Archive for December, 2003

A Double Success of Composer & Performer Alike: La Straniera of Opera Circle

Monday, December 1st, 2003

I shall refer to antiquity, as many a writer thus open their thoughts. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle reflected on the capacity of music to soothe the senses, & certain forms thereof to cleanse the soul. He could not have possibly known the musical output of Bellini, since the latter lived in the 19th century. I suspect, however, the Greek philosopher had in mind precisely the sort of music Vincenzo left behind—full of endless beauty, faithful to the texts, rich in melodic lyricism, introduced to the ear gently, without disturbance.

Vincenzo Bellini, beloved composer of Dorota Sobieska & Jacek Sobieski, has for the fifth time appeared in the repertoire of Opera Circle. From premiere to premiere he grows more and more beautiful. Norma, glorious and musically exquisite, was succeeded by La Straniera, equally beautiful, perhaps more accessible, as if ornamented by motives of folklore, compositionally simple but incredibly effective. The three performances of La Straniera proved a grand success of Opera Circle. In particular, that of November 20, 2003, at Grace Lutheran Church, will make its mark in history. Nothing short of a revolution, the response of a full house was far beyond enthusiastic, better characterized by excruciatingly lengthy ovations and yelling: “Bravo! bravo!”

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Polish Neighborhoods

Monday, December 1st, 2003

Many readers of the Forum are familiar with the story of Cleveland Poles. Polish immigrants came to the United States, settled in neighborhoods near others from their homeland, worked in the mills and factories, and built institutions to serve their community, many of which are still around today. But most of us today talk about living, working, and shopping in Slavic Village, not Warszawa, Poznań, Kraków, Jackowo, Kantowo, and Barbarowo, the names Poles gave the neighborhoods in Cleveland where they made their homes and started to learn about America.
Most Poles came to Cleveland during the period of peak immigration from the late nineteenth century to 1924, when the government imposed immigration quotas. Those arriving in Cleveland were attracted by the possibility of work in the mills, especially the Cleveland Rolling Mill. St. Stanislaus was built in 1881 to serve the Poles that had begun to form a community, Warszawa, around the intersection of Fleet and what is now 65th Street. The parish of St. Casimir was founded in 1893 to serve Poles from Prussian Poland who had settled elsewhere, near East 79th Street and Superior Avenue, the neighborhood known as Poznań. Poles from other areas, especially Galicia, eventually moved to this neighborhood as well. The next area to attract Poles was in Tremont and came to be known as Kantowo, after the Polish parish of St. John Cantius. There Poles lived among other Central and East Europeans, especially Ukrainians. Poles also found themselves among Rusyns and Slovaks in Lakewood, where they had migrated to work for the National Carbon Company. Two other neighborhoods closer to Warszawa also emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kraków was located at Harvard and Ottawa near the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. Jackowo, near 65th and Francis, took its name from the parish of St. Hyacinth (Jacek in Polish), established by St. Stanislaus parishioners who desired a place of worship closer to their home and work. Polish workers living near Denison also established their own community, Barbarowo, around St. Barbara’s parish.
The names of the neighborhoods are only the most obvious link between the immigrants’ old world and the new. They reflect the geography of the immigrants’ home, work, and spiritual life and divisions within the Polish community in Europe, divisions that hindered any unified development of the Polish community in the United States. Cleveland Poles belonged to several different national organizations and socialist groups. Socialist activity was strongest among Poles in Kantowo, and socialist groups in Cleveland often split according to changes within the Polish socialist movement in the United States. Cleveland Poles also joined national ethnic organizations such as the Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish National Alliance (PNA). When the PNA decided to accept socialists as members of their group at their 1895 conference in Cleveland, a group of Polish leaders in Cleveland formed the Alliance of Poles of Ohio (APO). The APO eventually became a national Polish-American organization.
The most significant division in Cleveland involved Rev. Antoni Kołaszewski, the parish priest instrumental in building St. Stanislaus. Financial problems arising from the construction of the church, however, resulted in Kołaszewski’s transfer to Syracuse, New York, in 1892. When Kołaszewski returned in 1894, St. Stanislaus parishioners loyal to him broke away from their parish and founded the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish on Lansing. The split among parishioners stemmed in part from a conflict between the American bishops and Kołaszewski as a Polish Catholic leader. Kołaszewski was actually excommunicated as a result of the scandal. The conflict was later resolved, however, and Immaculate Heart became part of the Catholic diocese in Cleveland.

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Future articles in the Forum will address specific aspects of Polish-American history in Cleveland. Readers wishing to learn more can turn to several sources. The Cleveland Memory Project of Cleveland State University (www.clevelandmemory.org) includes the E-book Polish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland by Alice Boberg, John J. Grabowski, Ralph Wroblewski, and Judith Zielinski-Zak. The Polish historian Adam Walaszek has written extensively about Poles in Cleveland, and an essay of his, “Polish Americans”, proved especially helpful in writing this article. It is included in a new book published by the Western Reserve Historical Society, Identity, Conflict, and Cooperation: Central Europeans in Cleveland, 1850-1930 (edited by David C. Hammack, Diane L. Grabowski, and John J. Grabowski).

