Year of Jewish Culture focuses on Hebrew heritage

The Prague Post

Jewish Museum reaches out with full calendar of events

The Jewish community in Prague and across the Czech Republic has a past integrally tied to the country’s history. Traditionally, it has been perceived as a closed community — a view the Jewish Museum of Prague is out to change.

Thus, a newly annonced yearlong celebration of Jewish culture coinciding with the museum’s centennial. On tap are festivals, concerts and exhibitions, many of which will be held outside the museum.

“We decided to have a celebration of Jewish culture, but not just the museum,” says Year of Jewish Culture spokeswoman Jana Tomášková. “We want to present all aspects of Jewish culture.”

“The events will take place throughout the country, and there are many small projects as well,” says Pavla Niklová, the museum’s development coordinator.

Several collaborations planned

The schedule is ambitious, and the variety of events impressive. “This idea and much of the program has been in planning for about two years, since we knew the anniversary was coming up,” Niklová says. “Last spring, we started contacting possible partners who might want to be part of the celebration.” Many responded positively, and the museum is partnering with more than 80 institutions for some 70 planned events.

“Many groups already had something on their event calendars, and some introduced new events for participation,” Niklová says of the partnerships. Securing them was time-consuming but not difficult. “We started out searching for partners with organizations we had done things with before,” says Tomášková. “And then as word spread, more and more people wanted to become involved.”

Partners include institutions such as the Museum of Czech Literature and the Terezín Memorial, Minor Theater and Theater v Dlouhé, the Prague Spring and Prague Writers festivals, City Gallery Prague and the Prague City Museum. Prague Mayor Pavel Bém and former President Václav Havel also signed on.

Monthly events to entertain, educate

Each month of 2006 will see some sort of event connected with the Year of Jewish Culture. The museum hopes the events will be both entertaining and educational, drawing attention to Jewish cultural heritage and its value to the country.

“We want to promote Jewish places to everyone,” says Tomášková. Groups as varied as the National Theater in Brno, the city of Ceské Budejovice and Febio Fest will participate, making it truly a nationwide program.

The events are as diverse as the participating groups. “The Respekt Festival, the One World Festival and the Hear Our Voice concert of Czech, British and German children’s choirs singing at the State Opera are some of the highlights,” says Tomášková. An exhibition of Jewish wedding traditions and many exhibitions will also feature.

“We don’t just want to show Jewish history and traditions, but present contemporary issues as well,” she says. “Visitors may be surprised by the contemporary music, art and other events not usually seen in Jewish arts and culture.”

Underpinning them all is the Jewish Museum’s determination to open its doors wide, both figuratively and literally.

“The year stresses the fact that Jewish culture has been here for many years, even though it is hidden,” says Niklová. “Many people think it’s a closed environment, and we would like to open it.”

The museum has been around for 100 years, after all, and even though it is one of the most visited museums in the country, the guests are usually tourists. “We want Czech people to return to the area, and make the public more aware of the existence of the museum,” says Niklová.

“We want to emphasize the importance of Jewish culture and history to the country, and the museum’s role in keeping it alive,” stresses Tomášková, adding, “We want to show people Jewish culture because it deserves attention. It’s a deep part of the nation, and its time to break down the wall.”