Czech Jews celebrae Chanukah - and being able to celebrate
Chanukah is the eight-day Jewish festival which falls at the end of November or the beginning of December every year. In the Czehc Republic, along with other religious holidays, Chanukah has become a lot more visible since the fall of communism. Many Czech Jews are today happy to be able to enjoy their traditional holidays publicly for the first time in many decades.
Chanukah starts, as an old joke has it, “the same as always, the 25th of Kislev”, according to the Jewish calendar that is. In the Christian calendar it usually occurs from late November to late December, right in the middle of the holiday frenzy engaged in by non-Jewish people in many parts of the world. For some Jews, living as a minority within a society with such a strong emphasis on Christmas traditions might challenge the practice of their own beliefs. Jana Frankova, a member of the Prague Jewish Community, says that her family used to celebrate Christmas, but no longer does.
“Christmas is something I grew up in, something that I followed as a tradition, not a Christian tradition but just as a holiday when the kids get presents. That was nice and I didn't have anything against it. I knew about Chanukah and I started celebrating Chanukah after I sort of separated from my family that was terrified of our being Jewish and of anyone learning about us being Jewish. I though Chanuka was nice, we actually had something for ourselves in my family. I felt I was following the tradition of my old family and our ancestors.”
“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.”