Saturday, September 21, 2019

Hope and Remembrance

Hope and Remembrance
At Jewish Newport
September 14, 2019
photos by Aaron Ginsburg
edited by Beth Levine
also on facebook.

I have been visiting Prague for a few days with friends Lia Zakov, Sol Macner, and Alan Kaul. Thursday we went to the Opening Concert in Smetana (Alan Kaul, “Why did they put smetana (sour cream in Czech language) on top of the conductor?”) Hall. The concert featured Pinchas Zukerman and his wife Amanda Forsyth playing the violin and cello respectively, along with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pietari Inkinen. 

Alan Kaul, “Why did they put smetana (sour cream in Czech language) on top of the conductor?”
Amanda Forsyth and Pichus Zukerman
Zukerman played the music for the movie Schindler’s List. The score was composed and conducted by John Williams. Per wikipedia, the soundtrack album won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. It also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score.

Pinchus and Amanda Forsyth
The concert began with two pieces by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, and continued with the Brahms double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra in A minor Op.102, one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music. The beginning seemed to portray a storm, the middle was calmer, and the ending was hopeful and uplifting but complex. Each movement had a distinctive melody. 

After the intermission, we heard Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op. 82 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The melody, if there was one, was subservient to the cacophony of a complicated world. Once again, the beginning portrayed problems and the middle was calmer. The end was tentatively hopeful..but the world was noisy and room-filling, almost but not quite drowning out the sound of hope. 

On Shabbat, Sep 14, 2019 we read in Parashat Ki Teitzei many laws of behaviour accompanied by repeated admonishments to “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” 

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue in Newport, pointed out that we can learn something else from these repeated admonitions,

“Five times the Torah tells us that we must remember that we were slaves in Egypt. Why must we remember this depressing chapter in Jewish history?

“Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said that this teaches us to be sensitive to the vulnerable and less fortunate people in society, because we too were once in that position. Also, it teaches us to have hope, because we were freed from slavery, thus teaching us the power of hope, and never giving up.” 

Sol, Lia and Alan reading about Prague 's
Jewish Ghetto in Rick Steves.
 Maiselova Synagoga
Today I visited the Jewish section of Prague. The medieval and early modern Jews of Prague lived in a ghetto. It was rebuilt in 1742 after a fire.  Antonín Langweil created a paper model of Prague from 1826-1837. The Jewish museum has a video flyover based on that model, which is now in the Prague City museum. The video is at The Jewish Museum consists of 6 sites including 3 synagogues. View a video flyover.

Jewish Ghetto Flyover other great European cities such as Paris, the Jewish ghetto was almost totally demolished during the late 19th and early 20th century. All the residential buildings and three synagogues were destroyed. Just a few  buildings were spared including six synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall, which includes a clock with the hours in Hebrew, and the Chevra Kadisha building dating from 1912.

Chevra Kadisha 
It was a mitzvah to belong to the Chevra Kadisha, which cared for the dead and the dying and collected alms and raised money to support its activities. The Prague Chevra Kadisha, founded in 1654, became the model for modern Jewish burial societies. A member had to belong for 15 years before he could become a member of the board, and three more years to be eligible to be an officer. To belong was prestigious, and the membership consisted of the most prominent members of the community. 

The Jewish community leadership was elected by secret ballot. The results had to be confirmed by the civil authorities. In Prague, the leader was called the Jewish Mayor. The leadership positions were unpaid. Paid positions included the rabbis and the beadles, also known as the shabbasklepper. They used a wooden hammer to bang on doors to let the inhabitants know it was time to get ready for Shabbos.
left Altmeuschul, right
Jewish Town Hall

Matzeva of the Maharal
When people need hope, sometimes a legend helps. German Jewish writers created the Golem of Prague in the 19th century. These stories were pushed back to the time of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal (from Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew" ("Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew")) who purportedly created a Golem to help the Jews of Prague when they were threatened. The need for a protector became clear as modern antisemitism took hold during the 19th century. At the Altneuschul (Old New Synagogue), metal rungs ascend an outside wall to the attic, where the Golem awaits danger’s approach.

The names of the lost.
The ultimate danger came to the Jews of Prague and the rest of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, when Germany took control. For most Jews, the Golem did not appear. In the Pinkus Synagogue, their names are on the walls, 80 thousand names.

The names of the lost.