‘We’re still here’ was a frequent refrain during my October conversational journey with Eastern European Jews. Conversations unsurfaced pride, wonder, and questions. Questions continue to blossom as I sift through notes and pictures in the comfort of local coffeehouses. Zagreb, a last minute
substitution as my time and travel energy wore thin, was rich with opportunity to sit, listen and learn. Zagreb reminded me: I always end up exactly where I’m meant to be!
So finally, here are pictures (miraculously recovered) and stories to share and expand on previous Zagreb posts ( ‘Unassuming Treasures’ and ‘Holiday lights in Zagreb lead to holiday thoughts in New York’) about this interesting city and community:
Searches for ‘Zagreb synagogues’ lists the address for the Great synagogue built in
1867 and burned in 1942 by Croatians hoping to endear themselves to invading German troops. Locating the address does not mean finding a sanctuary. Rather, a parking lot and this small sign memoralize the former location.
Pictures – and models of what the synagogue looked like, and perhaps even what a rebuilt synagogue will resemble when a decision can be made are plentiful. This model was on display at the Zagreb City Museum (found on-line).
Around the corner from my hostel (where we ended our days watching unedited ‘Sex in the City reruns), at Palmoticera 16, was ZOZ: Jewish
Community Zagreb, http://www.zoz.hr, housing a synagogue (among other groups). Around the corner means my searching time was under an hour. Finding the ‘right’ street, as always challenged me to find the right building as I walked up and down the street. Where was the building which matched my assumption of a synagogue? Eventually, I realized I should be paying attention to the security booth.
Stepping across the street and looking four stories up revealed a small Mogen David (star) .
The following pictures of ZOZ are thanks to my guide Biserka K. (Read more in ‘Unassuming Treasures’.) For over an hour she shared history and artifacts, welcomed her 12 year-old daughter, Maya, all while ignoring the security guard’s calls for her to stop talking (to me) and finish preparing for a luncheon
with Zuzi Jelinek,
fashion designer and author .
My day started over coffee with the warm and energetic Chabad Rabbi, Pini Zaklas. Rabbi Pini’s community-building journey over the last seven years includes basic organizational development processes. Joking that Abraham was the first Chabadnik (teaching about Judaism), he shared, ‘every Jew is a diamond, hug the diamond. Doesn’t
matter how many or how ‘religious’, just that they
come close to Yiddishkite.’ He predicted Zagreb’s new Chabad’s Center open for
Chanukah to draw about 200 congregants each Shabbat. Dubrovnik, Croatia’s beautiful and internationally trendy coastal resort, hosts 150 – 200 travelers each summer Shabbat thanks to Chabbad! Amazing and wonderful, I think, for travelers to include Judaism in their vacation memories.
In Zagreb, as for most Eastern European Jews, acknowledging Judaism means learning to pray and observe traditions from scratch. Rabbi Pini’s wife teaches women how to prepare and celebrate holidays like Chanukah. And btw: learning Hebrew is HARD! I’ve been reviewing my early textbook and am amazed I ever accomplished ‘tarzan Hebrew .
Congregation Bet-Israel, http://www.bet-israel.com
discussed in ‘Unassuming Treasures’, began as an offshoot of ZOZ. The Bimah, Ark, chairs are the work of a Croatian artist.
Bet Israel’s unique, personal and intimate sanctuary struck me (with my American optimism) as a promise of the future of Zagreb’s Jewish community. With no landmark synagogue, yet a large public menorah lighting, this community is significant.
Croatia is not known to be open to those who are ‘different’ ( a taxi driver told me). Jews fit in that category. Croatia is more pro-Palestine than Pro-Israel. Yet, Zagreb’s mayor gifted pews for
Bet Israel and participates in the Menorah lighting. Complicated? Absolutely amazing!