In the spring of 2014, JPI Founder & President Judy Jarashow cycled from Prague to Budapest with a group of friends. The group stopped in Mikulov, a lovely preserved town of 8,000 in the Czech Republic near Austria, famous for its vineyards, biking paths and historical monuments. Also located in Mikulov but less well known is a Jewish ghetto, which includes a yeshiva, mikvah, synagogue, Jewish museum and the fourth largest cemetery in the Czech Republic. Their tour guide was a 23-year-old volunteer for the Society of Friends of Jewish Culture in Mikulov (SFJC). At the Jewish museum she explained how over the past 15 years SFJC created a database of the more than 4,400 hundred tombstones in the Mikulov cemetery. A map covers almost an entire museum wall, detailing the location and names of those buried in the cemetery. To create the database each gravestone had to be translated from Hebrew to Czech.
Once there were 360,000 Jews in Czechoslovakia. Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews in the Czech Republic and 2,300 in Slovakia. In the early 1900s almost half of Mikulov was Jewish. Today, no Jews live there.
Thanks to 15 years of volunteering by members of the SFJC, the Mikulov Jewish quarter has been partially restored. The synagogue has been returned to its former glory and a mikvah has been excavated. In the cemetery members of the SFJC cut down trees, trim the grass and repair fallen tombstones. They also lead tour groups, stage exhibits about Jewish life, and have posted signs for self-guided tours. Their work has borne fruit: groups come to Mikulov specifically to tour the Jewish ghetto.
Unless local citizens—few, if any of whom, are likely to be Jewish—take the initiative, Jewish monuments in Central Europe will fall into disrepair and eventually be lost. Centuries-old cemetery walls and graves will crumble, and buildings will be taken over for other purposes. If Jewish monuments disappear it is likely that Jewish history in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Central Europe will fade. Jews need non-Jews to preserve Jewish monuments and history.
Groups such as SFJC work on a shoestring budget. They are dependent on government grants and donations.
Working with local groups like the SFJC creates a bridge between Jews and non-Jews. Our mission is to partner with local groups who want to preserve Jewish contributions to Central Europe and ensure that Jewish history there is not forgotten.
- Spring 2015