Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2017

Jewish Synagogue Not Interested in New Recruits

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:30 am

Paul’s Perspective:

“Judaism is not a missionary religion.”

That was the reply from a fellow-visitor to the Jewish Synagogue district in Prague, Czech Republic who seconds later, I learned was also Jewish. He was responding to a comment I made to the effect that whatever the goals were of this particular tourist attraction, proselytizing was not one of them. They weren’t really trying to make new friends.

On entry — just 30 feet from where we paid our admission — we were told that the rather pricey admission fee we had paid did not include the audio headphones with tour guide. Furthermore there were no signs anywhere explaining what we were seeing or its significance.

The admission actually includes five different sites, and there is an optional extra of a sixth one. The first consists mostly of three rooms with walls which list the names of Jews who were exterminated during the Nazi regime. It’s sobering, to say the least.

The Jewish cemetery followed. Eavesdropping on the guides from some of the bus tours passing through provided some additional background, given our lack of the personal audio tour. There were two other sites which had been set up as museums and then our last visit was to the Spanish synagogue which is still used as a house of worship…

…I think we went out of respect and because Judaism is the root out of which the Christian faith was birthed. But like so many church sites in Europe, it was all rooted in the past. If this was an opportunity to introduce the faith to a broader number of people, it was an opportunity missed. Furthermore, while it wasn’t seeker friendly — as I noted in my comment above — it would have helped if it had been just plain friendly.

Instead, the attraction seemed like a cash grab. I realize my comments here are superficial and don’t get at the actual content of the place, which is in part to narrate the history of Judaism in the former Czechoslovakia and also the impact of the Nazi occupation. But they’re also representing a faith family and I felt the superficial elements overshadowed the larger story. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize this working so much better with interpreters answering tourists’ questions about their religion.

The final straw was when, in a country where one pays to use public toilets, a British man was one coin short and was shown no grace; no mercy; earning this review, “Thank you for kindness — not!”  

Ruth’s Perspective

Setting aside the commerce and the ticket scanning and stamping (and the troll squatting outside the washroom barring entry), the way I’ll remember this experience is the reverse of the way we were actually directed through.

My mind goes first to the living active synagogue filled with life and colour and artistry, then down the street to the exhibition showing and explaining items used in the life passages of observant Jews – birth, bris, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings and burials – then down the stairs to the museum of historical furnishings of worship like Torah covers and synagogue curtains and offering urns.

Then through the gate to the centuries old cemetery holding and remembering generations of those who lived the life.

Only then do my thoughts step through the door into the quiet, bright rooms filled with the names of people (the youngest age I saw was 10, the oldest 88) ripped from their homes and lives, never having the chance to walk so much of their faith’s journey or to end up in cherished earth. The rooms that will break your heart.

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July 20, 2017

Sensory Overload

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:02 am

Up until the night we arrived in Prague, there were two times in recent memory when I experienced sensory overload.

The first was expected. Fireworks on New Years Eve at Walt Disney World in Orlando. They actually do an early show and then another at midnight and we stayed for both. But that was anticipated.

The second was unexpected, and happened in just a moment. Our youngest son had the lead role in a play at his college and when the curtain call came and the applause intensified when he took his bow, as a parent I wasn’t exactly pleased or proud. I was dazzled. That was our kid they were clapping for. I wish him more successes like that.

But now I must add a third one. We had arrived in Prague late in the day and after a welcome meeting in the hotel lounge, we were offered a “vicinity tour” consisting of nothing more than half mile from where were staying. Now remember, we had already seen Budapest and Vienna and various smaller places. We weren’t about to be amazed by the old buildings or the trams or the late night shoppers.

But what happens when they’re all there at once?

The city was just teeming with life. In fact if I have any impression of Prague it’s simply that the place is so very much alive.

We’re not the only ones to say this. There’s something about this city that simply hooks people. Some friends of ours got to live there for a year with their three kids. They returned last summer and now, having seen the place, I walked up to them individually at church on Sunday and asked, “How could you ever leave?” In one of the conversations I added, “There must have been tears;” and at that one of their daughters looked at me as if to be happy to find someone who gets it.

I get it. So does the guy we met on the tram on our last day. He came for a few weeks. He’s been there a few days. Work visa? “That’s something we don’t talk about on public transit;” he replied. I almost hope he gets to continue flying under the radar.

This trip was an extension of our river cruise — I’m not posting these impressions chronologically — that at one point in the three hour bus ride I started to question. Even the drive to the hotel and check in wasn’t particularly impressive.

But all that changed in about 30 seconds. If you get a chance to see this city, don’t pass it up. It’s alive!

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