česky  english 

Advanced search
Photo: Czech Embassy
Article notification Print Decrease font size Increase font size

Celebration of Hope Finds Light in the Darkness

Last evening, the Embassy of the Czech Republic presented a Celebration of Hope, where Rabbi Greg Harris of Congregation Beth El handed over Torah mantles to Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček to be dedicated to the Great Synagogue in Pilsen, Czech Republic, when it reopens after a 2-year restoration project.

“I am delighted for this transatlantic partnership, in bringing the Torah mantles, donated by Congregation Beth El, to the Great Synagogue in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Through this dedication, we strive to bring hope and rejuvenation to the Jewish community and beyond. Let it be a message of peace during these difficult times,” said Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček.

Embassy Series Director Jerome Barry, accompanied by George Peachey on piano, provided the music for the memorable evening, with songs such as Hinné ma tov!, Ashreinu, and R’tzei, a prayer of peace which he dedicated to the people of Ukraine. Barry said, “It is important to keep art and music alive.”

The evening came together through the help of Michlean Amir, who contacted the Czech Embassy’s Public Diplomacy Head Lukáš Přibyl to create the transatlantic connection. Shirley Waxman designed the beautiful covers – one representing a tree of life and the other the five books of Moses.

Ambassador Kmoníček opened the evening saying, “Everything tonight will be symbolic.”  He reminded those in attendance of the tragic historic date in regards to the liquidation of family camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau during WWII. “Seventy-eight years ago and one night was the date of the liquidation of families. More than 4,000 Czechs were murdered in one night during the Second World War. On their way to the gas chambers, they sang the Czech National Anthem and Hatikva – Hope, which would in time become the National Anthem of Israel.”

In the shadow of a large Ukrainian flag painted onto the windows in the main hall of the Czech Embassy, the Ambassador said, “We believe that in time is hope – whatever you did in dark times is always remembered.” He conveyed that the Czech people have already given millions of USD to Ukraine in assistance and have taken in over 150,000 refugees.

Before handing over the Torah mantles, Rabbi Greg Harris spoke of standing in the light even during a period of darkness. He remembered the hundreds of thousands of Jews from all around Europe that died in world wars. He said, “A different darkness of war holds Europe today. Small gestures go a long way, but so do large gestures.” He said that he prayed for peace in Ukraine and safety of the Ukrainian people.

In his reflection on the Great Synagogue itself, Rabbi Harris spoke of the first brick being laid in 1888. He said that this Great Synagogue has been witness to celebrations and decimation, to tragedies and triumphs. “In the center of all of this,” he said, “were the five books of Moses – the Torah...The scrolls are caring, loving, and witnessing humanity...The human response is to fight oppression and a call to love your neighbor.”

During the evening, children also read in Czech and English poems written by children from Terezín. Maria Tůmova read Birdsong, followed by Magdalena Tůmova reciting The Rose, and Antonio and Francisco Tůma reading Home. Each were met by applause from the crowd gathered.

The evening concluded with Jerome Barry singing Let There Be Peace on Earth. Following the applause, he asked the crowd to stand and sing with him the Hebrew song Ani ma’amin (I believe...).

As the evening came to a close, Rabbi Harris’ words remained ever present. “Even moments of darkness are aglow with the hope of optimism.”


Celebration of Hope