The second full day in Krakow started out similarly to the first, or at least for me. Alarm clock goes off, wake up, turn off alarm clock, go back to bed. Let’s try that again, alarm clock goes, get up, take a shower, get dressed, brush hair and teeth, head down to breakfast. Pretty standard morning practices for most. It really wasn’t until we headed to the JCC that things got interesting.
The JCC is known as the Jewish Community Center, NOT the Jewish Cultural Center (this will mean more later on). We headed out at about 9am and made it by about 9:15am. I was surprised to find that the JCC wasn’t surprising! It really looked like the local YMCA. It was done in shades of white and green with posters of Jewish holidays and activities plastering the walls (or at least I assume that’s what the posters were for, mind you it was all in Polish). We were directed to a room to the right of the lobby where an enormous table was set up and at the end was a pile of various ingredients. There was chili powder, cream cheese, egg plants (ew), chick peas, chick peas, and more chick peas, as well as other things. Standing behind this mammoth mount of goods was a Polish lady named Maria who, in one sentence, brought joy to my heart. She told us that we were going to be cooking!
I’ll admit it, I like cooking and eating (mostly eating). So I was over the moon when I found out that we were going to make kosher, traditional Jewish dishes. She called on volunteers among which I was one (duh) and we were set to various tasks. She told us that we would be making kugel, baba ghanoush, and hummus. Both hummus and baba ghanoush are paste dishes made with lemon juice, garlic and a kind of paste, really the only thing different about them is that hummus is made from chick peas and baba ghanoush is made from eggplant. Kugel is a pasta cassrole-ish dish that comes in two main varieties, cinnamon, which is more of a dessert dish and potato, which is more of an accompaniment to a main course.
Melissa, Emma and I were set to the task of opening tubs of cream cheese and cream, and pouring them into a bowl. This was then stirred, noodles were added along with cinnamon and raisins, and then it was laid out in a pan to bake. The three of us were then allowed to sit down and Emily was sent up. Emily had the delightful task (note the sarcasm) of mashing chick peas. She had an electronic masher but with 4 cans of peas the process still took her a good 10 minutes before she was allowed to sit down. Maria then made quick work of adding the other odds and ends to the paste before passing out bread and letting us tuck into the yummy paste!
As we scarfed on some truly delicious food, Maria told us about being kosher. She told us that there are three main rules: no shell fish, no pork and no meat and milk in the same meal. There are other rules but those are the big three. She said that those rules, in a historical context, come from the 40 years the Jewish people spent in the desert after leaving Egypt. The rules came largely from a fear of catching illness from the foods. It was really interesting to me to hear historical background to the kosher rules. After that lesson we were finally able to eat the cinnamon kugel, which was AMAZING and then we moved onto our next activity, singing classic Yiddish songs.
I’d like to say that our combined musical talents were nearly that of a professionally trained choir, that our majestic voices brought tears to the eyes of those listening and that we were hailed as the best singing group ever. I’d like to say all those things but I should probably stick to the truth. We didn’t sound good. Yiddish songs sounded pitchy to me and seemed to ump around on the scale in no logical order. That combined with the foreign language made for a not-so-beautiful sound. We had fun, but we didn’t sound great.
After that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the real (mis)adventure starts. Post song workshop we were allowed a couple of hours to eat lunch and poke around the city before we had to return to hear a Scholar and Director of the JCC speak about the foundation and purpose of the JCC, along with history of Jewish Poles in post-WWII Poland. Kari and the group leaders set out in one direction and the rest of the students set out in another. One of the students (and I won’t name names) had the idea to walk to a café that we were told has amazing cakes and pastries. The problem with this was that no one really knew where this place was. We all followed the leader of our merry group for about a mile of wandering before five of us (Myself, Alex, Emma, Melissa and Brandon) decided to head back because this group was clearly lost and if we stuck with them we’d clearly be late to meet back at the JCC! Time for a little touch of irony, our band of 5 got lost. We didn’t just get a little lost though, we got hopelessly, mind-blowingly lost in Krakow, in Poland, in the cold, in the slushy snow runoff. It was, ughhhh, it was bad. Between the five of us we had a map, two cellphones and about a million pictures of the area and we still could not find our way!
We ended up asking, at final count, around 25 random Poles for directions. We asked pedestrians on the streets, we asked shop keepers, taxi drivers, good looking young men (which didn’t help since we spent our time ogling said men), women and even the police! We used a combination of English, French, Spanish, German and Polish in our efforts to get directions. The problem was that no one knew where the JCC was! They knew that there was a Jewish Cultural Center (thus the remark in the second paragraph) and sent us in that general direction, but they didn’t know about the Jewish Community Center. We got a number of seemingly helpful, yet totally useless directions like, “It’s just “around the corner” (which it never was), “Just take a left” (which ended in the middle of nowhere) and, my personal favorite, “Just turn at the white building” (What white building?! There never was a white building!!!). This drove us around in circles. We passed the same freakin’ church 5 times from different angles and ended up in the sketchiest alley I’ve ever been in. At one point we were in a dark, drippy, stinky alley in the middle of nowhere when we heard what sounded like Kujo’s big brother bark at us and come racing towards us. Needless to say, we ran.
In the end using the combined efforts of team work, map reading, orienteering, language skills and swearing in at least 4 languages we made it back to the JCC and only 40 minutes late! Yay! It may seem like a small accomplishment to others, especially those who arrived on time, but to us this accomplishment was on par with Frodo successfully destroying the Ring of Power in Lord of the Rings. We felt like heroes, warriors, brave explorers, and Masters of the misadventure. As we sat down to listen to the JCC Director, who was fascinating by the way, I think the 5 of us reflected on what we had accomplished. We had worked together as a team, a real team, and formed bonds with each other based on a story that no one else can share. I think in the moments following our misadventure we all realized that our nightmarish journey really brought us closer together as friends. Like Sam and Frodo from Lord of the Rings! Heh!
That evening we were exhausted from our peril filled trek through the city. We had an arranged dinner at a restaurant that was according to Kari, “Just around the corner” and so we started our trek once again. It was only about 10 minutes in to the trek that we all realized that we were lost and that not even the leaders knew where this place was. The five of us from the earlier trek looked at each other and burst out laughing. We took out our maps and phones and started working on getting us un-lost. It was time for another misadventure and this time, we were prepared.