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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Michal called Nathan up to do some of the prayers before the torah reading, and then Nathan was called for the first aliyah, the prayer before the first reading from the torah. Having Nathan there made everyone very excited, I think, because they all started to take photos. I couldn’t resist joining in. I put a video up on facebook of Nathan saying the prayer following the torah reading.

Julius Müller acted as gabay and helped figure out all the various people to call up for the remaining aliyot. A man from Germany, Hermann Löffler, who had helped support the restoration of the synagogue, was called asked to call out the names.

After Nathan, I came up, then the Sittigs and Wudls and also a friend of my fellow Geni curator from Israel, Rafi Kornfeld, was touring in the region and came to join us. The last aliyah was given to everyone in the community, so we all stood up around the old torah as Michal read from it to conclude the torah service.

The service was long, and with most of it in Czech or Hebrew, sometimes my attention flagged. At one point I actually got disappointed because I was missing the smell of an old building. I wanted some sense that the old congregation had been there. The place felt too new somehow.

After the service, many of us were invited by Jindra Bromova, the woman who organized the entire restoration project and this event, to the local hotel restaurant for lunch. Nathan passed on the trout, but I actually liked it even though I don’t ordinarily eat much fish. After lunch, we all went to the outskirts of town and climbed up to the old Jewish cemetery. It is on a hill enclosed by a high wall that has broken down in one place so you can easily walk in. The tombstones were recently cleaned (by Matana, I heard) and looked white and polished.

I could not find Rabbi Bloch’s grave, until I took out my blackberry and went to the Geni page and found a photo. I realized it was against a wall and then Alex Woodle showed me exactly where it was. Not with all the rest of the graves, but completely separate, along a wall about 10 yards away, his grave stood almost alone, lined up with some much later graves of children who had died young.

I did not understand this, since he died in 1850. Later I asked Achab Haidler, a wonderful man, and actor by profession, who has helped catalogue many Jewish cemeteries in the region, and he thinks the grave was moved, or perhaps the plaque with his name fell off and someone attached it to a different grave along the wall. He said he would investigate further. You can hear Achab on this video of the Ckyne synagogue. Achab can read all the tombstones, a very difficult task, and he even made a catalogue of the cemetery in Ckyne.

I should also mention Jan Podelsak, a local man who had been working to rescue the old cemetery and the synagogue for about 20 years. In fact, I recalled coming to Prague in 1996 and getting a poster about saving the Ckyne cemetery that he must have designed. Jan was clearly very moved by the tribute to him and seeing his long dream fulfilled. He is a local hero there in Ckyne.


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