Photos of Jewish cemeteries on display in Prague's Klementinum

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A festival of Jewish culture called 9 Gates is underway in Prague this week. Part of the festival is an exhibition which opened on Wednesday at the National Library in Prague's Klementinum. Alena Skodova was there and brings back this report:

On display are photographs of Jewish cemeteries in the Czech Republic. I was particularly taken by the beauty of a series of black and white photos of tombstones bearing inscriptions in Hebrew. But I was surprised to learn from the photographer, Achab Haidler, that his intention wasn't to take artistic photographs:

"Originally I took the photos just for pleasure. It's about 10 years ago since I first started visiting Jewish cemeteries--more for the Jewish symbols, which are very mysterious and sophisticated. Actually, it wasn't until 1998 that I came to Prague to consult Mr. Fidler, the number-one expert on Jewish historical monuments in the Czech Republic. He was very surprised that I was able to read Hebrew, and told me there weren't many people who could in the Czech Republic. Only then did I learn that there was no 'stone archive' or anything documenting Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. There was one piece of extended research done back in the 1930s, but it only concerned graves until 1852. So out of the blue I found myself faced with a huge task for one person. So since then, I've been working on this project very intensively...."

The exhibition is called The Houses of Life, and Mr. Haidler explained to me, that there was a story behind it:

"It's a simple story: Judaism believes that human life does not end on the threshold of death, not for those who pass it. The Jewish religion considers care for those who have passed away and thanks to whom we are here, one of the holiest things we can do. The Jews have a more strongly developed feeling for people's affinity to their family roots, and they believe that each of us has certain responsibility for other people. It's unthinkable for them not to preserve their relatives' graves, they feel respect for their shadows--and we'll all become shadows earlier or later-- and I think many other nations and religions could learn a lot from them."

The Houses of Life exhibition at Prague's Klementinum will last until January 6th.