The Old-New Shabbat

Prague has turned into a pilgrimage sight for Jews, I suppose mostly on account of the whole golem thing. What has sprouted up is a cottage industry of Judaic tourist schmaltz (booths peddling mezzuzahs and dragon necklaces side-by-side, Jewish tours around town, and entrance fees to the old synagogues and cemetary). I understand that you have to make money for upkeep and all that, but the whole thing seemed sort of shady to me. Or at least weird (and not in the good, look-i-found-the-golem! type of weird).

So basically, I didn’t pay any krowns to see the famous Rabbi ______’s grave or pass through the shuls. During shabbas, of course, you can visit the temple free of charge (the Jew joke in here is recognized by me, don’t worry) and so that’s what I waited for. The only operating temples are the Spanish Synagogue and the New-Old Synagogue. On account of being nothing but confused during Sephardim services and having the more hilarious name, I opted for the New-Old Synagogue. Being that Prague’s Jewish population is now only 1,700 and it being a tourist destination, most of the daveners were visitors.

A large majority of this sub-sect were students from the San Diego Jewish Academy on their senior trip. It was their first Shabbat abroad of a six week trip and I took a certain amount of pleasure in their total confusion of what was going on and sleeping during services. Then I thought, “Wait a second, these kids go to the Jewish Academy and aren’t following this?” Maybe the situation of American Jewry is more dire than I imagined.

The temple itself did fit the stereotype of what Prague “should” look like in my mind. It was dim, intimate, and incredibly worn (it’s from 1270 and is where Franz Kafka played Coke & Pepsi on his Bar Mitzvah day!). The stucco had chipped in off the walls in such a seemingly strategic manner that the whole scene looked illustrated. I sat, listening but not comprehending, trying to imagine all the history that must have passed through the place’s doors. So rapt was I that I didn’t even fall asleep during the sermon!

Shabbat is losing its sense of peculiarity to me, which–if you are in the camp that believes I’m about to enter the yeshiva as soon as I come back–is a good sign. But in my camp, where I just wanted to see what Shabbat is like in other parts of the world, it is also a good thing. As David Cross found out, it is hard to disassociate yourself from your Jewry (not that I want to, anyhow), so being more at ease with the rituals and thus knowing more of the history of myself, is some small comfort.

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