Prague… “Praha” – III
On the third and fourth day, there were no scheduled agenda for the trip. These two days were mostly for everyone to decide for themselves. Given the variety of options in Prague, there was something for everyone :). Some preferred exploring the city further whereas others preferred visiting nearby places outside Prague. During the day time one could visit museums and monuments, take river boat trip, hike up to the Eiffel Tower in Prague, shop, window shop or simply explore the city. In evenings one can go for concerts, opera, puppet-shows, live jazz performances, etc.
There are several synagogues, a cemetery and a few cultural centers of Jewish in Prague. I along with a few friends decided to visit them. I was interested in visiting them because I have an interest in knowing more about Jewish. I have heard about Jewish oppressions in history and have always been curious to know why were Jewish subjected to it. I still don’t know and wish to find it out. In modern times, I have always been impressed by the excellence of Israel in science and technology in spite of their instable international political situation.
To visit these Jewish establishments in Prague, one can buy a package ticket and students can get discounts as well. There are 3 different packages available and details of it can be found at www.jewishmuseum.cz. We took a package for 6 sites @200 CZK (student’s rate) and we visited the Pinkas Synagogue, the old Jewish cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall, the Klausen Synagogue, the Maisel Synagogue, and the Spanish Synagogue.
The Pinkas Synagogue is actually a memorial dedicated to the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia murdered by the Nazis. On its wall are inscribed the names and personal data of about 80,000 Jewish victims. The memorial also houses a permanent exhibition called “Children’s Drawings from Terezin 1942-44”. Terezin was a Nazi concentration camp during World War II about 65 Kms from Prague where about 10,000 children under the age of 15 were also imprisoned. The exhibits are the original drawings of these imprisoned children. The place was really touching and a testimony of what humans can inflict and what humans can endure. There I also read that during the Nazi regime when the Jewish in Prague were stripped off of most of their rights for education, work, living and free movement, the Jewish community took special care of educating its children and inducing in them a hope for a better tomorrow. Educated members of the community volunteered to teach the children and arranged for their lessons, accommodation and food.
From the Pinkas Synagogue, we went to the Ceremonial Hall through the Old Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery was built in 15th century and is said to contain more than 12,000 tombstones. However the number of persons buried there is much greater. It is said that due to lack of space, several burial layers have been added to the original cemetery by filling it with earth. One can see that the tombstones belong to different periods which is because the older stones were lifted up from the lower layers.
At the exit of the cemetery is located the Ceremonial Hall and the Klausen Synagogue. The Ceremony Hall belongs to the Jewish Burial Society and houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the illness and death. The Burial Society provided assistance to the sick and dying people, and also performed all the rituals and burials after the death. Membership to this society was restricted and only by invitation, and once included the members were expected to perform their duties with high devotion and dedication. Among the exhibits were also large paintings depicting different activities of the society. I feel it was quite noble for people to volunteer for this society which dealt with sickness and death, something from which people usually like to stay away. One of the things I liked about the community was that they practiced the belief that every man is equal by giving similar burial to everyone irrespective of their social status.
We then visited the Klausen Synagogue, which was next to the Ceremonial Hall. This synagogue houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the theme of Jewish customs and traditions. The exhibits were associated with the synagogue, different festivals, different customs related to everyday life of the Jewish family, etc.
These four sites were located next to each other and the other two – the Spanish and the Maisel synagogue, were located at some distance but not very far. We then visited the Maisel synagogue. I found this place a little boring and it mostly exhibited Jewish silver, textiles, books, etc. I couldn’t put much interest into reading the details of the exhibit, probably because it was the fourth museum of the day :).
Once we left Maisel synagogue, I was practically short of enthusiasm to visit the Spanish synagogue. However my friends pulled me along and we reached there. I am glad they did it because it was an amazingly beautiful place. In fact, I would rate it to be the best among all other museums which I had seen that day and would recommends other not to miss it. The synagogue is built in Moorish architectural style. It is square with a big dome (cupola) above the central area. The walls, ceilings, pillars are intricately painted with beautiful patterns using vibrant colors. The Moorish style is a Muslim architectural style with Jewish influences and is said to have originated from the Muslims of Spain. Probably this is why this synagogue is also called “Spanish” synagogue. It seems that this style has dominated the constructions of Jewish community in US (New York Architecture – Moorish Revival). I was simply spell bounded by the beauty of the designs and sat there for quite sometime looking at it. The upper section of the Spanish synagogue housed a permanent exhibition. It was an interesting exhibition as it exhibited articles like identity card, official orders, letters, documents, important news articles, books, etc belonging to the Czech Jewish community.
While we were going through the exhibition, it was time for the synagogue to close. We started the day late and it took us about 4/5 hours to see all the Jewish museums. It was a cold and windy day, and what could be better than a hot coffee in a warm cafe :). We called off the day with the coffee and later had a sumptitious Indian dinner. I would write about our experiences with food and restaurants in Prague in a separate blog.
Continued in Part IV…
Disclaimer: Photography was not allowed/restricted in all the Jewish monuments which we visited. The photographs here have been collected from internet.