SIMON YAFFE goes back in time to search for a town's rich Jewish past. In Bobowa, known as Bobov to Jews around the world, he witnesses the re-creation of a chassidic wedding from the 1920s outside the Old Synagogue
IT was a truly powerful moment.They came from all over their town to see something which had disappeared long ago.
But the people of Bobowa, in southern Poland, were fascinated by the ancient customs.
They were there to watch the re-creation of a chassidic wedding from the 1920s outside the town's Old Synagogue.
Only, there are no Jews left in Bobowa - known as Bobov to Jews around the world.
The last ones had been sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis in 1943.
However, before the Holocaust the town was home to a yeshiva and was a notable centre of chassidism, which was created and led by the tzadik of the Bobov dynasty.
After the war, Grand Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam re-established the Bobov dynasty in America.
He was the son of Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam, who was killed in the Holocaust.
Initially based in Brooklyn's Borough Park, it now has branches in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Miami, Montreal, Antwerp and Israel, among others.
The Jewish wedding re-creation was the idea of Adam Bartosz, from the Tarnow Museum, who organised it together with Bobowa Council.
Adam, who is non-Jewish and an expert in the Jewish history of Poland, has written books on the subject.
It was part of a weekend of events, which began on Saturday evening with a performance in the market square, entitled Jak cadyk z Bobowej córke wydawal (the Tzadik from Bobowa performs the marriage ceremony of his daughter).
A documentary, Z Bobowej do Nowego Jork (From Bobowa to New York), was also screened and a memorial plaque was unveiled in front of the last remaining original Jewish house in Bobowa.
Traces of a cover used during Succot can still be seen on the roof.
The main event of the weekend - the wedding ceremony - took place on Sunday.
I travelled on a steam train from Tarnow, which is home to a beautiful, ornate railway station, believed to have been based on the design of that in the Ukrainian city of Lvov.
It also boasts a memorial to more than 900 Poles - including Jews - who were deported from the first platform to Auschwitz in 1940.
Greeted by Adam and his daughter Magda at the station, we were accompanied by members of Tarnow's Ludwik Solski Theatre.
It was a strange sight as these non-Jewish Poles were dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The "bride" and the "groom" were portrayed by theatre members Matgilda Baczynska and Kamil Urban.
Some Tarnow residents waved us off on the train as it chuffed its way through beautiful countryside towards Bobowa.
The Rzeszów Klezmer Band and the Klezmer Orchestra of the Sejny Theatre - filled the train with nostalgic tunes of a rich Jewish past.
Co-organiser Adam told me: "It is important for the people who live in Bobowa to know of their town's past, to know of their Jewish history.
"Half of the town where I am from, Tarnow, was also 25 per cent Jewish before the war, so it was natural that I was interested in our country's Jewish heritage."
Poland, of course, despite boasting a rich Jewish history, was guilty of some of the worst antisemitism.
There were even pogroms in a number of cities and towns in the country after the Holocaust.
"What you should also know is that Jewish culture and the fact that chassidim come to Bobowa on a pilgrimage is good for business for Bobowa's citizens," Adam admitted.
An honest statement from a non-Jewish Pole who is so immersed in the country's Jewish history.
Perhaps it is no surprise that antisemitism still exists in Poland, as it does in many other countries around the world, especially in places where there are no Jews, rather than the big cities such as Krakow and Warsaw.
Despite Adam's cynicism, I found many non-Jewish Poles willing to learn about the religion and heritage.
In fact, Adam's daughter, Magda, was fascinated by Judaism from an early age - due to her father.
Later, she converted to Judaism and moved to Israel.
Magda told me on the train: "I was my daddy's daughter. I idolised him.
"When I was a teenager, I wanted to study archaeology.
"Then I became more obsessed and my biggest dream was to go to Israel."
Magda, 37, explained that when she was growing up, the Jewish community of Poland was seriously depleted.
Most Poles had never met a Jew and, to many of them, they were considered some kind of "lost civilisation," akin to the ancient Egyptians.
"During communist times, there was more of a fascination when it came to Jews," she said.
"There was the older generation who despised Jews, too."
When Magda moved to Israel, she spent six months on ulpan on a kibbutz in the north of the country.
She planned to convert to Judaism and moved to Krakow to read social anthropology at the city's Jagiellonian University.
There, she met an Israeli who became her boyfriend and spent time in New York City with him, where she converted and took the Hebrew name Michal.
Magda returned to Krakow and became more religious, inspired by the city's chief rabbi Boaz Pash.
She moved back to Israel, attended a seminary in Jerusalem and married a Polish-born ultra-Orthodox Jew, Daniel Gerson.
But the marriage didn't last long and Magda is living once again in her native Tarnow, where she works for the city's tourism office.
Also on the train was Paris-based Claude Gluck, who was born in Tarnow and lost the majority of his family in the Holocaust.
He escaped to France when he was eight with his mother, as his father had already settled there.
"What I am feeling is much more than emotion - it is much stronger than that," Claude told me.
"I visited the house I was brought up in Tarnow."
Claude was accompanied by his cousin John Stewart, whose father Jan left Poland in 1923.
John didn't find out his father was a Polish Jew until later in his life.
It is a recurring theme, as Magda explained that many Poles are gradually discovering their Jewish roots and tracing their lineage.
Just as she finished telling me that, the train pulled into Bobowa station.
I was startled to see what seemed like hundreds of the town's citizens lining the platform to welcome the "wedding party".
We made our way through the throng of people to be greeted by horses and carriages.
The horses took us through the town to the Old Synagogue, where the theatre members had gathered and held up a chuppah with their hands.
The town's citizens were there to watch the recreation of a wedding ceremony.
It was performed by Professor Jonathan Webber, a social anthropologist who is an expert on European Jewry.
He works at the Institute of European Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and is also chairman of the Galicia Museum in the same city.
The theatre's Rafal Balawejder translated his words into Polish.
The wedding was a recreation of that of Nechama Golda Halberstam - daughter of Ben Zion - and Moshe Stempel.
But Moshe was murdered by the Nazis together with Ben Zion.
Amazingly, Nechama and Moshe's daughter, Shoshana Stern, was at Sunday's ceremony.
Born in Krakow, she escaped with her mother through Slovakia, Romania and Hungary before reaching then-Palestine in 1948.
She now lives in London with husband William.
Shoshana told me as she watched the ceremony: "It is unbelievable and emotional.
"I am happy to see it, though."
Coincidentally, it was also her grandfather's yahrzeit while she and her husband were in Bobowa.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, the "bride" and "groom" went into the shul, where they sat and looked adoringly at each other.
All part of the "performance", I guessed.
The band's klezmer music filled the air as the guests danced.
Then we made our way to Bobowa's market square, again by horse and carriage.
Again, the town's citizens were lining the streets, waving at us, taking photographs and cheering too.
Once we arrived in the market square and disembarked, I saw traditional Jewish food and Jewish memorabilia being sold.
A photographic exhibition, displaying pictures of the 1931 Jewish wedding, was also staged.
I couldn't quite take it all in. I had mistakenly entertained the notion that all Poles were antisemitic - I was deeply suspicious of them.
There is antisemitism everywhere in the world - dig deep enough and you'll find it.
But today there are numerous non-Jewish Poles who are deeply intrigued by Judaism and its culture.
That was extremely evident by what I saw in Tarnow and Bobowa.
The Jews of these places may have disappeared, but their importance and legacy live on.