Going on a vacation is a rejuvenation for your soul. Whether it’s an overnight stay nearby, a few days in another state or a longer visit to another country, wherever you go you are taking a temporary respite from your everyday life and recharging yourself. It may not be the purpose of your trip or even in your conscious mind but, as my wife recently pointed out, vacation sure was a nice reset moment before coming back to Edison, New Jersey.
We went to Israel for five days to see our daughter living in Israel, celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary as well as my niece’s bat mitzvah, and decided on our way back to enjoy a stopover in Prague for two nights. Israel is the most amazing place on earth and it’s a love affair between the land and the Jewish people. The connection is palpable and there is always more to see. However, the kicker on this trip was the stopover in the bohemian city of Prague in the Czech Republic. My wife and I decided that if we didn’t have a direct flight to Israel we could take advantage and have a day or two stopover on the way back from Israel. We decided on Prague because it has such a rich Jewish history and because American Airlines had a very affordable ticket (do your research).
In the religious world, the Maharal from Prague is a famous Talmudic scholar, philosopher and mystic and I was looking forward to seeing his famous shul and holy burial place. To my surprise, the story of the Maharal was only a part of “Jewish” Prague, and we had a choice of five meat restaurants and one dairy, as well as a bakery, not to mention a kosher hotel. Three to four thousand Israelis come to Prague every week and there is an ongoing daily minyan.
The extensive Jewish life started in the 10th century, and walking along the Charles Bridge you can see Hebrew words we say in the kedusha on a Christian image. The concentrated, intact Jewish ghetto is unlike any other in Europe, and the preservation of the shuls, cemetery and chevra kadisha buildings were impressive (the Kli Yakar is also buried in the Jewish cemetery, a few feet from the Maharal).
Besides Jewish Prague, walking through the streets of Old Towne, on the Charles Bridge and up to the palace, one can understand how people are fascinated and intrigued by the beauty and rich bohemian and gothic architecture and why this city was spared by the ravages of World War II and the destructive nature of the Nazis.
I wore my kippa in the streets of Prague and, unlike other places in Europe, I was never worried or felt a sense of danger. In today’s world it was a comforting reality. Czechoslovakia was one of the countries that supported the creation of the State of Israel and it helped build and train its air force in its infancy. Walking in present-day Prague in the Czech Republic I had a sense that Jews, unlike in most of Europe, were welcomed and embraced.
Going to Prague was an amazing trip that I will appreciate forever, but in the short term it recharged my energies and that hopefully will carry me through until the next vacation. What I love most about visiting all the glamorous cities and places in the world is that there is nowhere on earth that means as much to a Jew as Eretz Yisrael. It is our home, with our language with our people and cities, and our army defending it. We are living in a time unprecedented in Jewish history. There is always another city to discover, but there is nothing like Israel, nothing like being at home.
By Neer Even-Hen
Neer Even-Hen lives in Edison, New Jersey, with his wife, Lynn. They have three girls, Tamar, Yael and Nina. Tamar (Ma’ayanot 2016) finished her first of two years in sherut leumi and Yael (Ma’ayanot 2018) is going to Tiferet next year in Israel. Nina is a rising eighth grader in RPRY. He is a periodontist in New York City, Highland Park and Lakewood. He loves traveling to Israel, learning Nesivot Shalom with his chabura and is an avid supporter of the Montreal Canadiens and Miami Dolphins (and Montreal Expos).