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Travel Blog

Jewish Quarter #1

Jessica Litwak

I made my way this Shabbat morning to the Jewish Quarter in Prague. Although I visited these sites 17 years ago, I wanted to return today as so much of my work lately has been concentrated on historical Jewry.
There are manyJewish legends that are particular to Prague, including the Golem, a man made of clay who was built to protect the Ancient Jews of Prague from Anti- Semitism.
Jewish merchants settled here in the 10th century.
Twice in 1541 and 1744 Jews were expelled from the country, but they continued to return and to build a vibrant community here.
Although most of the Jewish population was murderedby the Nazis, much of the architecture was persevered. Because it is Shabbat the museums and tours are closed.
 I will come back another today and go the the museum and the cemetrary speak more about the stories and the place.
Today I got into a scuffle. I had an argument with a Tour Guide from somewhere in Europe who was leading one of the many groups of tourists around Prague and speaking broken English.
He made some very rude cracks first he said he could see that their eyes were glassed over because the Jewish history was a bit boring so he would go fast through this section. Then he said if they are lucky they might get to see some real Jews in action maybe even a Bar Mitzvah, then he started to tell some kind of Jewish joke, I was just passing by but I said clearly to him, "Be careful." "Be careful about what - you think there are some Israelis on my tour? There aren't"  He began to tell the Jewish joke again, and knowing full well that I should walk away I opened my moth again. "Are you Jewish?" I asked him. "No, of course not. But I could be Jewish any minute if I wanted to be. Anybody can be Jewish." I walked away. Then he shouted after me " YOU MUST BE FROM NEW YORK!"
I wasn't sure if he meant because I was obviously Jewish, or because I was obviously rude enough to interrupt his tour with my intrusive remarks.
Either way, of course he was right and they whole event upset me.
For those who know me you know that I work constantly on this paradox of being Jewish, of disagreeing with Israeli policies, of loving the Arab world, and loving many Muslims as well as Christians and Buddhists. But this is the land of my grandparents and I am particularly sensitive to the off hand remarks of a careless tour guide.
I should have kept my mouth shut. But that's a lesson I have been trying to learn all my life.