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Rules Are Broken So Man’s Last Wish, a Funeral in Prague, Can Be Fulfilled

August 14, 2002
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A Florida businessman has fulfilled the last wish of his late father by laying his ashes to rest in a Jewish cemetery in Prague.

Gary Teplitsky, from Key West, overcame a series of bureaucratic hurdles to bring the ashes of his father, Irving, to the Czech capital exactly a year after the retired lawyer’s death.

Teplitsky, who owns a coffee roasting company, Baby’s Coffee, said his 80-year-old father had asked to be buried in Prague because of his wartime experiences.

As a young sergeant, his father had been with the American Third Army as it liberated parts of the former Czechoslovakia under Gen. George Patton.

“My father didn’t talk a lot about his wartime experiences in Czechoslovakia, but he did say he couldn’t stand the suffering people went through there,” Teplitsky said after the funeral last Friday in the Jewish cemetery in Izraelska Street.

“His last wish was: Take me there.”

Teplitsky and his family agonized over the request, particularly because as it conflicted with Jewish burial laws.

“To fulfill his request, there was no other way than to arrange for my father’s cremation. We knew it was breaking the rules, but we decided we were going to get him over here. Of all the things I have gone through in my life, this was by far the most difficult thing I have had to do.”

Teplitsky praised American Airlines and customs officials for their discretion in bringing the ashes over.

“The ashes were screened by security but no one asked to look inside the box where they were. I would have been extremely upset if anyone had opened it,” he said.

Officials with the Prague Jewish community agreed to let the ashes be buried in a special section of the cemetery, and a senior cemetery official presided over the ceremony.

“There was no official rabbi present because of the circumstances,” Teplitsky said.

A Prague Jewish community official who did not wish to be named said the funeral “did not exist” for the city’s rabbinical office because Irving Teplitsky had been cremated.

“Everyone knows it is breaking Jewish law but, sometimes there is no other way,” said the official.

Gary Teplitsky said the ceremony has renewed his interest in Judaism.

He said he lost touch with his Jewish faith after celebrating his bar mitzvah nearly 40 years ago.

There was a very small Jewish community in Key West and few opportunities to mix, he added.

“The funeral provided a sense of closure for me, but it has made me think about reconnecting with Judaism,” he said.

“I’d like to become more involved in it so I can bring more to my life.”

Teplitsky added that he would like to establish close links with the Prague Jewish community.

“Our family had to break the rules to bring Irving here. I think we will overcome the problem and somehow become a part of the Prague community,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by Czech war veterans and several military officials attached to the U.S. Embassy who had helped with the arrangements.

Among the mourners was Ludmila Weiserova, whose parents owned a bakery in the Bohemian town of Pilsen. As a young child, she became friendly with Irving Teplitsky, who was well known locally as a generous man.

“He always brought me chocolate and chewing gum, which I had never had before,” she said.

Irving Teplitsky lost contact with Ludmila’s family during the Communist years but met up with them again in 1995, when he returned to Bohemia for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Irving Teplitsky, who was known as “I.T.,” was born and raised in New York and had a long career as a lawyer, once representing screen and dancing legend Ginger Rogers.

He was a former member of the reform Temple Sinai in Long Island, N.Y., and in his later years moved to Florida, first to Key West and then to Miami, where he died.

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