Tour de Jewish Quarter

Day 24: Around Here

Jewish Tour Guide June 14, 2011

Last night when I read on the schedule that we would set off for ANOTHER walking tour this morning, I have to admit I was not at all thrilled to be trekking through Prague’s cobble-stoned streets once more. Nonetheless, as I got out of bed this morning, brushed my teeth, clothed myself, ate my breakfast, and begrudgingly filled my huge, empty water bottle (don’t you love the play by play of my morning?), I decided to put on a good attitude and trucked on down the stairs.  When we met our tour guide thirty minutes later in the Jewish Quarter, I was thrilled to actually find a guide that I could not only understand but also had a little magic and spunk in her step.  I knew from that point on that this four hour tour was not going to be the irk I had been dreading but rather an enjoyable time, slowly ambling through the oldest ghetto of Prague.

Memorial Street Placks June 14, 2011

After visiting the oldest still active synagogue in the world, our group continued amongst the sidewalk where we stopped to wait on the slackers to catch up.  There, amid the monotonous small stones that form all the sidewalks of Prague lay two, tiny bronze plaques inlaid into the stones. She explained to us that these memorial plaques are placed in front of houses where Jews murdered in the Holocaust used to live before deportation. Not only did I find this very reverent and considerate in a way but also could not believe that after being in Prague for a month I had never noticed these before. I guess it goes to show that most of the time the most beautiful entities are too often overlooked, giving them an almost elapsed character.

Wall of Pinkas Synagogue June 14, 2011

Once most of the loafers had caught up with the group, we sauntered into the Pinkas Synagogue, a place of worship I have been desiring to see since I first heard about it my first few days in Prague. The Pinkas Synagogue is dedicated to those murdered during the Holocaust, covered in the names of all known slaughtered Czech Jews, ultimately consummating in around 80,000 names in all. Incredible. Even more astonishing is that these names were hand written by two men, taking them a total of four years to complete. Now if that is not dedication, I do not know what is. As I walked amongst the concealed walls, the synagogue reminded me of the Vietnam Memorial to which my father has taken me numerous times, pointing out the names of the men he knew during the war. Like the Vietnam Memorial, the Pinkas Synagogue only put more of a perspective of how many Czechs died during the Holocaust, an almost horrifying number to contemplate. Aside from the synagogue being a memorial for these left behind Jews, in my opinion, it acts more of an educational tool, forcing naive people like me to realize the devastation of those times and the healing that has come from it.

Prague's Jewish Cemetery June 14, 2011

Finally, subsequent to exiting the Pinkas Synagogue, around the corner, we entered the Old Jewish Cemetery of Prague, a place of burial unlike none I have ever seen. According to our tour guide and a video we were forced to watch in class, due to Jewish law, Jews must not destroy Jewish graves and cannot remove any tombstones in order to preserve the body after burial.  Basically, this means that when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible due to restrictions placed on the Jewish race at that time, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out, and placed upon the new layer of soil.  Now, the numbers of grave stones and number of people buried here are uncertain because there are layers and layers of tombs like “bunk beds.” However, it has been estimated that there are approximately 12,000 tombstones presently visible laying tightly together, and there may be as many as 100,000 burials in all.  Mind blowing.

All in all, though this morning started off rough in terms of my attitude, it turned out to be a highly educational tour. Because the Jewish religion is the longest still practiced religion known, the history is incredible, so ancient, something definitely to be admired and appreciated.

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