In Slovakia, being strategic about preserving Jewish heritage
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (JTA) -- In 1989, on the eve of the fall of communism, the American poet Jerome Rothenberg published a powerful series of poems called "Khurbn" that dealt with the impact of the Holocaust on Eastern Europe.
In one section, he recorded conversations he had had in Poland with local people who had little recollection of the flourishing pre-war Jewish presence.
"Were there once Jews here?" the poem goes. "Yes, they told us, yes they were sure there were, though there was no one here who could remember. What was a Jew like? they asked.
"No one is certain still if they exist."
I often think of this poem when I travel to far-flung places in Eastern and Central Europe, and it was certainly on my mind on a trip to Slovakia this August.
That's because yes, there are still Jews here, and the post-Communist revival has reinvigorated Jewish communities in the region.
But also, despite this, numbers are still so small that even in many places where Jews once made up large parts of the population, Jewish history and heritage have been, or run the risk of being, forgotten.
"Look," my friend Maros Borsky reminded me in Bratislava. "Kids who were born after 1989 don't even remember communism."
Borsky is trying to do something about this -- which is why I was in Slovakia.
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