What a magical day! I am always pleased when I talked to the people in the group and at the end of the first day and they tell me that it feels like we’ve been here for a week, so much has happened. And yes, so much has. I can’t believe myself it’s only been one day.
We started with giving people space in the morning to sleep and recoup from jet-lag, so we had a late start. We gathered in the hotel lobby at 10AM heading toward our meditation spot that our friend Kate suggested at dinner the evening before: The Jerusalem Synagogue. This, to me, is the magic of these trips. Yes we plan as much as we can, make reservations, book group tours etc… but there is a part of this where we get to practice our spiritual values in real-time. When an opportunity makes itself known, when the Universe opens a door, we are to make ourselves available for a spontaneous change of plan. The Universe never stops talking and inviting us to greater discoveries, greater learning, broader openings; but if we keep ourselves stuck on our pre-delineated life tracks we will forever miss the gorgeous magic of a detour.
We thought the meditation would be in the hotel but here we were, walking the 20 minutes it took to find ourselves in front of the Jerusalem Synagogue which got its name from the name of the street it is on. As I drew closer to the Synagogue entrance, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the façade of this incredible place. It took my breath away. Though the pictures you can find on line won’t do it justice (as nothing replaces being in the presence of such a piece of architectural art,) do yourself a favor and Google it. It is beyond stunning. But then we walked inside when its doors opened (it is no longer used as a house of worship these days but is one of the few synagogues transformed into museums downtown Prague,) what we found within was a jewel of Moorish-style design. Now I am already running out of superlatives. Our group found a couple a pews to sit together and I led us into a meditation with the Sh’ma that simply felt right in that moment. After half an hour of silence we closed singing our community’s Sh’ma together. Magical.
Our tour began in earnest in the afternoon. From 2 to 6PM we walked the streets of the Jewish Quarter of Prague with our fabulous guide, Sylvie. We stopped at every street corner where she told story after incredible story, we entered into four different synagogues and traversed the old Jewish cemetery. One of the highlights for me was the walls of names at the Pinkas Synagogue. 80 thousand names of the Czech Jewish dead, representing the annihilation of 153 towns and villages communities victim of the Shoah. And there, on one of the heartbreaking walls, the names of Kate’s late husband’s parents, murdered during the war. She broke into a beautiful chant in their honor and we all started to cry with her. The other highlights was for me to be able to place a stone atop the grave of the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Betzalel; one of the greatest Jewish mystics and rabbi that ever lived, and who is forever associated with the mythical creature of the Golem. I felt great love rising within me in that moment that I cannot explain (and why should I?).
At 7PM we stood in front of the Spanish Synagogue where our group had been invited by the local rabbi to join in their Kabbalat Shabbat service. I even had the honor to be asked to give the talk that evening, which I did. I led the 100+ people that were there into a brief meditation starting with a Shalom Chant. I was reminded how much what we do is unique and foreign to most Jews everywhere. The words “Jewish” and “Meditation” somehow are concepts that have come to be dissociated in the Jewish psyche, where only a couple hundred years ago these regions of Central Europe were the centers of early Chasidism which promoted not only meditative practices but ecstatic prayer, chanting and dancing. It was obvious to me that a few people were deeply uncomfortable with our practice, squirming in their chair, burying their head in their hands or even laughing. But, overwhelmingly, what I shared was well received and many people made a point to talking to me and thank me at the end of services. The Rabbi couldn’t stop thanking me and shared how much he was moved by what I shared.
And then there was Vladimir. As our group was last leaving the Spanish Synagogue (Google it too, it is absolutely gorgeous,) Vladimir was waiting for us on the sidewalk. And Vladimir (about 65) wanted to know everything I could possibly tell him about Jewish Meditation as he believed Meditation one of the basic needs of any human life. A Jew from Slovakia (and a transplant to Prague) himself, he had never heard about Meditation as a Jewish practice and wanted to know more. Again, when the Universe sends Vladimir into your life you just don’t give him your business card and tell him to e-mail you in two weeks when you’re back home. You listen to the Universe and say: “Sure Vladimir, I’d love to talk about the Jewish Meditative path, let’s go have a beer and chat.” Nothing like a local to find you the best pub in Prague and take the 10 of us there away from where the tourists hang out. We had a blast. And since you won’t find great pictures of the pub we went to on Google, I am posting them on my Facebook page for your viewing pleasure. Vladimir is the guy in the white shirt. When did we get back to the hotel? I think it was 11:30PM.
What a rich, profound, surprising, amazing day! No wonder we all though it felt like we’d been there a week.
Wish you were here.