My Return to Forgotten Czech Synagogue

Gone for Century, Jewish Life Haltingly Returns to Village

e. randol schoenberg

By E. Randol Schoenberg

Published October 12, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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Prague is beautiful at all times of day, but especially in the morning when things are quiet and the sun is coming up. As we headed south, the road took us through a pastoral landscape of low, green, rolling hills fenced off into small farms with random clumps of forest here and there. Every few miles we passed a small village or could see one in the distance. Ckyne is about two hours south of Prague. We passed through Strakonice, once the fez capitol of the world.

As we approached Ckyne the hills got larger and steeper, the road curved more and the scenery became more green. We first passed through Volyne, a town that looked like it might have about 5,000 people. A few minutes and hairpin turns later we arrived at Ckyne.

The town was larger than we expected. We were told there were 3,000 people living there. Michaela stopped at a market to ask for directions to the new synagogue. Make a left and another left and you will see it. Sure enough, there it was, bright and shiny in its brand new white paint job.

We were early so I got to look around a bit. The building was immaculately restored. There was a small prayer room at the top, used when it was too cold downstairs. This will be the permanent home for the old torah they found in the attic. Downstairs in the main sanctuary, they have repainted as best they could the design they found for the are around the ark.

The place looks terrific, very comfortable. They built large cases on the side for exhibits about local Jewish history. They look like giant closets when closed up, really a terrific design and very practical, with shelves behind glass on top and pull-out drawers underneath.

The services began around 10 a.m. and lasted almost three hours. Over 100 people attended, far exceeding any expectations I had. There were representatives of other old Ckyne families: Wedeles, Wudl, Fantes, Sittig and Nathan and I represented the Blochs.

The services were led by a wonderful singer named Michal Foršt. He lives in Prague also acts as a cantor for the small congregation in Liberec (Reichenberg). Michael was wonderful, explaining and performing and reading in Czech and English, guiding everyone through a somewhat traditional service.

The old torah scroll found in the synagogue was used for the service, even though it is a bit damaged. One of the attended was Anna (Kineret) Sittig, a rabbi from Amsterdam. She was called into service to help with the torah, which was not rolled to the correct portion (Noah, near the beginning). I got up and helped her roll the old torah until we got to the right place. It was really very exciting because obviously the torah had not been used in about 100 years, since the community disbanded and sold the building (long before the Nazi era). And it was fun to think that probably our ancestors had used this very same torah.


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