A television program called “Shalom” seems to be having much success here in changing the popular image of Israel as a country perpetually engulfed in war and ethnic strife.
Intended to be informative as well as entertaining, the weekly series that began broadcasting in April is one of several new ventures aimed at spreading Jewish culture and information about Israel in Poland, a country with a singularly small Jewish population since the end of World War II.
The show was made possible by the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel in February.
“We go on the air Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. and run for about 40 minutes,” said Michal Nekanda-Trepka, Shalom’s creator and producer, who is not Jewish.
The program is a mixture of talk show, explanatory narration and films about Israel, mainly provided by the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw. It is seen all over Poland and in Vilnius, capital of the breakaway Soviet republic of Lithuania.
“The show is an absolute shock for the Polish people,” Nekanda-Trepka said. “The usual image of Israel seen on TV is one of war, repression, Palestinian uprising, etc. What our program does is to give information about Israel as a normal country.”
According to Nekanda-Trepka, response to the show has been good. “Viewer ratings are high. We started at 18 percent, and now we have received many interesting letters from viewers, very good letters, not bad ones,” he said.
Other initiatives aimed at fostering good relations with Jews and Israel include the Polish-Israel Friendship Society, which is headquartered in Warsaw and has some 10 branches all over the country, and a Jewish kindergarten that opened in February.
The kindergarten has only a half-dozen children enrolled, but enthusiasm is high.
In the northeastern Polish city of Bialystok, a major Jewish center before the war, researcher Tomasz Wisniewski hopes to take advantage of the new private enterprise laws to start a business selling postcards with Jewish themes only.
In Krakow, the Hadar gallery, devoted exclusively to Jewish artists or Jewish themes, opened in September 1989 just off the old Market Square. It is the first gallery of its kind in Poland.