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
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
cellphones sweep the room
for panoramic pictures,
and tourists pose
No more amen,
no more yehe sheme rabba,
no more shabbat derasha,
no more kiddush levana.
members of a local symphony orchestra
perform medleys to great applause
After fifty years
of fascists and communists
there are not enough Jews left
to fill the beautiful space
For what else can the building be used?
In this bustle
it is at least safe
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
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.
4 responses to “Poem of an End”
A beautiful, realistic, and sad image and reality—well said.
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.
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.
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.