October 16, 2018
Prague, Czech Republic—Week VI Fr. James Donohue, C.R.
We had a great treat this week! We had tickets to a Czech hockey game at the O2 Arena in Prague. Those who know me, know that this was a great evening! I prepared the students with a mini teaching session on the basic rules, especially of icing and off sides. Nothing complicated!
The O2 Arena seats about 18,000 spectators for certain events. They are home to the Sparta Prague Hockey team. We watched and cheered for Sparta Prague against Hradrec Kralove. We wanted to cheer for the home team, and it was also much easier to pronounce than the opponents!
The arena was full and the crowd was really pumped. They have people who beats drums in the stands behind the net and the spectators in this area lead the cheers for the whole arena. You could see that everyone was very passionate for the home team.
On a more serious note, we also visited the Jewish Quarter in Prague, where we toured the Old Jewish Synagogue and the Old New Jewish Synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery is famous because it is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe—about 100,000 Jews are interred here—and one of the most important Jewish historical sites in Prague. Because the Jewish people were limited in space in Prague and Jews do not believe in moving the remains of the dead, they needed to be innovative and they began to add a layer of soil on top of the graves in order to bury more bodies, while at the same time pulling the tombstones to the surface. There are as many as twelve layers of graves in parts of the cemetery. The oldest tombstone is dated 1787 because by this time, Emperor Joseph II had forbidden burials to take place within the city limits. At this time, people did not understand where diseases came from and they suspected that disease came from the decomposing bodies. Hence, the Emperor’s edict.
Surprisingly, this cemetery would probably not be intact today, if not for actions taken by the Nazis. Other Jewish cemeteries in areas conquered by the Nazis were destroyed and the gravestones were used during target practice, but Hitler ordered that this cemetery be saved to serve as part of a museum after all the Jews had been extinguished. He envisioned Prague to be the center of a great museum of all things Jewish after they had been exterminated.
We noticed that many of the tombstones has small pebbles or stones on them. This is a practice that dates back to the book of Exodus when the Israelites were in the desert. In order to bury their dead in a way that animals could not get at the bodies, they began the practice of burying their dead under rocks and stones.
After the cemetery, we toured the Old-New Synagogue. It is the oldest Jewish house of worship in Prague. The old building is no longer standing, but it is responsible for the original name of the "Great" or “New Synagogue” when it was built in the 13th century.
After more synagogues were built later on, this medieval gothic building became known as the Old-New Synagogue. It is actually the oldest gothic structure surviving in Europe. Nine steps lead from the street into a vestibule, from which a door opens into a double-nave with six vaulted bays. This double-nave system was most likely adapted from plans of monasteries and chapels by the synagogue's Christian architects. The molding on the tympanum of the synagogue’s entryway has a design that incorporates twelve vines and twelve bunches of grapes, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
There are two very interesting features of this synagogue. One has to do with the lighting. Originally lit only by candles, they used metal holders to reflect more light from the candles.
The other interesting feature is that women were separated from men in the worship space. Women were able to participate in the service only through very small window-like openings around the outside of the worship space.