Saturday, November 26, 2011

Czech Republic -- a Zionist take on touring Jewish Prague

Inside the Jubilee Synagogue, Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

There's a detailed travel story in the Jerusalem Post by Stewart Weiss about his visit to Jewish Prague. Prague has been visited and toured and written about so much that it's really hard to find a way to say anything new, or really to express any new emotion about it, its Jewish history, the impact of visiting Jewish sites and remembering both pogroms and the Holocaust.....I packed a lot of it in in my chapter on Prague in my 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House, including a critique of mass tourism....

Weiss article goes over much of the same material. He is ever-skeptical at the tour guide spin (though as a tour leader himself, he must know how to keep his audience.....).
The first stop on our trip is the ancient Jewish cemetery in the heart of Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. Because the land allotted to the Jews was woefully insufficient to bury their dead, there are at least seven layers of graves lying deep beneath the surface, where as many as 100,000 people are buried. But while the graves are invisible, the tombstones are ubiquitous, and stretch as far as the eye can see. They stand as silent, solemn witnesses to the past 1,000 years, from the time Jewish settlers first came to Bohemia, and they testify to a nation within a nation that included every conceivable vocation, from salesman to seamstress to scholar.

The greatest of these scholars was Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the famed Maharal of Prague (1525-1609). In lesser intellectual circles – and certainly among the tour guides peddling fantasy to wide-eyed visitors seeking same – he was the progenitor of the Golem, a clay figure brought to life in order to protect the downtrodden disciples of the Maharal.

It is strange to me, though, that  in what he calls "four days of walking with ghosts" he seems to have totally missed the lively local  Jewish community and local Jewish life -- writing only that Chabad  "struggles valiantly to provide a working synagogue."

Read full story HERE

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