Jonathan Ornstein

Chief Executive Officer, JCC Krakow

Since its opening in April 2008 by King Charles III, Jonathan has served as the
Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, Poland, an
organization devoted to rebuilding Jewish life in Krakow.The JCC boasts over
850 Jewish members, welcomes 10,000 visitors a month and is one of Poland’s
most visible signs of Jewish revival. He created Ride For The Living and
Holocaust Survivor Day, two global initiatives with tens of thousands of participants.

Prior to the JCC’s opening, he taught Modern Hebrew at Krakow’s Jagiellonian
University Department of Jewish Studies for 6 years and founded the “Gesher”
association for Polish-Israeli dialogue. A native of New York City, Jonathan
moved to Israel in 1994, living for 7 years on a kibbutz in the Negev desert and
served in a combat unit in the I.D.F. before moving to Poland in 2001.

He is a founding member of the Krakow Association of Christians and Jews
where he serves as vice president. He also serves on the boards of the Krakow
branch of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust organization, Hillel Poland, JCC
Global, and the Abraham Global Peace Initiative.

Jonathan, a primary architect of Poland’s contemporary Jewish rebirth, is a
frequent international speaker and media contributor on issues relating to
Jewish Poland, and an activist for Holocaust survivors.

Opinion | In Poland, a Grass-Roots Jewish Revival Endures


Even in the shadow of a new Polish law limiting talk about the Holocaust, Poland’s Jews have been buoyed by friendly acceptance from many non-Jews. […]

A day of their own: Holocaust Survivor Day – comment


Have we treated this heroic, aging community with the respect it deserves, with the support it urgently needs? On January 27th, 2020, in his speech during the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, 94-year-old Marian Turski, Poland’s best known living Holocaust survivor and – like many survivors in their own countries, states or cities – the moral conscience of Poland’s Jewish community, spoke these chilling words:“Auschwitz did not fall from the sky. It began with small forms of persecution of Jews. It happened; it means it can happen anywhere. That is why human rights and democratic constitutions must be defended. The eleventh commandment is important: Don’t be indifferent. Do not be indifferent when you see historical lies. Do not be indifferent when any minority is discriminated against. Do not be indifferent when power violates a social contract.” […]

LeMond, Holocaust survivors ride from Auschwitz to celebrate Jewish life


One survivor bikes the entire 55 mile journey (89 kilometers) from death camp to a Jewish cultural center in Krakow.
WARSAW, Poland  — Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, two Holocaust survivors and some 200 others took part in a symbolic ride from Auschwitz-Birkenau to a Jewish cultural center in Poland to support the renewal of Jewish life. The ride Friday began at the site of the former Nazi German death camp and ended at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, 55 miles (89 kilometers) away, site of a growing Jewish community. […]

Holocaust survivors should be recognized with special day, leaders say


Amid somber Holocaust Remembrance Day events, most still virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are calling for a separate, more upbeat holiday celebrating the resilience of survivors. While most Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, events emphasize remembering the dead and the calamity of the Holocaust, Jonathan Ornstein, executive director at the Jewish Community Center of Kraków, in Poland, says that more emphasis needs to be placed on the survivors and the resilience they have demonstrated in rebuilding their lives. […]

Losing It, Ep. 141: JCC Krakow director Jonathan Ornstein on rebuilding Jewish life in Poland


This week on Unorthodox, we have three special guests. Jonathan Ornstein is the executive director of the JCC Krakow, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. With more than 10,000 visitors a month, the JCC is at the center of a Jewish revival in Poland, that Ornstein, a New York native, is witnessing—and cultivating—firsthand. We also talk with Gabrielle Birkner and Rebecca Soffer of Modern Loss, a website that aims to make conversations about grief less fraught and awkward. Their bookModern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief, Beginners Welcome, was published this year. They share their personal stories of loss, tell us what never to send to someone in mourning, and explain how Jewish rituals surrounding loss can sometimes fall short. […]



Jonathan Ornstein has listened to countless retellings of this city’s ghastly past. The industrial killing. Death camps. The Holocaust. The Krakow ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp, an hour west of this Polish city, were the settings for horrific crimes against humanity. Few cities are as infamous for the level reached by the Nazi extermination machine as Krakow: Along its ghettoized city streets, thousands of Jews starved to death or were murdered during World War II. Approximately 70,000 Jews lived in the city before the Nazis invaded in September 1939; today there are thought to be fewer than a thousand. […]