“Czech” In, “Czech” Out

Written by Allison Gerstley, (Tulane University) Student Correspondent CET Prague, Fall 2016

Orthodox Shabbat Service with fellow Jewish Studies students Tamar Aizenberg and Leah Zinker.

Orthodox Shabbat Service with fellow Jewish Studies students Tamar Aizenberg and Leah Zinker.

Over here in Prague, the days feel like eternity, but the weeks fly by, and that’s how I know I’m having a great time. Between taking classes and studying, traveling almost every weekend, and maintaining some semblance of a social life, the time I’ve had to reflect on these incredible experiences has been pretty limited. However, I have been thinking a lot about how stupefied I am to be living in this land of past-meets-present.

On one hand, it’s incredible to meet a friend for brunch at the same café where Franz Kafka once visited and where the old Yiddish Theatre was located in Prague. On the other hand, it’s harrowing to go to class at the CET center everyday and see the Ministry of Industry and Trade building, which was used as the Gestapo headquarters in World War II, right across the street.

Prague is unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived. While I knew this going into the program and even chose Prague to study abroad for its uniqueness, I am surprised at how much being surrounded by history 24/7 has affected me. Last week, CET scored us tickets to see the Prague premiere of the film Anthropoid, which chronicles the special mission of Czechoslovakian paratroopers to assassinate the high-ranking Nazi official Reinhardt Heydrich. We had previously learned about this mission on a group trip to Lidice, the Czech village that the Nazis obliterated in retaliation for Heydrich’s assassination. The same weekend we visited Lidice,

Children's Memorial at Lidice.

Children’s Memorial at Lidice.

we also visited the Terezin ghetto and small fortress prison with Doris, a survivor of Terezin. It was an intense weekend. While we were touring the museum in Terezin, Doris mentioned the story of Lidice and told us that she knew one of Heydrich’s sons, who was just a child at the time his father was assassinated. I find these sorts of connections of history and the present that are woven together overwhelming and surreal. This is the type of abroad experience I was looking for- one where my beliefs or knowledge of history from classes in high school or college would be put into question by the knowledge I gain from living in the midst of history. It’s one thing to learn about European history back home; it’s a whole other story when you’re living in the place where history was made and you can still feel the lingering presence.

Czech class with our teacher at her concert at the Jazz Dock.

Czech class with our teacher at her concert at the Jazz Dock.

So far, I’ve been trying to figure out where I fit into the magnificent puzzle that is Prague. I think the CET community is continuously growing closer, especially as we bond over the sporadic potluck Shabbat dinner in our apartments. Beyond CET, it’s the little things that help make me feel like I’m part of the greater Prague community. For instance, being invited to services and dinners by the Jewish community for the high holidays. Or going to see our Czech teacher’s band perform (we love you Martina!). Or even cheering on Prague’s Sparta ice hockey team at a game with friends and Czech buddies (and staying until the end of the game-who would’ve thought!). It’s a comforting feeling to experience so much inclusivity in a foreign city that could otherwise seem vast.