THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE APPEALS TO THE PUBLIC WITH A REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE
We welcome any financial donations to the museum’s bank account:
Bank account name: Židovské muzeum v Praze
SWIFT CODE: COBACZPXXXX
IBAN: CZ60 6200 0000 0000 1042 6398
Bank account name: Židovské muzeum v Praze
SWIFT CODE: COBACZPXXXX
IBAN: CZ22 6200 0001 0700 1042 6398
The Jewish Museum in Prague (JMP) has been closed intermittently since 15 March of last year, and continuously since 18 December 2020. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the JMP’s revenue fell sharply last year and has continued to decline. The JMP’s receipts from ticket sales – which are crucial for its overall revenue – were down by 84.09%, compared to 2019. This was directly linked to a year-on-year decrease in visitor numbers of 81.37%. Total revenue for 2020 fell by 78.24% compared to the previous year. A larger decline was only prevented by the fact that January and February 2019 did not differ from previous years in terms of income. The JMP is one of the many institutions in the Czech Republic that have suffered a dramatic decline in tourism revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
More information about this can be found in an article published in the newspaper Hospodářské novinyon 11 February 2021, in which the JMP director Leo Pavlát describes the broader context of the museum’s current difficult financial situation.
A selection of cultural events and lectures
International Holocaust Remembrance Day Concert
The Jewish Museum in Prague regularly participates in commemorative events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January by holding a gala concert in the Spanish Synagogue. As it was not possible to gather together in person for this year’s event, the Museum held the concert virtually. It featured compositions by Hans Krása, Josef Mysliveček and Maurice Ravel, performed by the Doležal Quartet. The online viewers were welcomed by the director of the Jewish Museum, Leo Pavlát, followed by a speech given by the chairman of the Prague Jewish Community in Prague, František Bányai. A recording of the concert can be viewed on the Museum’s YouTube channel.
Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor
A Czech version of the book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (translated as Dopisy přes zeď) by the American-born Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi was published last autumn. A series of letters to an imaginary Palestinian neighbor, this book consists of personal reflections on various philosophical, political and historical issues. On 16 February, leading Czech experts on the Middle East conflict – Irena Kalhousová (Herzl Center for Israeli Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague), Tomáš Pojar (CEVRO Institute, Prague) and the Americanist Hana Ulmanová (Faculty of Arts, Charles University) – met online to present and talk about the book and its author to a Czech audience. This online event was moderated by the journalist Jan Fingerland. The author of the book also took part with a short video greeting in which he highlighted his very close ties to many members of the Czech Jewish community.
Arnošt Lustig’s Waves of Happiness
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Arnošt Lustig (1926–2011), Euromedia Group published a selection of previously unreleased interviews and radio broadcasts from 1953–2010 by this world-renowned writer. The book Arnošt Lustig’s Waves of Happiness, or We Wanted a Different World (edited by his daughter Eva Lustigová) charts his beginnings in literary journalism, his relationship to the Prague Spring, his emigration, and his return to the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution, as well as his views on teaching literature and film, and on his own literary work. Eva Lustigová and the actor-director Tomáš Töpfer, who was one of Arnošt Lustig’s family friends, talked about the author’s reflections on life, freedom and work at an event that was held in his honour. Selected audio recordings from radio broadcasts were also heard over the course of the evening.
Other news from the museum
Seminar for teachers
The Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture is continuing to hold seminars for educators, even in the current situation, although they have been transferred to the online environment due to the pandemic restrictions in place. The scope of these seminars remains unchanged. A one-day series of lectures, titled Anti-Semitism, Holocaust/Shoah, took place on 8 March. The date of this event was also determined by the topic of the first paper, in which Jana Šplíchalová and Radana Rutová (experts at the Museum’s Shoah Documentation Unit) recalled the tragic liquidation of the Terezín family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In the following lecture, Jakub Mlynář drew the attention of teachers to the archive of digital interviews that is made available through the Malach Center for Visual History, including practical examples of how to incorporate commemorative material into lessons. In the afternoon section, Eva Hocká (Faculty of Arts, Charles University) gave an in-depth paper setting out the historical context for the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and describing how the implementation of these laws impacted the fate of individual people. In the final paper, Zuzana Pavlovská (head of the Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture) talked about the fate of Jews in post-war Czechoslovakia and, above all, about the difficult situation they faced when returning from the concentration camps.
Online teaching at the Jewish Museum
In March of this year, exactly one year passed since the Jewish Museum in Prague first closed its doors to the public as a result of the situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from members of the general public from Czechia and other countries, another important group of visitors to the Jewish Museum are pupils and students from all levels of education, whose needs are catered to through our Department of Education and Culture.
