(page 2 of 2)
Plzeň is the only one of the 10 towns where there is an active Jewish community, and the exhibit there highlights Jewish traditions. It is not located in Plzeň’s twin-towered Great Synagogue, the second largest synagogue in Europe and a city landmark, however, but in the much smaller nearby Old Synagogue, which had long stood disused.
“Jewish history is part of the history and traditions of our city,” Plzeň Mayor Martin Baxa told me. “Our citizens know about the Great Synagogue, but not the Old Synagogue. Now the two are connected. The 10 Stars was a way to change that situation and give the Old Synagogue back to Plzeň.”
The 10 Stars project is the biggest single Jewish heritage project to be carried out in the Czech Republic since the fall of communism, but it is the culmination of a strategy for Jewish heritage preservation already implemented by the Jewish community in the early 1990s.
This included targeting specific buildings for restitution and working in partnership with local municipalities and NGOs to restore or renovate buildings for cultural use. Since 1993, more than 65 synagogues all over the country have been restored. Most are used as cultural centers, but several house regional or local Jewish museums.
On my 10 Stars road trip, I also attended Sephardic music concert by the Czech group Kon Sira in the recently restored synagogue in Český Krumlov, the beautiful southern Bohemia town that is a tourist mecca. The synagogue functions as a cultural venue and includes an informative exhibit on local Jewish history.
The 10 Stars sites were inaugurated in June with a series of official opening ceremonies, but otherwise the project has received surprisingly little fanfare.
That’s too bad. Following the 10 Stars route is an excellent way to see remarkable Jewish heritage sites and to get out of Prague and experience lesser-known parts of the country.
Be aware, however, that all the logistical kinks have not yet been worked out. Signage is poor in some places, and printed information is also scarce. For foreign visitors, though, the biggest frustration is the current lack of English translations for the information panels in the exhibits.
Not only that, rules laid down by governmental funders prohibit commercial use of the sites — that means no cafes, no museum shops and aside from a few postcards, no souvenirs.
Ruth Ellen Gruber writes frequently about Jewish cultural and heritage issues.