Krakow Jewish festival sets stage for emotional reunion

When Rykarda Parasol took the stage at the Jewish Culture Festival on July 6 and 7 in Krakow, Poland, the singer wowed the crowd with her moody pop style (“Noir rock,” she calls it).

Her appearance especially touched one special guest in the crowd: Parasol’s father, Polish-born Jew Richard Parasol, who decades earlier survived the war because a brave Christian family hid him.

It was a poignant moment for the singer.

Said Parasol in a phone interview from Israel, “For a father who was against my being in music, he was able to see that while art and entertainment are somewhat of a luxury, art really does connect all of us.”

Rykarda Parasol performs at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow earlier this month.

Born in San Francisco and raised by her Polish-Israeli father and Swedish mother, Parasol embodies several conflicting traits — from tolerant Bay Area universalist to Parisian café-society girl.

There’s another one near the surface: daughter of a Holocaust survivor. That tragedy colored her upbringing and influences her art today.

“He was open to talking about [the Holocaust],” Parasol recalled of her upbringing. “I did some research on children of Holocaust survivors, and there are some similar traits between them and me: separation anxiety, feeling like you want to take on their pain.”

It was a lot of pain. After his family was forced into the Czestochowa ghetto and killed, Parasol’s father made it through the ghetto walls, taken in by a Catholic family that knew him. He was 6.

After the war, he made his way to Palestine, where he built a new life, serving in the army and becoming a proud Israeli. Years later, while studying engineering in San Francisco, he met his Swedish wife-to-be.

Remembered Parasol, “He told me had he met this big blond and he said if he were to have a child with this woman it would be Hitler’s worst nightmare.”

Fast-forward, and their artistically restless daughter wandered away from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, Texas and France, polishing her craft as a songwriter and performer.

The smoky-voiced singer has recorded two albums, with a third due this fall. She’s played South by Southwest in Austin and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco.

But Parasol spends most of her time in Paris and Poland, drawn there by the arts scene. She has a band in Warsaw, which backed her on stage in Krakow.

The irony of finding success in the same country where her forebears were murdered is not lost on her.

“There’s this strange irony,” she said. “Isn’t it great that someone can feel safe enough today to stand on stage as a Jew and for him to see it?”

She admits she feels a lingering undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Poland. During one concert there, a youth started giving her the “Heil Hitler” salute, and some of her Polish friends have advised her not to reveal her Jewish identity because she might “run into problems.”

“On the other hand,” she said, “I’ve been to a few Eastern European countries, and Poland is so progressive, with a stable economy, extremely current and with it.”

So for now, she’s sticking with Paris, where she spends most of her time, though she will be back in the Bay Area for spell later this year.

“I live inside the Hebrew ’hood,” she said of the Marais, Paris’ traditional Jewish area. “It’s mostly Ashkenazi bakeries and delicatessens. It’s nice for me to buy bread on Friday and say ‘Shabbat shalom.’ It makes me feel like I’m not such a stranger in a strange land.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.