November 8, 2012

A walk through Josefov - a Trip to Prague #2

Josefov is the old Jewish quarter and former ghetto in Prague. It is located near the Old Town & invites you to explore the ancient and the contemporary Jewish culture of Prague. The old Jewish quarter is one of the most interesting places in this city & worth visiting.

As there is much to tell I decided to split this this topic in several posts so you don't have to get bored by reading an incredibly long post. The first, this part, is about the experience of visting the Jewish Museum as an ordinary tourist. Soon I will also post about the Old New Synagogue & other interesting maybe related topics about this special quarter.

Ordinary non-Jewish tourist, like I am, usually follow the route of the Jewish Museum that guides you to all the sights of Josefov.

1.) Maisel Synagogue; 2.) Pinkas Synagogue; 3.) Jewish Ceremonial Hall &
Jewish Museum; 4.) Klausen Synagogue; 5.) Old New Synagogue;
6.) High Synagogue; 7.) Spanish Synagogue; 8.) exhibition
As an ordinary tourist you soon get the feeling that the Jewish quarter has just Synagogues to offer, as there are ...

The Pinkas Synagogue
Entrance card of the Jewish Museum
We started our visit of Josevof at this place. To visit the synagogues of the Jewish Museum you have to buy the entrance cards at the museum's counter right there. You have 2-3 options which tour you want to take. We took the ticket for the Old Jewish Cementary, the Maisel Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue & the Spanish Synagogue. To get into the Old New Synagogue you have to buy an extra ticket, which costs as much as we paid for ours. And if you really want to visit all of these places you can also buy the ticket for everything, but this one is quite expensive.

Names & dates of the Holocaust victims
The Pinkas Synagogue was founded by Rabbi Pinkas in 1479, but after World War II it was turned into a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Althought there is little interior, this old Synagogue doesn't seem empty. It is a quiet place to take time & to read or at least to have a look at these many names of those Czechoslovak Jewish victims who didn't survive the concentration camp of Theresienstadt which are written all over the walls. On the upper floor a collection of paintings & drawings of children who witnessed the concentration camp is shown. Next to each picture you can read the name & the age of the painter. It is in some way unsetteling when you see what some children in the age of 5 drew. The painting was supposed to be some kind of therapy to the children to handle those horrible things they had to witness at their young age.

The Old Jewish Cementary
Crisscrossed tombstones 
Next to the Pinkas Synagogue you can walk around the Old Jewish Cementary with its ancient graves of former inhabitants of this quartes. Dating from 1478 this cementary is the oldest still existing Jewish burial site in Europe. It served as burial grounds for about 300 years. In1787 the last person was burried there. As Jewish people in Prague were not allowed to burry their dead relatives outside the ghetto they had to build one grave on top of the other. On the small area of this cementary more than 100,000 people in about 12,000 graves on 12 tomb layers are burried. That's why you can see crisscrossed tombstones on low hills all over the cementary.

While me and a friend of mine walked around the old graves I noticed that there are a lot of Jewish people visiting this cementary. Don't ask me why, but somehow I knew that some of them were from Israel. I remeber a young woman. She was not much shorter than me but svelte. I don't know how to express myself. She had her dark brown hair pinned up very neatly. Her skin was pale but on her lips she had put red lipstick. She wore a white blouse, a knee-length marine blue skirt & a hat in the same color. Her whole appearance looked very neatly. Her gaze was strict but not unfriendly. I don't know why but somehow I knew that she was a Jewish Israeli. She was so facinating that I could not stop watching her. I`ve never met a person with such an appearance before.

Jews at Rabbi Loew's grave
Tombstone of Rabbi Loew
As we were walking on I suddenly saw a crowd of crying & praying Jews. I was so astonsihed, because I didn't know why they were crying. When we came closer to the small crowd I realized that they were all standing in front of a grave, some of them humbly bowing their heads, some of them were crying & nearly everyone was reading some verses out of a small book. That was really a strange situation to me, because I really didn't know why they were doing this. While I was writing the post about the legend of the Golem of Prague I found out that on the Old Jewish Cementary Judah Loew ben Bezalel - also known as Rabbi Loew- is burried. But still I don't really know the importance of him to the Jewish community.

Klausen Synagogue & Ceremonial Hall
Klausen Synagogue
Ceremony Hall
On the other side of the Old Jewish Cementary is the Klausen Synagogue. This synagogue & the Ceremonial  Hall next to it are housing a permanent exhibition about Jewish traditions & customs concernig birth, circumcision, bar mitzvah, wedding & many more. Unfortunately due to something the Ceremonial Hall was closed, so we couldn't go into it.

Spanish Synagogue
The Spanish Synagogue is one of the most beautiful houses of prayer I've ever been into. This synagogues beauty is really breath taking. It combines different architectural styles & traditions. But the synagogues architectural style is mostly influenced by moorish design. While the Spanish Synagogue was used as a house of prayer the huge prayer hall had seats for 500 men on the lower floor & 300 women on the upper floor.

Amazing moorish architecture

Spanish Synagogue

Kafka Memorial
Entrance of the Spanish Synagogue
Near to the entrance of the Spanish Synagogue you can see the odd memorial to the famous writer Franz Kafka which is based on his novel "Beschreibung eines Kampfes" (Description of a Struggle). Kafka spend most of his life in this quarter. Because Prague was his place of activity, Kafka has a special importance to the city. As there was only a portrait of Kafka at his house of birth the Franz Kaftka Society of Prague decided to install a memorial to the city's famous son. The bronze statue was designed by the Czech sculptor Jaroslav Rona. Since 2001 a miniature of this statue is awarded as Franz Kafka Prize - an international literary award.

Maisel Synagogue
Entrance Maisel Synagogue
Maisel Synagogue
The Maisel Synagogue holds an amazing collection of artifacts & objects from the first settlements of Jews in Bohemia & Moravia. There is one very interessting fact about those objects. Althought during World War II Prague & other Czech districts were occupied by the Nazis they did not want to destroy the culural assets of Prague's Jewish community. In fact after killing all the Jews the Germans intended to establish a museum of Jewish culture & therefore brought many objects they had taken from their Jewish victims to Prague. Somehow it's ironic that because of such a horrible reason the Jewish Museum nowadays owns such a large collection of artifacts about Jewish religious & everyday life.

After we had vistited all of these Synagogues we were very tired, but it was fun & I extended my knowledge about Jewish culture as I am very interested in it.

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