Jewish Studies Program - Field Trips and Excursions
The study program is enhanced by field trips to several of Central
Europe’s most beautiful cities, including Krakow and Warsaw. During
their time outside of Prague, there is no formal classroom. Instead,
local scholars at cooperating institutions and during tours of museums,
galleries,churches, and other historical landmarks give lectures.
Two-week Trip to Krakow
Once considered the Mother of Israel, the city of Krakow offers
invaluable insights into how Jews lived for several centuries.
Like the Jewish quarter of Prague, the Kazimierz district of Krakow
houses several synagogues and a cemetery within a span of several
small blocks. Unlike Prague, Krakow was not the focus of a slum
clearance at the turn of the twentieth century. The result is that
in addition to its synagogues and cemetery, the Kazimierz district
has preserved practically all the streets, homes and squares that
comprised the totality of Jewish experience for several centuries.
It is a priceless district that served as the inspiration for countless
legends known throughout the Jewish world.
Students will explore the many facets of Jewish history, legend
and life in Krakow. During our trip, we will try to explore the
ways in which Krakow’s Jewish life was similar to Prague’s, and
the ways in which they differed. Starting with the Altschul, the
oldest extant synagogue in all of Poland, students will study the
ways in which Jews adapted Christian architectural styles to Jewish
tradition. In addition, we will explore the many similarities between
the Krakow’s Altschul and Prague’s Altneuschul, and the supposition
among some historians that Krakow’s synagogue was actually built
by a local colony of Bohemian Jews. We will also explore the Rema
Synagogue, named for the famed Rabbi Moses Isserles, and the Old
Jewish Cemetery, which contains the graves of several centuries
of Jewish spiritual luminaries. We will visit and discuss the architectural,
cultural and social significance of several other synagogues in
Kazimierz the Popper Synagogue, the High Synagogue, the Isaac Synagogue,
the Kupa Synagogue and the Tempel. We will also explore the New
Jewish Cemetery, where we will learn about Jewish intellectual and
cultural achievement in the modern era. Throughout our visit to
Krakow, we will focus on the countless legends that have given Krakow
its undying allure in Jewish mythology to the present day.
From Krakow, we will take one or more day trips to Auschwitz,
where we will learn the history of the Holocaust at the site of
the largest Nazi death camp, concentration camp and slave-labor
camp. Approximately 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz,
ninety percent of them Jews.
Three-Day Trip to Warsaw
A trip to Warsaw is essential to apprehending the extraordinary
contribution of the Polish Jewish community to Jewish civilization.
Although most of Warsaw was destroyed in the Nazi bombardment, the
city contains invaluable reminders of what was once (after New York)
the second largest Jewish community in the world. First, there
is the cemetery, an enormous expanse representing all strata of
a once-flourishing community. Here we are reminded of Ludwik Zamenhof,
inventor of Esperanto; Y. L. Peretz, a giant of Yiddish literature;
and Esther Rachel Kaminska, known as the Mother of Yiddish theater.
The Jewish cemetery is also the site of mass graves of Jews who
died in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation. In all, the
Warsaw Jewish cemetery is one of the most moving Jewish burial sites
in the world, a testament to both the triumphs and tragedies of
Jewish life in Europe.
Since post-war urban planning bore little resemblance to the
prewar streets, exploring Jewish history in Warsaw is sometimes
similar to a hunt for buried treasures. Nonetheless, if you know
where to look there are countless reminders of the city’s illustrious
Jewish past. The Nozyk Synagogue, for instance, the single remaining
place of prayer for Warsaw’s Jews. Nearby Prozna Street is a rarity:
the single street from prewar Jewish Warsaw that still has buildings
on both sides. The street is so precious that it has been placed
on the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List of 100 Endangered Sites.
The Jewish Historical Institute contains a museum and archives of
Polish Jewish history. Next door, a giant skyscraper stands on
the site of Warsaw’s great Tlomackie Street Synagogue, dynamited
by the Nazis in 1943.
Warsaw is also known for its compelling memorials to the Holocaust.
Located at various parts of the former Warsaw Ghetto, the Memorial
Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle includes Nathan Rapoport’s
Warsaw Ghetto Monument, the Jewish resistance command headquarters
at Mila 18, and the memorial at Umschlagplatz, the site from which
265,000 Warsaw Jews were sent to their deaths at Treblinka. In
our visit to Warsaw, we will explore the evolving ways in which
the Holocaust has been enshrined in Polish memory, both during the
Communist period and today.
