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Czechs celebrate 700 years of Jewish culture

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PRAGUE, Dec. 19 (JTA) – The rich tapestry of Jewish history in Moravia was unveiled in the Czech town of Brno with the opening of one of the biggest cultural events the region has seen in many years.

“Jewish Moravia, Jewish Brno” will present a series of concerts, films, theater productions and exhibitions over the next few months to remind the wider Czech public of a heritage that refused to die in spite of persistent persecution.

The festival is being organized by the Czech-based Association for Culture and Dialog, also known as K2001, which aims to break down cultural barriers and foster dialogue between different ethnic and religious groups.

Brno’s National Theater was packed Monday for the festival’s opening ceremony.

Among those who attended was Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, who brought a message from Pope John Paul II calling for Christians and Jews to work together for the good of the world.

The ceremony marked the start of a wide range of cultural events, including an exhibition in Brno’s House of Art that focuses on Jewish culture in the Czech provinces of Moravia and Silesia from the 13th century to 1945.

Other events include an exhibition of paintings by the late Czech artist Frantisek Kupka and contemporary Israeli painter Dan Raisinger, as well as an exhibition of local Jewish architecture from 1900 to 1938. A series of seminars and lectures on Jewish themes also will be held.

K2001 chose Moravia and its regional center, Brno, because of its significant Jewish history. Before the Nazi occupation of Moravia, Brno attracted many renowned writers, architects and other artists, predominantly of Jewish origin, who made a great impact on the region’s cultural life.

The event has special significance for chief organizer Jan Kratochvil, who told JTA that his grandfather died at the hands of the Gestapo in 1940 after he had established a support group for Moravian Jews.

“This is a very emotional event for me,” he said. “We have really searched for any Jewish history related to Moravia and have highlighted many things which were not well known before. I am convinced that the project will succeed in breaking down cultural barriers.”

Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, described the festival as “very important.”

“I very much welcome it,” he said. “People who come to the Czech Republic tend to focus on Prague as a Jewish center. I am pleased that the spotlight has moved on to Moravia because it had an enormous and rich Jewish history up until the Second World War.”

Citizens in other countries may soon have an opportunity to learn all about Jewish life in Moravia. Kratochvil hopes that some of the exhibitions will be staged in Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Israel and, eventually, the United States, if a sponsor can be found.

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