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Czech town hopes to lure High Holiday visitors

PRAGUE, July 15 (JTA) — Karlovy Vary’s new rabbi has a lot of catching up to do.

The Jewish community in the western Bohemian spa town Samuel Abramson joins this month has had no clear guidance for more than 60 years.

Now Abramson is hoping that he’ll be able to use the approaching High Holidays as a launching pad to re- establish traditional Jewish practice in Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad.

“The holiday season is a time of atonement and reflection. So Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the ideal opportunities to bring the community together for some special events,” Abramson told JTA. “The Jewish community” in the town “does not mark Rosh Hashanah and don’t celebrate its deep importance, so I want to use the holiday season to encourage Karlovy Vary’s Jews to realize their Jewish identity.”

In addition to traditional worship, Abramson is planning a series of lessons and seminars to introduce the Jewish community to the basic principles of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and to outline the differences between the Jewish and Christian calendars.

The lessons are particularly targeted to young members of the community, with other topics to be covered by the special holiday lectures including “the difference between Jewish nations and other nations.”

“The problem is that people in the town have not had a Jewish religious education at school, so I want to try to make up for that through these seminars during the holidays,” Abramson said.

Abramson says his immediate challenge is to attract the necessary 10 men for a prayer service during the High Holidays.

“If I achieve that I will be very pleased,” says Abramson, Karlovy Vary’s first rabbi since 1938.

“I particularly want to focus on encouraging a return to traditional values,” said Abramson, who is modern Orthodox.

Visitors increasingly are being lured by the town’s famous healing waters, as well as the beauty and elegance of the pastel-colored Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture.

Among them are increasing numbers of Israeli tourists. Charter flights from Tel Aviv are expected almost to double this summer — from 12 last year to 20 around this year’s High Holidays — and Abramson sees the Jewish tourists as a crucial component of the upcoming celebrations.

“I’ll hope to include Israeli visitors in the celebrations,” he said. “This town needs a fresh start and the New Year is the best time to do it. For more than half a century there’s been no official rabbi to lead celebrations here — now it’s time to start again.”

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