening.

“We combine flattering tailoring with comfortable fabric, and we design for regular people with different body types,” Samecka, 30, tells The Times of Israel. “We’ve created new classics that don’t make you feel overdressed. You look better when you are comfortable.”

RISK manufactures all its products in Poland and has a number of different lines: men, women, children, maternity and pets. There’s also one called RISK OY that creatively incorporates Jewish and Israeli symbols, like the Star of David and the Hamsa, as well as words like Oy, Chutzpah, Shalom and Israel.

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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Confronting The Past

November 25, 2013

This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Report.

Actor Maciej Stuhr in "Aftermath." (Courtesy of Menemsha Films)

Actor Maciej Stuhr in “Aftermath.” (Courtesy of Menemsha Films)

Polish producer Dariusz Jabłoński compares the 2012 release in his country of his feature film, “Pokłosie” (“Aftermath”), to drilling for gas.

The film, a gothic thriller written and directed by Wladysław Pasikowski, and now playing in New York, tells the story of two brothers who discover in the early 2000s that neighbors in their rural village had been involved in massacring approximately 100 of their Jewish neighbors during World War II. Worse yet, the brothers learn that their own parents were leaders of the assault, and that they, like the others in the village, stole the murdered Jews’ land.

Although there is no explicit mention of it in the film, it is widely believed that the plot is based on the July 1941 beating to death and burning alive of almost all the Jewish inhabitants of Jedwabne, Poland, a village located some 130 kilometers northeast of Warsaw. The pogrom was long blamed on the occupying Germans, until the publication in 2001 of “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” a book by Princeton historian Jan T. Gross. Gross provided evidence that Jedwabne’s several hundred Jewish residents were, in fact, murdered by their Christian Polish neighbors, and not by the Nazis.

“You dig in to the ground looking for gas, you go through layers, and the gas eruption brings everything – both positive and negative – to the surface,” Jabłoński tells The Jerusalem Report. “What happened with “Aftermath” is that the explosion was bigger than we thought.”

Indeed, with the release of the film, the filmmakers were engulfed in controversy. Polish nationalists accused them of producing anti-Polish propaganda and distorting a sensitive aspect of Polish history; lead actor Maciej Stuhr received death threats; and some local cinemas banned the film.

On the other hand, a number of prominent individuals publicly praised the Polish-Dutch-Slovak-Russian production. Polish Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski reportedly said, “I admire the courage in taking up such a difficult theme and analyzing, in a cinematic form, a dramatic episode in Poland’s history.” And veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda was quoted as saying, “I am very happy that such a film was made in Poland.”

In addition, “Aftermath” won the Journalists’ Prize and special jury recognition at the 2012 Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s most important movie industry event.

However, the fact that the film provoked such a virulently negative and defensive reaction among some sectors of Polish society points to the country’s ongoing process of facing and dealing with its wartime past.

The rest of this article can be read in the December 16, 2013 issue of The Jerusalem Report. It is currently unavailable online.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

New Fantasy Novel Draws On That Old Jewish Black Magic

October 6, 2013

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Jewish author Helene Wecker drew inspiration for 'The Golem and The Jinni' from her marriage to her Arab American husband. (photo credit: Sheldon Wecker)

Jewish author Helene Wecker drew inspiration for ‘The Golem and The Jinni’ from her marriage to her Arab American husband. (photo credit: Sheldon Wecker)

As far as getting a first novel published, Helene Wecker’s experience was almost a fairytale. With only one published short story to her name, she looked up an agent she once met years ago when she was in graduate school. The agent agreed to take her on, and within a short time, her imaginative work of folklore and fantasy sold at auction. It was as though some of the magic in Wecker’s book had rubbed off on her.

“I feel incredibly lucky. I really jumped over the paying my dues part,” Wecker tells The Times of Israel by phone from her home near San Francisco. Her debut, “The Golem and The Jinni,” a fast-paced adventure set in turn of the 20th century New York, may have taken Wecker seven years off and on to write, but it didn’t take long for it to gain positive reviews upon its publication last April.

Critics and the reading public alike have been captivated by Wecker’s creative narrative, which has two supernatural creatures from different historical eras and parts of the world arriving separately (the Golem by ship and the Jinni by copper flask) in New York in 1899. Eventually, the Golem from 19th century Poland and the Jinni from Ancient Syria accidentally meet one another. They bond and then separate after a terrifying incident, only to later reunite to fight a power bent on destroying them both.

While readers may be familiar with the mythic Golem of Jewish lore, a clay figure brought to life by Kabbalistic charms, it is unlikely they have ever encountered one quite like the one in this novel. This is because the Golem conjured by Wecker’s imagination is female, and her name is Chava.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.