Sean Martin

Forum, 12/2003

FREE OF CHARGE

Monday, December 1st, 2003

Is it possible to receive health care in the United States for free? The easy answer to that question would be: no. Those who have health insurance thanks to their employer are fortunate. It’s also possible to buy insurance, but this can cost several hundred dollars per month.
In the 1980s there arose the romantic ideal among some young people to organize a health service for those who could not afford to pay. Because of such thinking, the Free Clinic was born, offering outpatient care to those most in need. Cleveland’s Free Clinic is located at 12201 Euclid Avenue, not far from Case Western Reserve University.
How does it work? Through a system of volunteers. The Free Clinic has a full-time staff of around fifty, but ten times as many volunteers. Among the volunteers are doctors, therapists, dentists, students, and retirees.
Who can benefit from this free health care? Individuals who can come to the clinic on their own and whose lives are not in immediate danger. (In life-threatening situations, one should always call 911). People come to the clinic with many different problems, including digestive problems, minor injuries, and venereal disease. Many people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, come to the clinic, seeking help with medical tests and free medicine. In addition to clinical care, the Free Clinic also offers mental health counseling and recovery programs. It’s also possible to have a tooth pulled, take an HIV test anonymously, or simply get free medical advice about living a healthy lifestyle.
The Free Clinic and the Polish-American Cultural Center have are encouraging Polish doctors to volunteer one evening a week at the Free Clinic so that they will be available for Polish-speaking clients who have no other way to receive health care. We hope that this suggestion will meet with a positive response and that many people in need will be able to access health care, for free and in Polish.

Ryszard Romaniuk

Forum, 12/2003

Christmas Traditions and Customs

Monday, December 1st, 2003

As Advent a time of peace and introspection comes to an end, the joyous celebration of Christmas, the most family centered Polish holiday begins.
The earliest recorded descriptions of Christmas celebrations date back to the 3d Century.  By the beginning of the 4th Century, the Church had designated the time near the winter solstice, December 24 – 25, as the date of the birth of Christ.  For Poles, Christmas is associated with many customs and traditions which have over the centuries, enriched and embellished this very special holiday, known for its beauty, joy and warmth.
The day before Christmas has a very special meaning for Polish families and its observance first became a custom in Poland in the 18th Century.  By the 20th Century it was an established tradition, widely celebrated and revered as a very important and sacred day.  The most important part of the day is the Christmas Eve supper.  The renown Polish writer, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz living in the years 1757 – 1841, recorded in his memoirs : “Christmas Eve dinner was celebrated in the same way all over Poland; three kinds of soup were served along with kutia (a dish of cooked wheat or rice or porridge, mixed with poppy seed, honey and sweetened fruits and nuts), beets shredded with horseradish, a fish such as cod or carp and  poppy seed and honey cakes. Under the tablecloth, the table was covered in hay and in each corner of the dining room stood haystacks”. The family sat down to supper, as is the custom to this day, only after the first star appeared in the sky. The supper began with prayers and the breaking and sharing of a wafer called “Oplatek”, which is a symbol of peace, love and unity. According to the old tradition in sharing the wafer with our families and friends, we forgive each other for our transgressions. We break in ourselves, that which is so difficult to break off within one’s self – pride, anger and hatred.
This wafer is a symbolic food which strengthens the bonds of love.  It brings forth a deeper religious and holiday spirit into our hearts and homes.
On Christmas Eve no one should feel left alone or forgotten, and thus it is a custom to invite those who live alone to join the family. An extra place is always set at the Christmas Eve supper table for the unexpected guest. Christmas Eve is the most beautiful holiday of the year because into the magic of this night, are woven the family, religious and national traditions of Poles. This is the evening where the Polish spirit is united with its deep religious beliefs and love of country.
Today it would be difficult to imagine Christmas without a tree, but the Christmas tree was unknown in old time Poland. It was a custom which first came from Germany in the 18th Century. According to legend, Martin Luther, one wintry, starry, December night noticed a small pine tree bathed by the light of the moon. Enchanted by this vision, he had the tree cut down the next day and put into his home where it was decorated and could be enjoyed by all. Christmas trees were at first, decorated with handmade decorations; then dried fruits, cookies, cakes and multicolored candles became the custom. In recent times, manufactured baubles and electric lighting have replaced old time hand-made decorations, sweets and candles.
A most pleasant custom of the Polish Christmas Eve is the exchanging of gifts. This is an old custom going back to ancient times. Gifts which family members prepared for one another as well as those received from and given to friends and neighbors soon found their way to ‘under the Christmas tree’. Today, presents under the tree signify ties not only to family members, but to friends and acquaintances. It is a way of expressing thoughtfulness and caring about one another.
Midnight Mass is a large part of the Christmas Eve celebration as well. “Pasterka” as the midnight mass is known, is a holy Mass held at midnight in remembrance of the shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. The Mass became a custom among Poles during the times of the Polish Congressional Kingdom (beginning in the 19th Century).  It became so firmly rooted in Poland’s traditions, that even during the Occupation of WW II when curfews forbade anyone to be about at night, midnight masses were regularly observed and attended.
Once again this Christmas Eve, we will hear the ringing of church bells calling the faithful to midnight mass. This year as every year, where the Polish language is spoken and Polish hearts beat, Polish Christmas carols will once again be heard.  Although there is no Catholic nation on earth that does not have its own Christmas songs, none are so rich in text, melody and emotion as Polish Christmas carols. They come from the depths of the Polish peoples’ hearts and spirits, and are filled with reverence, faith in and love of God and country. They are a national and religious treasure – something that belongs to every Pole. Let us sing them in our churches and in our homes!
Let us keep our Polish Christmas traditions alive for they have grown out of our faith. They are such a large part of a culture that has created entire generations of Poles. Let us not deny these exciting emotions and warm memories that we ourselves experienced as children to our children and grandchildren. Let us never forget that from the spirit of hope, faith and love arise all things true, beautiful and  good .

Wanda Bartosiewicz
Translated  by Zofia Wiœniewski

Forum, 12/2003