Poem of an End

By Shai Afsai (Providence, RI)

Prague, Czech Republic 

Tisha Be-av and Tu Be-av 82 liftrat katan/August 2022

After Yehuda Amichai’s “Poem Without an End”

In a synagogue

they have made a Jewish museum.

The Torah scrolls and rabbi’s chair 

are gone.

There are no children running

through the aisles

no elderly congregants

claim their regular seats.

In their place —

men with bare heads 

and women without much clothing

move about the sanctuary.

They have made a Jewish museum

in a synagogue.

Exhibit panels line the walls

where siddurim and ḥumashim.

would be shelved.

Instead of prayer and study

cameras snap, 

cellphones sweep the room 

for panoramic pictures,

and tourists pose

for selfies.

No more amen

no more yehe sheme rabba,

no more shabbat derasha,

no more kiddush levana.

Come evening,

members of a local symphony orchestra 

perform medleys to great applause

for culture-worshipers.

After fifty years

of fascists and communists

there are not enough Jews left

to fill the beautiful space

with devotion.

For what else can the building be used?

In this bustle

it is at least safe

for now

from being covered with the thickening cobwebs

of  I. L. Peretz’s golem

or becoming home 

only to Kafka’s marten-sized animal.

The full moon wanes.

In a cemetery once

at a burial,

I heard a Jewish woman 


“The problem with the Orthodox 

is they made Judaism into a religion.”

But in this building

I see the trouble


that others

have rendered the religion

into a memorial.

Shai Afsai (shaiafsai.com) lives in Providence. In addition to short stories and poems, his recent writing has focused on Benjamin Franklin’s influence on Jewish thought and practice, and on the works of the contemporary Dublin author Gerry Mc Donnell. Afsai’s writing has been published in Anthropology Today, Ibbetson Street Magazine, Journal of the American Revolution, Review of Rabbinic Judaism, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, and Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review.

Note: This poem first appeared on Poetry Super Highway, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


Filed under European Jewry, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism, poetry

4 responses to “Poem of an End

  1. A beautiful, realistic, and sad image and reality—well said.

  2. Adrienne Raymer Hutt

    I was in a synagogue in Prague, and yes, attended a concert. However, sitting there I felt that I was in a holy place. A place that spoke to me of a once vibrant community.
    I saw a display that had my friend’s last name on it. Those that are gone from this synagogue are still among us and shall he remembered.
    A beautiful poem.. thank you.

  3. Michele j Clark

    I felt something similar when I visited the very very large synagogue in Amsterdam. The very small congregation, I was told, prayed in a small room downstairs. While my friends were admiring what a beautiful building it was, I was thinking/feeling that it was so empty. That it was a memorial to something so terrible…well maybe a memorial is better than no memorial…but it doesn’t ease the horror of what happened to make it so.

  4. Janice Alper

    I recently returned from Romania where all I saw were closed synagogues. There are two in Bucharest and one functions with a small congregation. In Brasov we visited the synagogue and a group of Israeli tourists were there as well. We attempted to visit the synagogue in Cluj, however, there was no one available to show it to us.

    We stopped at an old Jewish cemetery which had some care up until 2012. I said Kaddish and our guide said this was only the second time he had someone do this.

    Perhaps the edifices that remain do come alive when we visit, but the souls are long gone. As someone else said, sitting in the holy place, even for a concert, makes it come alive.

    Thank you for this poem.

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