The Wolf Popper Synagogue, dubbed “the Stork Synagogue”, used to be one of the most splendid houses of prayer in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. At present, Popper Synagogue serves as a youth community centre with a strong emphasis on programmes and workshops exploring the coexistence of Polish and Jewish cultures.
The synagogue was founded by Wolf “The Stork” Popper (he was nicknamed “the stork” for his habit of standing on one leg when lost in deep thought) in early 17th century. The synagogue, featuring porches, annexes, Aron Kodesh, rich furniture and decorations, went into a decline not long after the passing of its founder and chief benefactor.
Wolf Popper financed the construction towards the end of his life. Popper made his fortune in large-scale international trade in cloth and saltpetre (main ingredient in the making of gunpowder), and eventually, became Kazimierz’s richest banker with the fortune reaching 200,000 zloty, which also made him one of the richest men in Europe. The Popper family lost much of its wealth following Wolf Popper’s death, mainly due to historical wars, local epidemics, fires, and costly tributes of allegiance. The synagogue never again enjoyed the wealth of its original sponsor who could prevent its slow but unrelenting decline. The rich interior was utterly destroyed by the Germans during World War II. The synagogue ceased to function as a house of prayer after the Holocaust. Its arabesque doors were moved to the Wolfson Museum in Jerusalem. In 1965 the Jewish Council handed over the building to the communist authorities. In the ensuing renovation most traces of its previous religious role were erased and the Old Town Youth Cultural Centre (YCC) was established in its place.
At present, the centre is a vibrant and busy place with long-running programmes, educational activities, an art studio, and classes in Jewish dance. The YCC Study Workshop on Jewish History and Culture is an initiative that began in 1995 as the first of its kind in Poland.
Art classes are designed to widen the students’ knowledge of symbolism and artistic motifs in Jewish art. An annual competition in art and photography is held there, as well as lectures on Jewish Kazimierz and the Holocaust, and series of film showings.