PRAGUE (Mar. 17)
One of the most prominent spiritual figures in Prague’s Jewish community has passed away.
At least 300 mourners attended the funeral Sunday of Viktor Feuerlicht, cantor of Prague’s world-famous Old-New Synagogue, who died last week at 84 after a long illness.
Mourners included the Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic, Arthur Avnon.
“It was a very sad occasion, but the number of people who were present was testament to the high regard in which he was held in the community,” Avnon told JTA.
“His spiritual tie with Israel was very strong,” he added. “He was a real Zionist and believed in the realization of the dream to build a country for the Jewish people in the ancient homeland.”
Tomas Jelinek, chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, said Feuerlicht’s death was the end of an era.
“He was the main figure of religious life here for many years and was recognized by different religious authorities around the world,” Jelinek said. “He was the Prague Jewish community’s connection in the former Czechoslovakia to religious communities world wide.”
Jelinek said Feuerlicht, who was head of the Prague rabbinate in the 1970s and 1980s, originally took on the role of cantor on a temporary basis.
“He was asked to be cantor for four weeks, and ended up doing it for 40 years,” he said.
Feuerlicht, who was born in Ukraine, studied Judaism under Joel Teitelbaum, the late grand rabbi of Satmar in Romania, before World War II.
The experience inspired Feuerlicht, according to Hershel Gluck, a London rabbi and longtime friend who gave a speech at the funeral.
“He was a Jew who cared passionately about Judaism and the Jewish people,” Gluck said. “He was a very human person with ideals which superseded his own personal beliefs. He was there for others.”
After war broke out, Feuerlicht was incarcerated in a Hungarian forced labor camp. He later joined a Czech military unit formed in the Soviet Union and fought against the Nazis at the battle of the Dukla Pass in Slovakia in late 1944.
In 1945, he settled in Prague. Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime later prevented Feuerlicht from emigrating to Israel.
In 1999, Feuerlicht delivered prayers from the Pinkas synagogue in a special live radio broadcast marking the culmination of the Czech Days of Jewish Culture. The moving occasion was attended by the Czech Republic’s then- president, Vaclav Havel, as well as other government officials, Holocaust survivors and celebrities.
In his later years, Feuerlicht became friends with Barbra Streisand after giving her advice during filming of the movie “Yentl” in Prague. As a result, a photograph of Streisand hung in the Jewish community’s dining room for a number of years.