Saturday, February 23, 2013

#100: Purim comes to Prague

I learned on Facebook that the kindergarten at Akiba Schechter is about to celebrate its 100th day of school, which I remember as being a Very Big Deal from when I was five. The participants in the thread were discussing possible items that students could bring one hundred of in order to mark the occasion (I don't remember what I brought, though probably something like 100 M&Ms, or 100 paper clips). On the same day as I read that conversation, I realized that my next post would be my one-hundredth blog post since starting when I went to Israel three-and-a-half years ago. One hundred is a pretty special number, so I knew that the hundredth blog post had to be pretty special. Purim is special, so I guess that works.

And so I bring you....Purim in Prague! [Plus a couple other things. Like snow and glass harps.]

It all began last weekend, when I bought all the ingredients for Dad's/The Bubbe's hamentashen recipe. Because I knew that if I bought them, I'd have no choice but to make the dough and filling! So on Wednesday I got my hands dirty and did all the patchkey-ing that comes with kneading dough by hand. And since don't have a food processor either, I chopped the raisins, prune, and walnuts as best I could for the poppyseed filling. On Thursday night, my roommate Sara and I made them--they weren't exactly the same as at home (for one, I forgot to glaze them) but still, they were delicious!

[This is not about Purim.] It snowed today! A lot! I'm not the best at estimating depth, but I'd say by the end of the day there was probably at least 5-6 inches. For the first time this year, I got to see a substantial amount of snow falling from the sky. It was quite exciting, and justified my decision to wear my hiking boots to shul with my dress. My friend Gaby, who is studying abroad here on another program, got this picture of me eating snow off a car on our way from services to Kiddush-hopping/Shabbat lunch. (Shabbat lunch, by the way, was wonderful. There's an Israeli man who has lived in Prague for quite a while, and his brother and his band was visiting Prague this weekend and they sang the most beautiful harmonies to Shabbat songs!)

[The following video is not about Purim either, but it's something cool I saw.] The "Czech buddies" (Czech students who live with us) organize Czech Tables a few times every month, and you can go to as many as you want. In theory, it's supposed to be an informal gathering at a cool local place where you can practice your Czech, but in reality is just a way to hang out with people and get the program to pay for things. This afternoon I went to the Grand Orient Cafe, which is located in the House of the Black Madonna, a cubist building constructed in the early 20th century. (If you're interested, the crepes I got there with hot raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream were delicious.) On my way to the cafe from Shabbat lunch, however, I passed this guy playing wine glasses:

Okay, back to Jew-y things.

The Masorti (Conservative) community has services every Friday night, which I'm really glad I found out about because the Old New synagogue has tiny holes for the women to look through. No fun. Somehow I got myself into "interning" for Masorti Prague Abroad, helping organize and publicize events for students here for a semester. This Shabbat was the first time we had an event (services followed by dinner at the Dinitz kosher restaurant. Such good food!). For the first time ever, I led Maariv, and this was what I got to look at as I led! It's the Vysoka (High) Synagogue in the same building as the Jewish Town Hall. This weekend was actually a Double Shehecheyanu for me, because I also read Megillah for the first time! (Last year doesn't count, because it was three verses.)
Besides Gaby and me, the other person to read Megillah was Shumi [Insert Last Name], who used to carry Shlomo Carlebach's bags for him. I'm not sure what his story is, but he seems like an interesting guy who I'll get to know more, because he seems to be around all the time. There was also a wonderful Israeli family visiting Prague this weekend who invited me for a meal when I go to Israel to visit Naomi, et al. over Passover!
Except for one kid and a few scattered adults with masks, the four of us were the only ones who dressed up for Purim. Maybe costumes are not a thing in Prague? (Though we found out later, at the community's Purim party, that that's not true. So many just no one wore costumes to our service). The four of us are all studying abroad here on three different programs.  It was great to meet some students from other study abroad programs, because mine is so small and it's nice to expand the circle a little bit, and I think that my "internship" (yes, the quotation marks are there for a reason) will help me meet more people than I would have otherwise met.

In case you couldn't tell what my costume was from the previous picture, it's my usual: pregnant religious woman. Comments/questions I received: "Is it real?" "Is it by King Achashverosh?" "Wait, you weren't like that this morning!"

After the reading, Gaby and I headed downstairs to check out the community's Purim party. Our first site: The Tall Man playing violin. Later in the night, he danced to the music of the jazz band playing upstairs, and it was hilarious to watch because it looked like his "knees" were always buckling backwards. 

A Purim spiel, as performed by Divadlo Feigele, a children's theater company formed about 30 years ago in the Jewish community! This is the scene of the beauty contest, where King Achashverosh is picking his new queen after throwing Vashti out of the palace. In the red is Esther, and next to her Mordechai is trying to convince her to put herself in the running. The little girls are the princesses, and there are also hand-puppet/marionettes!

The whole cast of Divadlo Feigele. 

Obviously we couldn't understand many of the actual words that were spoken in the spiel, but it was really cool to be able to follow nonetheless, because we're so familiar with the story. The video below is the scene where Haman is forced to lead Mordechai around on a royal horse wearing the King's clothes proclaiming, "This is what is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor.":

Gaby and I decided to venture upstairs, and what we discovered there was the real party! Karaoke, a bar, and lots of local Jews our own age (who knew those even existed!?). After a while we noticed this bizarre portrait of Franz Josef, the last monarch of the Hapsburg Empire. He was relatively tolerant of the Jews (we just read his edict of "semi-emancipation" of the Jews in one of my classes), so I guess that's reason enough to have a portrait of him? The room, one the fourth floor of the Jewish Town Hall, was quite extravagant--red wall-papered wall, gilded paint, big crystal chandeliers....
The flutist (floutist? flautist?) was excellent! I don't think I've ever heard jazz flute before, and if you haven't either you should take a look at this (short) video:

Gaby and I with Rabbi Michael "Einstein" Dushinsky. Rabbi Dushinsky (he goes by "Dushi," which sounds like another word that's not so nice) is quite a character. He's also the one who helped me learn the part of the Megillah that I read.
And the Purim fun only continues tomorrow! I'll get to hear Rabbi Dushinsky read Megillah, and then there's a Chabad Purim Disco (???) tomorrow night that I think I'll go to. I'm not sure when I'll do my reading, but it'll get done. 

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