From Warsaw, we will take a day trip to Treblinka, where we
will learn the history of the Holocaust at the site of the second
largest Nazi death camp. Treblinka was designed exclusively for
mass murder. Over 800,000 people, the overwhelming majority of
them Jews, were murdered in Treblinka.
Three-Day Trip to Budapest
Budapest, which includes the three districts of Buda, Obuda and
Pest, encapsulates every major era of Jewish existence in Central
Europe. A visit to Budapest is a reminder of Jewish longevity in
the region as well as the proud accomplishments of Hungarian Jews
in the modern world. First there is the Castle Hill of Buda, which
once contained a thriving Jewish neighborhood for several centuries.
Walking through the Castle grounds, we can still see glimpses of
a community that settled the area in the 13th century.
The oldest Jewish district was located near the Buda Castle Palace;
later, the Jewish community was concentrated around the Small Synagogue
and the Mendel Houses, named after the most powerful Jewish family
in Hungary in the late fifteenth century. Across the street is
the site of the Great Synagogue, an edifice that once rivaled Prague’s
Altneuschul and Krakow’s Altschul. Destroyed in the pogrom of 1686,
its remains exist under a large mound of earth, awaiting excavation
to this day.
Across the river, Pest heralded the entrance of the Jew into modern
Hungarian society. Several synagogues in Pest pay homage to Jewish
cultural achievements in Hungary, most notably the 19th
century Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe,
and the Heroes Temple, built as a monument for Jews who had died
fighting in the Hungarian Army in the First World War. Nearby,
the Rumbach Synagogue, built in the 1870s, was the first major work
of the famous Viennese architect Otto Wagner. The Kazinczy Street
Synagogue continues to serve Budapest’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Part of the excitement of Budapest today is visiting one of approximately
twenty active synagogues located throughout the city. Students
will be encouraged to visit services to participate in the living
history of Jewish Budapest.
Budapest is also the site of Holocaust memorials and a Martyrs’
Cemetery located in the former Jewish Ghetto during the Nazi era.
In addition, the Hungarian Jewish Museum tells the inspiring story
of Jews in Hungary from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Trips in the Czech Republic
Cities alone cannot give a full picture of Jewish life in Europe.
Jews also lived in towns and villages in the countryside, and indeed
developed a culture in many ways distinct from that of the Jewish
communities in major urban centers. Bohemia and Moravia are home
to countless cities, towns and villages that create a mosaic of
Jewish life in the heart of Europe. In some cities, Jewish life
ended in the Holocaust, while in others there continues a small
but tightly-knit Jewish community to this day. Visits to townships
throughout the Czech Republic will give students a better understanding
of Central European Jewish history and culture from the Middle Ages
to the present.
Bechyne, 90 km south of Prague, was the site of a Jewish
community since the 17th century. Siroka Street was
once the site of Jewish Street, the heart of the Jewish neighborhood.
Jews were not enclosed in a ghetto wall in Bechyne, and the houses
have been preserved. On Siroka Street we can find a synagogue,
currently a fire museum, and a former Jewish school. The cemetery
includes beautiful tombstones from the 17th century until
World War II.
Hradec Kralove, 100 km East of Prague, contained a Jewish
community since the end of the 14th century. Jews were
expelled from Hradec Kralove in 1542 but returned by the 17th
century. On Rokytanskeho Street we can find the former rabbi’s
house, in which was once found a prayer hall. A beautiful Art Nouveau
synagogue, from the beginning of the 20th century, remains.
Currently the interior houses a Science Library. Outside the town
center lays the Jewish cemetery, which continues to be used today.
Mikulov, known to many Jews by its German name Nikolsburg,
was once the center of Moravian Jewish life. For much of its history,
Mikulov boasted the second largest Jewish Community in Bohemia and
Moravia, after Prague. Located near the Austrian border, Mikulov
was home to Jews since the 14th century. In the 16th
century, Rabbi Judah Loew, the influential spiritual leader and
legendary creator of the Golem, presided over the Mikulov community.
Luckily for today’s visitors, some houses from the ancient Jewish
ghetto, in addition to the 16th-century Altschul synagogue,
are preserved. Mikulov is also home to a cemetery with tombstones
dating from the early 17th century.