Chanukah celebrated by Prague's Jewish community
For most people in Prague and the Czech Republic, last Sunday was the Second Advent Sunday marking the middle of the four-week period before Christmas. In their homes people light the second candle on the advent wreath in anticipation of the coming holiday. But this past Sunday, another lighting ceremony took place in Prague as well.
The eight-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah commemorates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C.E. While originally a minor holiday, the 20th century saw it develop into one of the most observed festivals of the Jewish year. It has become such a popular festival especially with children because of the proximity of Christmas.
First deputy mayor of Prague, Rudolf Blažek, represented city hall at the Menorah lighting ceremony, and was given a special privilege at the ceremony, too.
Both men than mounted a lift platform that elevated them, with some guidance of the rabbi, to the top of the 6-metre-tall candelabra. Then Mr Blazek kindled the first light, the audience rejoiced.
Ziv Kulman, the deputy chief mission of Israel to Prague was also at the ceremony. He noted the venue is very relevant for the holiday of Chanuka. The Square bears the name of Jan Palach, a student who immolated himself in 1969 in protest of the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia.
“This year it also the International Human Rights Day. I think it is a very nice coincidence. So we think about Jan Palach, we think about fighters for human rights, wherever they are, and we remember Chanukah. That is exactly of the holiday is about.”
I also asked Sam Fleishman, an American residing in Prague, whether the attention to Christmas makes him uncomfortable.
“Quite the opposite – it enriches my Jewish identity. I grew up in New York City where we have a very large Jewish population, and I also lived in Israel for a year. I must say that coming to the Czech Republic has given me a stronger sense of Jewish identity in that for once in my life I can live as a minority which brings forth the passion and the identity.”
“It was more difficult because of the older generation, the generation of my parents. They were terrified that lo let the neighbours know who their were, certainly because of their war experience. After the change of the regime in 1989, we suddenly felt free; we could go to the Jewish community to celebrate all the Jewish holidays, Chanukah, Passover, everything. And people suddenly, the majority society, became interested in what we were actually doing there, and why we were doing it. It was kind of a satisfaction.”
There was certainly a lot of joy, and satisfaction, to be seen under the giant Menorah. After the sixth light was lit, children formed circles and started dancing to the lively tones of Chanukah music. After a while they rushed off to the Chabad community centre for some latkas, locally known as bramboraky, with hot cream and apple sauce. Jana Frankova believes such public festivals can make people know their neighbours better.
“Besides pulling down the barriers among the various groups of population, it also enriches them. And I think it would be pretty good if Czech kids learnt at school not only about Christmas – because they should know why Czech kids celebrate Christmas – but also about Jewish holidays. They should perhaps learn about the holidays of the Vietnamese kids who go to the same class.“