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Last stop: Kosice - what story can you bring from there?

Ian Shulman/ Austria

March 22, 2012 | 4:10 pm

All I knew about the second largest city of Slovakia was that most of Jewish families I have encountered in Vienna have their roots in Kosice. When I told them I was going to visit the town during my Slovakia trip, the reaction was as if I am making a long-awaited journey to the abandoned home, where there are still places to visit and messages to pass. I felt the commitment to bring some news from ‘home’. What I’ve seen in Kosice was the magnificent Habsburg city with some definite Soviet surroundings. The most Jewish element I have encountered was the figure of Golem on the logo of the pub (and brewery) of the same name. I could only guess the ghosts of former synagogues in the shapes of theaters or philharmonics buildings, which still seems to be the most favorable option of a second life.

The doors of the old synagogue building were opened to me by Mark and Martina, two young people from the local Jewish community. Once abandoned building is undergoing a long and thorough renovation at the moment. It is a part of a community centre, hidden in one of the inner yards of the old city. The stripped walls of the temple and pigeons’ scream somewhere under the roof could have persuaded me that Jewish life here has disappeared decades ago. In reality, the true glimmers of life happen here each Thursday, when rabbi Stiefel from Piestany gathers a group of local young people in a tiny room of the community center. He teaches the basics of Judaism, but as important as his classes are, the main thing remains the meeting itself - since that’s probably the only occasion when the young generation of Kosice Jews can spend some time together. Mark confirms, that even though he finds the classes of rabbi Stiefel interesting, the main reason why he and his friends attend the meetings is the social part of it. Such idea first seem strange to him, as neither him, nor his parents were involved in any community activities; now Mark can’t wait for the next Thursday. Probably that’s the best story I can tell about Kosice to my Viennese homesick friends.

 

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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