This excerpt was originally in the beginning of my manuscript. It was my opener for the book. I had this vision that as Joe was telling his story to his family, the reader would also be transported back in time to the days of young Josef. I scrapped all that and got right into the story. I’m not sure this part really fits with the rest of the book anyway. I do like it though, and wanted to share with you. There is something intriguing about a curator who lovingly restores a a synagogue for no one but himself, even going so far as to create a Disneyfication of an old Jewish town, or as Joe puts it, “a dead town.”
The Old Synagogue
Two blocks from my family’s apartment on B street, stands the old synagogue where I used to worship with Tatuś. The Nazis destroyed every temple and synagogue in Krakow during the war, but this synagogue has been renovated and converted into a museum showing what the Jewish culture used to be like in the Old Town. I’m traveling with my sons, daughter and grandson and I want to show them this place, however it is a tricky business, my daughter and grandson are Jewish while I and my two sons are Christian. We have two seemingly contrasting points of view, but the synagogue is important to my history and I can’t pass by without peeking inside.
As we enter the synagogue there is a table with Yarmulkes–black skull caps used to cover the head while inside the synagogue. It is forbidden for Jews to enter the synagogue with their heads bared. Since I no longer practice Judaism I didn’t want to wear a Yarmulke. My oldest son David, picked one up, then put it back down on the table. The curator, Mr. J looked at us in puzzlement. I didn’t want to offend him so I explained that my faith didn’t allow me to take this action. Normally he wouldn’t let any male enter with a bare head, but taking into consideration my history and why we were here he made an exception. He allowed us to enter and tour while he described to us in Polish the various details about the synagogue. To my knowledge there are few religious Jews in Krakow. I feel disappointed that so few people will see the beauty of this building, not too many take the time to visit. It’s a shame because Mr J has put so much time, money and energy into restoring the synagogue.
Mr. J explains to us how he is in charge of Jewish activities in Krakow. I look at him as a do-gooder who keeps projects alive that protect the Jewish reputation and promote the Jewish culture. He describes how his mother couldn’t worship at her synagogue during the Nazi occupation, it had been destroyed, but instead she worshiped at the church and said in her heart, “Well, God is somewhere here anyway.”
I look at him in awe. He works around Krakow restoring synagogues and cemeteries to their former glory. But I have to wonder to what purpose? The buildings and architecture are beautiful, but my impression of this particular visit is powerful, and different for reasons other than one might expect. Although it’s my history, my memories, my family traditions, I can’t help thinking this is a dead town for Jews. Whatever is being done here is for tourists. Soon there will be more synagogues than Jews in Krakow. Is he really restoring a dead town? There are fronts of buildings with signs and names on them, but there is nothing inside except candles burning. It is for show, it isn’t real. I remember this as a lively part of town with over 60,000 Jews. There was culture, music, theater, Jews enjoying their lives, now there is nothing. Nothing for me anyway.
THE ALTERED I available on Amazon.com and LeRue Press.
Related Post Excerpt on Wash Day.
Genocide Blog post.