By Sarah Russell, Indiana University
Early this week I celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is one of the holiest days in Judaism next to Yom Kippur, which is next week. Two friends and I went to evening services in the Jewish Community Center synagogue in the center of the Jewish Quarter. It was a small service in English and Hebrew led by the Rabbi who teaches Judaism classes at my program. There were students as well as adults in attendance. The room was small but ornate, with a high ceiling and gold decorated archways leading down to a beautiful, delicate ark.
The service was exactly like home. Wherever you go in the world, you can count on Jewish services to be similar, if not the same. While the tunes of prayers may be slightly altered, every word is Hebrew and recognizable to someone who has been High Holiday services before. It was the first time I wasn’t slightly confused about the language or where I was, or if I was acting in accordance with the culture around me. It was home.
One part of the service, Tashlikh, was quite different from home. At this part, each member goes to a flowing body of water and throws bread crumbs into the water. This represents “casting away your sins to the depths of the sea”. We threw our bread into the Vltava, the river running through Prague. It was, in the simplest of terms, epic.
Before the program, my parents and I did a tour of the Jewish Quarter. There are many synagogues, most of which have been turned into different museums depicting eras of Jewish life in Prague. The most astounding and jaw dropping was the Pinkas Synagogue. Every wall is covered by tiny writing which looks like some form of modern art. However, when you look closely, you see thousands of names belonging to Czech Holocaust victims. The names of extinct towns are scattered throughout the names. I was in awe walking through the hallways.
The most beautiful is the Spanish synagogue. It was incredibly ornate and detailed with gold and multi colored walls, columns, and windows. The lamp was even in the shape of a Star of David. It was beautiful, but compared to the simplicity of most synagogues in the world, it seemed somewhat out of place.
The oldest synagogue is the Old-New Synagogue, from 1270. Services are still held during Shabbat and holidays. It is said that the body of the legendary Golem of Prague is in the attic of this synagogue. The Golem was supposedly created by Rabbi Loeb in the late 16th century. It is said the Rabbi used Kabbalah to create a creature out of clay that would protect the Prague Jews from anti-Semitic attacks. However, as the creature grew, he turned violent and killed at will. Rabbi Loeb destroyed the Golem, but spared its body if it was needed again.
I may not be that religious, but I certainly love being Jewish. I can find a Jewish home almost anywhere in the world and feel comfortable and welcome.