Polishfest celebration at Pitt highlights cultural heritage

November 23, 2018

Maria Zarod’s family is so steeped in Polish culture that she met her husband Steve when they were both part of the former Pittsburgh Polish dance troupe Polonia.

“I love dancing, and the connection to my heritage is really meaningful, said Zarod, a Level Green resident.

Shortly after Zarod met her husband in 2000, Polonia dancers performed at Polishfest, a cultural celebration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. The Zarods have been part of it ever since.

“There are dance performances, food, and crafts that you can make and purchase like pottery and jewelry,” Zarod said.

The 34th annual Polishfest will take place from noon to 5 p.m., Nov. 11 at the Cathedral of Learning. It is free and open to the public.

For the Zarod family, as well other members of the Pittsburgh area’s 28,000-plus Polish community, it’s a chance to share their culture with others.

“My dad played accordion at Polishfest when I was younger,” Zarod’s husband Steve said. “I performed with Polonia for about 17 years. I’ve done just about everything there. Now I mainly help set up.”

The Zarod’s daughter Stella, 5, has taken up the family tradition, and will join her mother to dance with Lajkoniki, a troupe of Polish folk dancers based in McKeesport. Zarod’s two nieces and a nephew are also part of the group.

Zarod’s mother, Theresa Ejzak of Murrysville, is a Polishfest veteran as well.

“I try to keep my family involved in our heritage,” Ejzak said. Her father immigrated to the U.S. from his home in Łódź, Poland, in 1895 at the age of 16, and Ejzak grew up in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.

For several years, she brought baked goods to Polishfest, specifically chrusciki, thin strips of dough which are sliced in the middle, twisted and fried.

Ejzak’s chrusciki is based on a family recipe.

“When I visited my relatives in Poland, they laid out a huge table of food and the chrusciki tasted exactly like what we make,” Zarod said. “I came back and said, ‘Mom! We got it right!’”

For Ejzak, that is just one way to keep her family’s history and culture alive.

“I don’t want them to lose the traditions we have,” she said. “So we go to Polishfest to promote it to everyone. It’s great to listen to the music and see the people we’ve met over the years.”

Not to mention, for someone who comes from a large Polish family, “it’s nice to do some early Christmas shopping for things you can’t find other places,” Zarod said with a laugh.

For more, see Facebook.com/Polishfest.pgh.

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