Friday, July 18, 2008

Greetings from: Staré Mĕsto, Josefov

I consider myself relatively tolerant of other religions, particularly when they’re tolerant of me in turn. Thus, Prague, with its strong traditions of Catholicism and Judaism, comes as a sigh of relief, even if they haven't sat comfortably next to each other in history. Indeed, right in the center of the Old Town is a statue dedicated to Jan Hus, the guy who was way into Reformation before Luther made it all mainstream and cool.

And while I appreciate the artistry that goes into religious symbols—those Catholics love their icons!—it doesn’t bowl me over as much as it would a believer. Instead, I look at the vaulted and painted ceilings of St. Nicholas or the ornate Moorish patterns in the Spanish Synagogue and pause to admire its aesthetics.

Matthew, however, is a much more sensitive soul than I. His heritage is Jewish, after all, but I was surprised to find him tearing up within the gilded patterns of the Spanish Synagogue. Much of it had to do with the exhibit detailing the fate of the Jews in Terezin ghetto; Matthew found himself wondering how many of those who died there had come to worship in that very same synagogue. And later, in the Pinkas Synagogue, with its walls covered with the names and dates of death of the Jews of Prague, even I could feel the tremendous weight of history bearing down upon the place, even if my borrowed polyester kippah steadfastly refused to stay on my head.

But at least I wore mine. Despite the posted signs asking men to cover their heads to respect the sanctity of the place, I saw plenty who went yarmulke-less. And it annoyed me a little. More egregious was the young man who kept taking photographs when the pictogram clearly depicted a camera with the round red international symbol for no slashing through it. I mean, I could have easily taken pictures inside the Spanish Syngogue—and believe me, I was tempted—but I decided against it. Not that I fear any Divine retribution. But I'm probably pushing my luck as it is.

Behind us on the stairs in the Pinkas Synagogue, a teenage American girl missed a step and stumbled. As her friends helped her up, she admitted that she had probably had too much to drink last night. Her friends agreed; they were all pretty wasted. I guess wasted would be the appropriate word, but I don’t hold their youthful exuberance against them.

The day was cool, and the sun wouldn’t appear until nearly six in the evening, but walking through the Old Jewish cemetery, the gravestones clattering together haphazardly, angled whichever way their anchors had buckled, I passed by the grave of the Rabbi Löw, the legendary scholar and mystic, who had created the Golem of Prague. Matthew placed a pebble on his grave, a sign of respect. I bought a small pottery golem, my own sign of respect.

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