The Ceremonial Hall in Prague’s Jewish Quarter preserves the site of the community’s chevra kadisha (burial society). Photo by Sarah Zdancewicz.
There are seven main Jewish sites to visit: the Maisel Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Klausen Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall, the Spanish Synagogue and the Old-New Synagogue (Altneuschul). One ticket allows entrance into all of these places, except for the Old-New Synagogue; you can either buy a separate ticket if it is the only synagogue you wish to see or buy a combined ticket of all seven sites for a greater price. The latter is what I ended up doing, and for an entrance ticket, an audio guide, and a student discount on both, the total ended up being $25. I listened to just about every clip and was able to view them all in a day, but for the average traveler, I would say 2-3 hours is sufficient time for the experience.
Also, prospective visitors should be aware that there are no photographs allowed in any of the locations, with the exception of the Old Jewish Cemetery, at which you can pay a small fee for permission. There were some opportunities where I would have been able to sneak in some photos, but felt that the nature of it was disrespectful and opted to just enjoy everything in that moment instead.
The first stop was the Pinkas Synagogue. It had been used as a synagogue from the 16th century until World War II, after which it became a memorial for the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia (modern-day Czech Republic) who perished in the war. Before the war, about 117,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews were living in this land and about 25,000 managed to escape. However, 80,000 are known to have been victims of the Holocaust, and it is the names of these 80,000 that have been written inside the Pinkas Synagogue on the walls in their memory. For me, even more moving was the exhibition upstairs that displayed paintings of children who lived in the Terezin ghetto/concentration camp from 1942-1944. There are several different “categories” of drawings, such as “Coming home,” “On the outside,” and “Life inside the ghetto.” Many of the children did not survive, which makes their drawings of hope even more heartbreaking.
The next stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery, a display of crooked tombstones in a raised section of land. The Jews had been allotted a limited area of land in Prague, and because more and more people were dying, in order to be able to bury them correctly they had to be buried in layers. While some tour guides may say it is 12 layers high, the real answer is 5 (says the audio guide from the museum, but maybe they are wrong too). Each tombstone therefore has multiple listings, done in corresponding order. Some famous people buried in this cemetery include Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal of Prague (ca. 1525-1609); community leader Mordecai Maisel (1528-1601); and the astronomer David Gans (1541-1613). Loew’s narrative of the Golem and its influence was not as present in the area as I would have thought, with the exception of the “Golem Cafe” nearby. It could have just been a bias I encountered, but I saw that the figure given the most attention was the mayor Mordecai Maisel.
Moving on to the Ceremonial Hall, you will find remnants of the Prague Burial Society (chevra kadisha). The majority of items you will find are silver instruments that were used in preparing the dead, along with a very well preserved board that was actually once used in this preparation. I also found the Klausen Synagogue to be very well organized and interesting, with displays portraying different holidays, traditions, and rituals that showed the continuing traditions in relation to the past.