In the spring of last year, the department smoothly switched to online teaching, offering teachers two possible ways of “visiting” the museum during lockdown. Educators from the department can adapt all of the educational programmes that are available on the Museum’s website in the “Programmes for Schools” section for online learning, and can connect directly with teachers and pupils through various platforms.
In addition, four of the department’s programmes – “Researcher”, “Hana’s Suitcase”, “Stereotypes”, and “Jewish Customs and Traditions” – have been put into written form. Teachers can obtain these methodological materials and worksheets for use in schools or as part of distance learning courses. During the pandemic, the Jewish Museum has so far remotely supported approximately 1,350 Czech pupils and students. The whole team of educators is looking forward to further cooperation with schools, and hopes to be soon able to welcome visitors in person at the Jewish Museum.
Life Could Be So Beautiful – interactive distance education workshops
Life Could Be So Beautiful: Ruth Maierová’s Diary is the title of a workshop organized by the Brno branch of the Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture, which was originally planned as part of the double exhibition Severed Lives and The Maier Family’s Ark. It has been available online since January of this year and has already involved the participation of fifty school groups. The workshop is part of a larger project that includes the above-mentioned exhibitions, a Czech translation of Ruth Maierová’s Diary (published this January by Albatros Media), and another seminar hosted by the Jewish Museum. More information about this exhibition project can be found on the website www.maierfamily.eu. In addition, there were twenty presentations of another online interactive workshop, titled We Won’t Forget – 2021, which was organized in cooperation with the Museum of Romani Culture. Both programmes were launched in connection with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but will continue over the next three months.
Virtual opening of the exhibition Shared History: 1700 Years of Jewish Life in German-speaking European Lands in the German Bundestag in Berlin
In 2021, the world – for the twenty-fifth time – commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, the date that the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. The year 2021 also marks 1,700 years since the issuance of a document that contains the first historical evidence of Jewish life in Europe north of the Alps (in present-day Cologne). In connection with this day of remembrance, the Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin (which focuses on the study of German-Jewish history and culture) launched its “Shared History Project”, an online exhibition of 58 objects from the most prominent memory institutions, in particular from Jewish museums. Commissioned by the German Bundestag, this exhibition traces the 1,700-year history of Jewish presence in Central Europe and reveals how interwoven the lives of Jews and the majority Christian population have been over the centuries.
The exhibition highlights the individual and collective experiences that shaped Jewish life in the German-speaking world for many centuries: discrimination, social exclusion and disenfranchisement on the one hand, acceptance, acculturation and social advancement on the other. The objects are depicted chronologically on glass panels and are documented in photographs with informative captions. The Czech Republic is represented in the exhibition by two institutions, the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Terezín Memorial. The Jewish Museum provided a photograph and description of the Torah ark curtain that was commissioned in 1711 by Abba Mori ben Zelig Bischitz (1691–1752) at the request, and in memory of, his first wife Reizl (Reizl) bat Moses Plohn (ca. 1691–1709), who died prematurely.
The Terezín Memorial provided a photograph and description of a Jewish prayer room at 17 Dlouhá Street from the time of the Terezín ghetto; the room was decorated with paintings by Rabbi Artur Berlinger who was assassinated in 1944 in Auschwitz. The “Shared History” exhibition is on view in the German Bundestag in Berlin from 27 January until 23 April 2021. All 58 objects documenting the 1,700-year history of Jewish communities in Central Europe, which have been put together as part of the “Shared History” project, can be viewed on the project’s web portal https://sharedhistoryproject.org/.
Maurycy Gottlieb (21/28 February 1856, Drohobycz – 17 July 1879, Krakow) was one of the most important Polish Jewish painters of the Romantic period. Although he died young, he left behind a remarkable legacy as a painter. His most famous work is the oil painting Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878), which is now housed in the collection of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The painting provides the viewer with a look inside the synagogue in Drohobycz (formerly in Austrian Poland, now western Ukraine). The twenty women and men present in the picture represent the painter’s relatives, alive and dead, who were painted from photographs. The painter’s mother, fiancée Laura Rosenfeld (portrayed twice) and her mother can be seen praying in the gallery. The picture contains three depictions of Gottlieb – as a child in the ceremonial brocade coat worn by Polish Jews, at the age of his bar mitzvah studying the Scriptures next to the father, and at the age he was when he made the painting.
The picture also found its place in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague (Inv. No. 077.973) – not as an oil painting, but a textile image that was intricately embroidered with coloured yarns so as to resemble the original as faithfully as possible. During the Second World War, this textile was sent to the Jewish Museum from the “Treuhandstelle 7a” warehouse in the Vinohrady Synagogue, which was one of about fifty warehouses that held property confiscated from Jews who had been deported to the extermination camps. The confiscated items were later sold below cost to members of the Nazi occupation apparatus. We do not know who the original owners of the textile were, nor who embroidered it. Nevertheless, the textile attests to a knowledge of, and a liking for, the work of Mauryca Gottlieb, as well as to an effort on the part of the original owners to have Gottlieb’s masterpiece in their apartment – if not the original, then at least an original “painting with coloured yarns”. February 2021 marked the 165th anniversary of the birth of Maurycy Gottlieb.
