Holiday Lights in Zagreb lead to holiday thoughts in New York (and pictures!)

Sometimes you have to travel part way around the world to notice what is right in front of you.   Before my trip, I naively never associated Zagreb,

Zagreb was an easy six hour train ride from Budapest, Hungary, my previous stop

Croatia with Jews .  Yet my conversations in this small gem of a city were filled with warmth and insight as I first wrote about in the post ‘Unassuming Treasures’.  As candles are lit in menorahs around the world during these darkest nights of the year, celebrating the eight nights of Chanukah, this is the perfect time to travel back to this small Balkan country.

It was sitting in Bet-Israel, one of the city’s three synagogues, when Borut mentioned that a huge Hanukia (menorah) was lit in the town square by the Rabbi, Mayor, and the former Israeli Ambassador.   As you know it doesn’t

Zagreb's main square is easily bigger than Times Square and the site of activities including a sausage and wine 'festival' while I was there

take much to surprise me, yet here was one more expression of Yiddishkite that filled me with awe in a city with 1,500 Jews and no large or landmark synagogue.  In fact, I was forced to face the fact that I didn’t know if New York lit a large public menorah.  Intellectually I knew there had to be one, yet I also realized the irony of learning more about Jewish life along the route of my journey than I knew about my current home town. But as I’ve stated before it is easy in the U.S., especially in New York, to NOT express or seek out Judaica and still know that it will be safe and secure if and when I open my eyes to look for it.  And yes, my eyes are open (or more than they were.)

After almost four weeks of traveling and listening, Zagreb was where I finally heard the impact Communism-post-Holocaust had on Jews.  Like the other cities I visited, Jews are hesitant to claim their Judaism, even if they are aware of it.  Yet between Zoz, the older congregation, Bet Israel, the synagogue formed in 2006, and Chabad, which is about to open their new synagogue and center, a community exists and learns.  And grows.  As my questions also grow:  why and how do Jews ‘come back’ and what does this tell us about the strength of Judaism and religion?

Unsurprisingly, the question of my own Jewish identity has been raised through a comment by Michael asking me what I have learned about myself.  I’ll be sharing my thoughts and continuing journey which will be easier and take less risk than any story I heard in my travels. 

This time of year questions about belief are all around us whether it is about religion, G-d, or consumerism.  The festival of Chanukah (where oil for a day burned for eight days in the Temple) pulls together miracles and reminders that less can be enough and a small (amount) can have a huge impact.  Whatever your beliefs, celebrate the miracles small and large!

This is the place and time for me to share pictures (keep scrolling), but first I have to share a horror:  I deleted (most of) my pictures and I had no back-up!  I share your thoughts of my lack of insight and planning and any expletives you may have.  I have a few pictures from Zagreb that Borut had sent me – though I had many more from Bet-Israel.  I also had lots of pictures from Zoz, the other synagogue I talked about in ‘Unassuming Treasures’ and there were no pictures on-line.  In my search though, my own blog popped up!

As horrified as I am about losing my travel pictures, I lost ALL my pictures including a very special one of me and my niece Emily.  Two summers ago, she came to New York for her ‘Bat Mitzvah’ trip.  Within ten minutes of walking into my hot apartment she decided we should dress as gypsies and go to Coney Island and tell fortunes.  True proof she is my niece!  In full make-up and a scarf or two, a picture captured this exotic moment.  I thought it would make a great 16th birthday gift and waited to produce a solid image.  A true reminder that there is no time like the present to take action.  

While this ‘old’ image can never be recaptured, new memories can be snapped.  How can I not think about all the pictures of loved ones that were lost during the Holocaust?  Pictures that were last memories of  lost loved ones that are truly irreplaceable.  A true reminder the present is to be appreciated.

Verbal images:

In Bet Israel:  Theodore Herzl’s portrait above a mantle where a Chanukah menorah sat:  Herzl, the father of Zionism was anti-religious (from Borut)

Graffiti-strewn walls, which were actually found throughout my travels and made old NYC subway cars seem ‘naked’.  A young man on the tram directing me to the Jewish Cemetery said it referenced soccer teams and players.   Of course there was the ‘Fuck Kapitalism’ scrawl, but he let me know that just voiced a popular political view.  (If you want to read real obscenity go to the Lithuanian folk song I wrote about in ‘Dining in Vilna’)

And now, finally some pictures (mostly not mine!)

Wandering the streets of Zagreb, I found myself on Nikolai Tesla (scientist) Street (Way?) and face to face with this statue - not in a square, really just at a pedestrian intersection! I got this picture from Rosa Klein

Inside the Bet Israel synagogue, this bench like the Aaron Hakodesh demonstrates strength and future (through my optimistic American eyes!)

From Bet Israel: This Aaron Hakodesh, where the ark is kept was designed by a Croatian artist. I'll try to get more pictures so you can appreciate not just the workmanship, but to me how this signaled hope and strength of this 'new' congregation.

This picture of the Zagreb synagogue built in 1906 and destroyed by Croatian Nazi's in anticipation of German invasion comes up in all google searches as THE synagogue. All that remains is a plaque in a parking lot and the restitution money to rebuild when final plans can be agreed upon by the Jewish community!

Sanctuary inside the Zoz synagogue, unassumingly nestled into apartment buildings on a small side street. This synagogue also hosts a Holocaust Survivors group, among others. The space is also filled with artifacts saved from the 'great' synagogue destroyed in 1942.

I viewed holiday windows with a heightened sense of awareness this year: This window from Lord & Taylor was the only one with any mention of Hanukkah - notice the Menorah, tree, and the 'Happy Everything' banner. The lights are beautiful but imagine how all the children who DON"T celebrate Christmas feel

There IS a public menorah in NYC - at 32 feet the tallest in the world and hosted by Chabad. Yes, they need cherry picker's/cranes to get up there to light the 'candles'. Rabbi Kinsky described a candle filling the dark with warmth and brilliance. This is from the 3rd night and about 200 people were on hand to sing after the candle lighting. And for perspective: there are 23 Chabad centers in Manhattan alone!

Zagreb's mayor and Chabad's Rabbi Pini Zaklas who shared insight about Jewish life in Zagreb. He believes the new Chabad center which may be open by now will host about 250 people every Shabbat! Amazing, right? Chabad in Dubrovnick hosts about 150 Jews every Shabbat in the summer!!

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3 responses to “Holiday Lights in Zagreb lead to holiday thoughts in New York (and pictures!)

  1. My sympathies on loosing all those photos. Rest assured that your writings draw a picture all in themselves that is much appreciated.

    • Thanks Audrey – I know you’ll learn from my error and keep your photos safe as you travel to Bulgaria in May. I know that I’m looking forward to learning about your trip and discoveries. Thanks for your support and continued following!

    • Thanks Audrey – I know you’ll learn from my error and keep your photos safe as you travel to Bulgaria in May. I know that I’m looking forward to learning about your trip and discoveries. Thanks for your support and continued following!

      On 12/26/11, linda katz wrote: > Thanks Audrey – I know you’ll learn from my error and keep your photos > safe as you travel to Bulgaria in May. I know that I’m looking > forward to learning about your trip and discoveries. Thanks for your > support and continued following! > >

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