How to teach Jewish spirituality and history? Report from the 2021 JHI Winter Academy

Written by: JHI Education Team
On 11-12th December 2021 we hosted another edition of the Jewish Historical Institute Winter Academy. This time we focused on a new subject – Jewish spirituality. Read the report from the event.
Akademia Zimowa ŻIH 2021, zdj. Hleb Burnashev (ŻIH) (5).jpg

A walk around the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street. Photo by Hleb Burnashev (JHI)


For many of the participants this day started much before sunrise, some even travelled 500 km by train or car to get to Warsaw on a cold December morning.

Anna Błaszczyk and Bogumiła Kółkiewicz from Warsaw are among those who took part in the training for the first time. This is how they motivate their participation:

I’m a teacher at the beginning of my professional career. Such projects are a chance to enrich your workshop and learn from more experienced educators.

– Anna Błaszczyk, teacher of history and citizenship education

This is my second year of working in a high school. With final year students we are reading excerpts from the Ringelblum Archive, during lessons we are discussing stereotypical images of Jews in Polish literature, the canon of reading, and about antisemitism established in culture.

– Bogumiła Kółkiewicz, Polish teacher from the Józef Sowiński high school in Warsaw

Photos by Hleb Burnashev, Bartosz Borys (JHI)


Not only teachers can take part in our trainings. A former teacher, and today the director of a cultural center, appreciates inviting people from small towns:

It is very good that the JHI invites teachers from smaller towns, working in schools distant from academic centers. Thanks to this, they have the opportunity to learn about new educational tools, which are highly useful in finding different ways to reach students and get them interested in various topics.

– Łukasz Parus, director of the Municipal and Communal Cultural Centre in Zagórów

The Winter Academy 2021 started with an integration workshop lead by Dr. Agnieszka Witkowska-Krych. The teachers’ task was to select three photos and with their help, explain their dreams and plans for the next year. Next, Dr. Bartosz Borys, head of the Education Department, discussed the educational offer the Jewish Historical Institute provides, which includes, among others, workshops, walks, and projects co-created with Polish and foreign institutions.

I think that the presentation of the educational offer, digital collections, available at your fingertips, is an invaluable opportunity for students and teachers to learn about Jewish cultural heritage. I consider this to be the most important benefit of participating in the Academy. We can see how many tools and materials can be used in schools to achieve educational goals, that each teacher of Polish or history faces.

– Bogumiła Kółkiewicz

Dr. Paweł Fijałkowski, for many years a researcher of religious traditions of Polish Jews, introduced the topic of Jewish spirituality to the participants, explaining the various trends and complex divisions within Judaism and presenting the struggle between Misnagdim and Hasidim. It turned out that ritual slaughter knives played an important role in this dispute. The exhibition “Hidden Image. The Vilna Gaon” was presented by its curator – Marta Kapełuś, who discussed unknown threads from the biography of the most secretive leader of rabbinic Judaism and explained why the opponent of the Hasidim was called “the true Hasid”. At the end, Dr. hab. Jan Doktór, a specialist in the field of Jewish spirituality and mysticism, talked about the beginnings of Hasidism in Poland. We learned that Polish Hasidism had roots in the medieval Rhineland, and the semi-legendary figure of Baal Shem Tov was related to the Khmelnytsky uprising.

The second day of the Winter Academy started in front of the gates to the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street – a place within which time has stopped, and where it’s possible to touch on the past of Jews from Warsaw. The walk around the necropolis was led by Olga Szymańska.

The walk around the Jewish cemetery was especially important to me, as not only it is a burial place, but also a witness of history. Particularly on a cold morning, the cemetery makes you reflect on people and the world which is no more.

– Ewa Mieszczyńska, history and citizenship education teacher from Olsztyn

Jewish Historical Institute director Monika Krawczyk began the teaching session with a lecture on Unveiling Jewish Spirituality in the Republic of Poland. Talking about the traditions of Sephardic Jews, the director took us on a journey to Israel in biblical times, then to the countries of Ashkenaz and Polin, and from there further east, to Podolia, where Polish Hasidism was born. The lecture also covered the triad of great tragedies of the Jewish people, ranging from the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, through expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, to World War II.

The second exhibition that the participants of the Winter Academy had an opportunity to see was “Little Synagogue on Tłomackie Street”. This was presented by its curator and head of the Art Department – Michał Krasicki. About how to use the Delet platform for educational purposes in schools spoke the head of the Digitization Department, Krzysztof Czajka-Kalinowski.

The Winter Academy 2021 ended with a ceremonial presentation of diplomas and a photo session. The participants hope for further meetings, as well as mutual support in the opening of new projects.


It was interesting to visit the synagogue, as was the conversation regarding its implements and importance in the life of religious Jewish communities. The lecture on religious diversity drew attention to interesting facts about individual members of the Jewish community. I also liked the classes concerning the Delet platform, which were conducted with a sense of humour, yet at the same time were substantive.

– Ewa Mieszczyńska


I think about conducting Polish lessons with the help of JHI photos that show pre-war life. Lessons with photographs are attractive for learners, and in the case of photos showing the Jewish world, which has almost disappeared from our common space, I see their enormous potential to awaken reflection in students and spread curiosity about Jewish and Polish-Jewish topics.

– Bogumiła Kółkiewicz


Every visit to the JHI, especially for seminars, is an added value and very inspiring. We can listen to lectures, and see places and exhibitions that are key to preserving the memory of Polish Jews. We have a chance to meet academics, educators, and teachers, whose actions and reflections stimulate the broadening of knowledge and encourage effort in various educational fields.

– Łukasz Parus

JHI Education Team