Oil on canvas, Tel Aviv Museum of Art (245,10 x 191,80 cm). Source: Wikimedia Commons
Embroidered textile picture, Jewish Museum in Prague (Inv. No. 077.793; 95 x 70 cm)
Prague edition of a kabbalistic work by Rabbi Yissachar Ber of Kremenets
The Jewish Museum’s library holdings contain four volumes of the collected work of Rabbi Yissachar Ber ben Petahiah of Kremenets (Hungary, 16th–17th century), which was printed in 1609–1610 by Moses ben Bezalel Katz, a member of the prominent family of Hebrew printers in Prague, known commonly as The Gersonides. Rabbi Yissachar Ber, who was in contact with the Safedic centre of Jewish mysticism, employs systematic and linguistic analysis in his interpretation of the Zohar. Yesh Sachar (“Reward”, 1609) treats the Zohar as a source of Jewish law; Pitchei Yah (“The Gates of the Lord”, 1609) provides an introduction to Jewish mysticism; Mekor Chochmah (“The Source of Wisdom”, 1610) contains Hebrew translations of Zohar passages; Imrei Binah (“Words of Understanding”, 1610) provides a glossary of difficult Aramaic words that appear in the Zohar.
These works constitute some of the earliest printed commentaries on the Zohar. The treatise Imrei Binah contains the first publication of Rabbi Shimon Labi’s famous poem Bar Yochai. The piyyut Bar Yochai, which is commonly sung on the festival of Lag Ba-omer (the 33rd day of Omer), presents the figure of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as a central authority of the Jewish religion, whose teaching opened up the possibility of individual salvation, not on the horizon of the human past, but directly in history. The beautiful printed books of Rabbi Yissachar Ber of Kremenets are a unique collection whose systematic and multidisciplinary character foreshadowed the origin of Jewish studies. Ivan Kohout from the Jewish Museum’s library department is currently preparing a scholarly article on Rabbi Yissachar Ber with the aim of providing a contemporary view on the topic of Prague as a place of Jewish mysticism and, above all, with the aim of increasing knowledge about the Jewish Museum’s library holdings.
Torah ark curtain donated by Abba Mori ben Zelig Bischitz for the High Synagogue in Prague (Inv. No. JMP 016.650)
This Torah ark curtain was commissioned in 1711 by the Prague Jewish Community treasurer and textile merchant Abba Mori ben Zelig Bischitz (1691–1752) at the request of his first, prematurely deceased, wife Reizl (Reizl) bat Moses Plohn (ca. 1691–1709), in order to keep her memory alive. The notebook of hazkarot (memorial prayers) from the High Synagogue contains the preserved text of a hazkarah for the late Reizl in relation to this gift. It requests that God remember her soul, “because she instructed her husband, Mori Bischitz, before her death that he should make a parokhet before the Holy Ark from one of her dresses. Her husband upheld her words and spent a great deal of his own money for her soul. He made a holy parokhet, using one of her dresses with six silver bells.”
The curtain is made of brown damask with so-called bizarre patterns interwoven with yellow metal thread, dating from 1700 and 1705. In addition to the fabric itself, laces were also used to decorate the garment, structuring the surface of the curtain. Its embroidered inscription reads: “A gift of the prince and leader, R. Mori, son of Zelig Bischitz, the treasurer, may his Rock protect him, for the soul of his wife Rezl, daughter of Moses Plohn, of blessed memory, in order to fulfil the request that she made during her life” (the date in the chronogram is 471 = 1711). By donating a parokhet, Reizl was symbolically returned to the world of the living worshippers who gathered in the High Synagogue, when this curtain was hung. The cantor further emphasized this connection when he recited the hazkarah describing Reizl’s gift. This curtain was showcased as part of the “Share History” project on 28 March 2021.
Jewish Museum in Prague, U Staré školy 1, 110 01 Prague 1
Id. No.: 60459263
Bank Account Information: Commerzbank, AG, Jugoslávská 1, 120 21 Prague 2
For payment in CZK: 10426398/6200
For payment in EUR: 1042639, IBAN: CZ60 6200 0000 0000 1042 6398
For payment in USD: 1042639, IBAN: CZ22 6200 0001 0700 1042 6398 SWIFT CODE: COBACZPXXXX
Editor: Tomáš Tetiva
Photographs: JMP unless otherwise stated