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Around the Jewish World Brit Milah Taken As a Sign That Prague Shul Coming Back to Life

April 9, 2004
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David Abramson is only a few days old, but already he has made a huge impact on Prague’s Jewish community.

Last week he became the first child in at least 30 years to be circumcised at the 98-year-old Jubilee synagogue, known locally as Jerusalemska.

The brit milah comes as the Jewish community draws up plans to return the Jerusalemska shul to its original status as Prague’s second most important Jewish cultural center.

The brit milah ceremony is so rare in the Czech Republic that a specialist had to be flown in from Zurich to perform it.

David’s father, Samuel Abramson, is the Orthodox rabbi of Jerusalemska, which boasted a bustling, thriving congregation before the Holocaust and the anti-Jewish policies of the former Communist regime took their toll. It now has fewer than 30 official members.

The congregation’s administrator, Emil Svatek, said he was delighted to see a brit milah after so many years.

“It’s a great addition to our family,” he told JTA. “We lost so many in the past, but now we can see a bright future.”

David Stecher, chairman of the Prague Jewish community’s supervisory board and godfather of young David, also was a happy man.

“It’s a wonderful day for me today because Rabbi Abramson is a long-time friend of mine and this sort of event doesn’t happen every day,” he said.

Stecher, thought to be the last person circumcised at Jerusalemska back in 1969, also believes the brit milah represents a brighter future for the shul.

“I think this an important moment because I remember that 20 years ago everyone was saying Jewish life will be finished here within 10 or 20 years,” he said.

The brit milah is the latest in a series of events that have helped put Jerusalemska back on Prague’s Jewish map. Two years ago, Stecher became the first man in more than 30 years to get married in the shul. Last year, an outreach event designed to bring assimilated Jews back into the community drew 2,000 people.

Tomas Jelinek, chairman of the Prague community, said the synagogue is an important part of the city’s Jewish history.

“Jerusalemska was once a cultural and religious center, and we would like to get back to this tradition,” he said. “It should be Prague Jewry’s second cultural center after Maisel Street, which has the Altneu shul and the Jewish town hall.”

The Jerusalemska was still used during the communist years, but during the 1990s the community’s new leadership focused more on the Altneu shul, Jelinek said.

Jelinek said the community is looking at proposals to install a central heating system and refurbish some of the Jerusalemska synagogue’s rooms.

“We see it not only as a place for religious activities but cultural events,” he said. “The acoustics here are very good and it would be very suitable for concerts.”

He also would like the shul to host a permanent exhibit about the Prague Jewish community’s modern history.

Abramson would like the shul to serve a bridge between the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative streams, particularly at a time when Jews face a variety of threats, including resurgent anti-Semitism.

“I can’t agree with Reformists, but we can pray together. I also can’t agree with Conservatives, but they exist,” he said. “I must learn to talk to them, to deal with them and to join with them. We can’t go in different directions at this hard time. We must unify. For this reason I want to create this synagogue as a bridge for different branches of Judaism.

“Look at my hand,” he added. “Each finger has a different shape — but together they make a strong fist that can defend you.”

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