After more than a decade of intense lobbying, the city fathers of the Czech Republic’s Pilsen municipality have made a decision to return the majestic synagogue in their care to its rightful owners, the city’s Jews.
Seized by the Communists in 1973, the synagogue – originally completed in 1893 — had been shut down and then woefully neglected, ultimately falling into disrepair.
The city fathers reclaimed it and began restoration in 1995, working slowly to rehabilitate the beautifully sculpted architecture until it shined again in 1998.
But then, instead of returning the synagogue to Pilsen’s Jewish community, inexplicably, authorities reopened the building as an art museum and concert hall.
The Great Synagogue of Pilsen is justifiably renowned throughout the world, in continuous use from the time it was built in 1893 until its seizure by the Communists, except for the years of the horror of the Holocaust. It is the second-largest Jewish house of worship in Europe and is known to be the third-largest synagogue that exists in the world.
And although there were some 2,000 Jews in the community when the house of worship was built, that number plunged over the decades, particularly during the Nazi purge. The Communist hate diminished those numbers further.
Today just a few dozen Jews remain to hold the synagogue dear to their hearts and to maintain the minyan – the minimum quorum of ten men required for certain ritual prayers to be recited when the Ark of the Torah can be opened. The remaining community prays in a side room, hoping to hold High Holy Day services this year in the main sanctuary, with God’s help.
Miracles do happen.