Shelley Salamensky has written for The Believer, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, and other publications.

Follow Shelley Salamensky on Twitter: @_salamensky_.


Inside the Mayo Clinic

A still from Ken Burns's The Mayo Clinic: Faith—Hope—Science (2018), showing an operation at the Mayo Clinic with an assisting nun trained as a nurse, 1923

The Mayo has long been ranked among the best hospitals in the United States, widely treated even by those who’ve never been there as the ultimate medical authority, as well as last resort. When my father, in his thirties, was dying from a little-understood disease, the query always posed—breathlessly so—was, “Have you tried the Mayo?” When I arrived as a patient myself, I was told that Ken Burns had just left. In his new documentary, The Mayo Clinic: Faith—Hope—Science, the filmmaker ascribes the institution’s success to groundbreaking advances in both medicine and its delivery: the human side of care.

The Folk ‘Jews’ of Spain

A Vaquilla member from Fresnedillas de la Oliva in costume, at a parade in Zamora, Spain, 2015

In Spain, as in Poland, Jewishness is a protean concept, and a Jewish legacy is felt. But the Fiesta de la Vaquilla practices and lore, transmitted orally through countless generations, tend to be shrugged off, unquestioned, as givens. Of more interest to villagers than the origins of ethnic tropes about “Judíos” is pulling off the endlessly complex event itself.

Poland’s Jews: Under a New Roof

The reconstructed ceiling of a destroyed seventeenth-century Polish synagogue at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, October 21, 2014

Jews are famously scattered around the world. So, it seems in recent years, are Jewish museums: in Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, as well as cities from Dnipropetrovsk to Shanghai, Caracas to Casablanca. Yet Warsaw—capital of the nation that once held more Jews than any other—was conspicuously absent from the list, until a few weeks ago.

Diaspora Disneys

The former Jewish district in Kraków, Poland

Hanukkah commemorates persistence against overwhelming odds, when Jewish rebels in Judea defeated their Greek overlords and oil lamps meant to last a single day miraculously burned eight times as long. Five years ago I heard of what seemed another miracle. Despite having been nearly stamped out by the Nazis six decades earlier, the spirit of Jewish life in Poland had been kindled again in Kraków, near the farmlands where my family had lived for perhaps nine centuries. Cafés, I was told, served jellied carp with raisins. Klezmer tunes bounced down the cobbled streets. Prewar shop signs had reappeared, flanking a bustling square as if its Jews had never left. The cooks and klezmorim, I later learned, were nearly all non-Jews, the crowds made up of tourists, the façades only that. Auschwitz, a mere hour away, remained a brutal warning against rosy nostalgia or frivolity. Still, I needed to see all this for myself. I went.