PRAGUE (Aug. 28)
Israel’s deputy foreign minister offered his country’s solidarity with the Czech people – – and $50,000 — during a tour of historic Jewish sites in Prague damaged by recent flooding.
Rabbi Michael Melchior visited several synagogues in the city’s Old Town on Wednesday, accompanied by Israeli ambassador Arthur Avnon, Czech Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon and Prague Jewish leaders.
The minister saw how water had seeped from underground channels and damaged the Old-New, Pinkas and Spanish synagogues.
The Pinkas Synagogue was particularly badly affected. Its foundations suffered water damage, as did some of the 80,000 names of Holocaust victims handpainted on its walls.
As he began his tour of the synagogues, Melchior told JTA he was saddened by the damage.
“There are places where people have prayed for centuries which have been destroyed in their foundations,” he said.
Melchior said he was visiting on behalf of the Israeli government, and stressed Israel’s close links with the Czech Republic.
“The people of Israel were very touched by the tragedy which happened here in the Czech Republic,” he said. “There is a very strong bond of friendship between the two countries and we decided that, as a token of our solidarity, I would visit Prague today in the name of the government of Israel.”
The minister brought with him a $50,000 donation from the Israeli government for the Prague Jewish Community to help pay for damages estimated at $4 million.
Melchior said he would be meeting President Vaclav Havel to discuss what Israel could do to help the country.
The chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, said the community appreciated Israel’s support.
“We feel strengthened by this display of solidarity,” he said.
Jelinek said many people and Jewish communities around the world had donated to a fund set up after the floods earlier this month.
But the response from some large Jewish organizations, which he declined to name, had been quite different, he said.
“There are some big Jewish NGOs who have suggested that we sell a few of our buildings to pay for the damage,” he added.
In a separate development, the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, Craig Stapleton, said he would approach sections of the American Jewish community to help secure financial help in cleaning up the Holocaust memorial in Terezin.
The wartime Jewish ghetto, which lies about 35 miles north of Prague, suffered an estimated $2m worth of damage when it was engulfed by floodwaters two weeks ago.
During a visit to the memorial Tuesday, Stapleton said the embassy would appeal initially to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on behalf of the Terezin Museum.
“We have no way of communicating with other museums we cooperate with in the United States to let them know that we are still alive and fighting,” said Terezin Museum director Jan Munk. “We have no e-mails or telephones, and rely on conducting our business through mobile telephones. We hope that Ambassador Stapleton’s visit will be very fruitful.”
Munk said the damage to the Terezin Memorial was far worse than first thought, particularly in the Small Fortress, where prisoners were held during World War II. At least one exhibition on the history of the Small Fortress was destroyed and several others damaged.
Munk added that he hoped some exhibitions could be partially reopened next week.