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Reszke RubenfeldBy MYRON LOVE
Ever since she was 15, Katka Reszke had a feeling that she was Jewish.

“Like many others in Poland today, I just had this hunch that I had Jewish roots,” says the now American-based writer, documentary filmmaker, photographer, performer, and researcher who will be one of the presenters at Limmud Winnipeg 2018 on the weekend of March 10-11.  “But it took 15 to 20 years before my parents confirmed our Jewish heritage.”
 The truth came out in dribs and drabs, she recalls.  To her surprise, she found out first that her father’s family had Jewish antecedents.  On her mother’s side, the fact of Jewish forebears remained a closely held secret for several more years.
 Her story of hidden Jewish family identity – and the stories of others in Poland who have rediscovered their Jewish heritage – will be the basis of her presentation at Limmud on Sunday, March 11 at 11:30.  The presentation is titled “Return of the Jew and the Meshugene Effect” - the latter also being the title of her most recent book and experimental documentary film.
The documentary features “personal narratives of several Polish women, who embark on a pursuit of Jewish identity following an irrational feeling, a hunch about having Jewish ancestry,” she explains. “The project explores cultural and discursive contingencies surrounding religion, gender and authenticity and how they affect the way we make sense of experiences of memory and transition.”
She previously published (in 2013) “Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland”. She has also made two other documentaries – “Coming Out Polish Style” in 2011 – and “Shimon’s Returns” in 2014.
 Reszke (who is originally from Wroclaw in western Poland) notes that when she chose to identify as Jewish, her family didn’t raise any objections and her friends regarded the decision as little more than a curiosity.  She became active in Poland’s growing Jewish community.  She eventually went to Israel and earned a Doctorate in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
 She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, as well as a Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.
What brings her to Winnipeg for Limmud is not only her own presentation, but also her collaboration with former Winnipegger Michael Rubenfeld as co-creators of “We Keep Coming Back”, the next Winnjpeg Jewish Theatre production. The WJT will be presenting the play from March 6-11 – with the final show as part of Limmud on the Saturday evening.
“We Keep Coming Back” is the story of a mother and son, descendants of Polish Holocaust survivors, who decide to return to Poland in the hopes of finding their lost identity and reconnecting with each other. However their quest takes an unexpected turn when they discover a vibrant contemporary world of Jewish life in Poland.  In addition to Rubenfeld and Reszke, the cast includes Rubenfeld’s real-life mother, former Winnipegger Mary Berchard.
Like Reszke, Rubenfeld has had an interesting life’s journey. After some early struggles, he discovered a love of theatre.  He has become a prolific performer and playwright who has worked throughout North America and Europe. He served as Artistic Producer of the SummerWorks Performance Festival from 2008 - 2016, where he helped present and produce over 300 new productions. Last year, in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts, he initiated a new venue called CanadaHub at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, bringing six projects from across Canada – and he co-founded a new alternative Jewish Art Festival in Krakow, called Festivalt - a multi-arts program with a focus on investigating the complex contemporary Polish-Jewish landscape.
While Rubenfeld was already exploring his Polish Jewish roots, it was his wife, Magda, who opened his eyes to the extent of the Polish Jewish revival.  The couple met at a Limmud program in Montreal in 2012.  Rubenfeld was speaking about his documentary theatre piece about his Polish family roots while Magda was talking about the revival of Jewish life in Poland.  (She was one of the founders of Poland’s first Progressive – akin to Reform – congregation.)
The couple were married three years ago in Krakow in what was the first Jewish wedding in the city since the war.  Michael and Magda now divide their time between Warsaw and Toronto.
At Limmud, Rubenfeld will be talking about his return in his Polish roots in addition to his role in “We Keep Coming Back”.

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