Jewish education in Czech Republic sees tenth anniversary


The start of the new school year saw a special anniversary on Monday: 10 years since the revival of Jewish education in Prague. The Gur Arye (Lion's Cub) Elementary School and Or Chadas (New Light) High School are the only Jewish schools in the Czech Republic, and on Monday their anniversary was celebrated by teachers, students and a number of notable guests, including Senate deputy chairman Petr Pithart. Speaking at the school, he called ten years "barely a second in Jewish history" but indicated the fifty that followed the Holocaust were "much more" since very "being or not being" were at stake.

Petr Pithart
Afterwards, the senator took a few minutes to speak to Radio Prague:

"The survival of the Jewish community in Prague was never certain and it was only with much sacrifice that after 1989 it became possible to begin correcting the situation. I can not imagine the Jewish community here without its own schools: education, more than anything else, is part of the Jewish heritage."

George Ban
The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which has helped found Jewish schools in sixteen countries in central and eastern Europe, was also instrumental in setting up the Gur Arye and Or Chadas schools in Prague. The Lauder Foundation's vice president George Ban was also at the schools on Monday:

"Prague always had a tradition of Jewish education, unfortunately broken by the Holocaust and the Shoah, and no one under the communist era was able to restart this or even to think about it. After the changes, almost all countries began to rebuild, to renew their Jewish life, and part of this was how we started in Prague."

All the same, there's no question beginnings were difficult:

"You would not believe it: seven students in the first grade in 1997. I tell you honestly that I had certain doubts about the success and future of this school! But just five years later we were already at full capacity and the need came to renovate the building. When we started there were different companies here - we had just two or three rooms and I thought at first they would be enough. But in 2000 we started to renovate and emptied the whole building, because of demand. So this is confirmation of a good idea."

Students at the "Lauder" schools in Prague do not have to be Jewish but not surprisingly are expected to respect Jewish values. Along with standard classes, there is instruction on Jewish traditions, and there are extracurricular lessons of Hebrew. Children can also learn Hebrew as of the sixth grade. 1st grade teacher Katerina Rohalova told Radio Prague the mix of different languages among some students even in the first year was unusually rich:

"There's one little girl in my class whose mum is from Germany so she speaks German with her. Her father is from Israel, and she speaks Hebrew with him. She's still a little shy about answering in Czech. But within a five minute stretch she spoke in German to her mum, to me in Czech, and Hebrew to her fellow classmate."