On our last full day in Prague yesterday, we visited the Jerusalem Synagogue on Jerusalem Street. I originally put it on our list of places to potentially visit because it’s supposed to be quite a beautiful building both inside and out. This synagogue, built in 1906, is designed in the Moorish Revival form with Art Nouveau details. And it also suddenly dawned on me that despite being on this planet for almost 38 years now, I do not believe I’ve stepped into any synagogue even once. I’ve been in endless churches, cathedrals, and mosques around the world, yet no synagogues.
If you come as a visitor and not as a worshipper, you pay an entrance fee to enter. But when you enter, you immediately realize that the entry fee is completely worth it, as the inside is absolutely spectacular – so many colors and sparkles and detail every which way you turn. Plus, on the second floor, they have set up what looks like a museum exhibition detailing the history of Jews in Central Europe and what was once Czechoslovakia. They touch upon the Nazi German occupation of the synagogue as a place to store confiscated Jewish property. They give many personal accounts of famous Jews who have lived in what is now Prague, and also share horror stories of Jews constantly being shunned, excluded, or pushed out of cities and towns all over Central Europe since as early as the 1200s.
Living in New York, I am surrounded by Jewish people everywhere I go. You see synagogues in many neighborhoods, Jewish delis and restaurants every few blocks. A lot of major theaters and companies are run by those with a Jewish background. In New York, it can seem like Jews are the majority, and when you aren’t Jewish, you aren’t as accepted. But when you see exhibits like the one here at the Jerusalem Synagogue, you quickly remember that Jews, are, in fact, a real minority, and have had a long, painful history of being ostracized, excluded, and killed. Given the attacks in Israel and the turmoil in Gaza since early October, every time I’ve passed any synagogue in New York, I always see armed police officers wearing bullet-proof vests standing outside their doors. It’s always made me feel uneasy and a bit concerned for how Jewish worshippers feel coming in and out of their synagogues. But seeing this exhibit and this synagogue illuminated that Jews everywhere live in a certain degree of fear and distrust given their sad history of not having a place to belong, as well as having many generations of their families exterminated during World War II.