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We returned to the synagogue at 4pm for a concert led by Michal Foršt and his band of musicians from Prague. They began with a lengthy spoken introduction about my grandfather Eric Zeisl (whose grandmother was from Ckyne), followed by a performance of several of his works: Menuhim Song for violin and piano, Shepherd’s melody for Clarinet and piano and two songs for baritone (Ein Stundlein wohl vor Tag and my mom’s favorite Stilleben). This was well received and then followed by a very entertaining series of Jewish standards (Romania, Halavai, etc). Michal is truly a great performer (and he said he had a cold, but we didn’t notice at all).
The restoration of the Ckyne Synagogue was obviously a group effort with many people involved. Jindra’s business partner Vladimir Silovsky was extremely nice and showed me all the work that had been done. The mayor was there too, and Jindra said he had dedicated 1 million Czech crowns to the project (about $50,000), which is quite a large sum for such a small town.
Many people came from all over the region to attend the ceremony. An elderly Jewish woman, apparently the only one in the entire region, came to attend also. She showed me her mother’s Jewish star and other family documents. Apparently she had survived as a hidden child.
I met a British girl, Natalie, from Cesky Budejovice (Budweis) who came with some local friends of hers that she had met. A Czech-Swiss woman said she had read about it on the Internet and decided to come from Basel. There was a film crew and the rededication made the evening news in the Czech Republic.
We left just before Achab Haidler conducted a Havdalah service, because we had a two-hour drive back to Prague and both Nathan and I were exhausted. Michaela drove us back through the scenic villages and countryside to the shining lights of Prague, with its castles and churches all lit up against the evening sky. This has been an incredible trip for Nathan and for me, one that I am sure we both never forget.
I hope to return to Prague and the Czech Republic soon, to see all our friends and relatives, and to explore in more depth the home of 3/4 of my ancestors. I am coming away with a much better mental picture of the world that they lived in, and a real connection to their lives, which was my goal all along.
A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog
E. Randol Schoenberg is the President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.