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,
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
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.
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!)