The Czech Republic's strong cultural balance between bustling urban life and calm rural communities features a wide variety of tourism options, from breweries to castles to Jewish ghettos. Major cities like Prague and Pilsen are ripe with history at nearly every corner, and Jewish tours offer everything from the construction of the second-largest synagogue in Europe to the creation of the mythical Golem.
Birthplace of Theodore Herzl, Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud, this increasingly progressive country is trying to shed the specter of the Nazi and Soviet occupations and embrace its Jewish past and present to bolster tourism, an important part of its national economy.
The story touches on Prague's Jewish Museum, its Jewish Quarter, the Old Jewish Cemetery with some stones more than six centuries old; famous synagogues (Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall and Pinkas Synagogue) and their artifacts.
More than a half-million tourists visit the museum annually. The revenue aids the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic, which compensates Holocaust survivors and develops programming for young people. Two active synagogues (Alt-Neu Shul and the High Synagogue) are not on the tour, but visits can be arranged through the museum.
The Alt-Neu Shul's fame, of course, is tht Rabbi Judah Loew is rumored to have created the Golem there in the 16th century.
In Bohemia, visit Europe's second-largest synagogue, The Great Synagogue of Pilsen, built in 1892, when there were some 5,000 Jews in the city. Pilsen is also branded as the beer-drinking capital of the world.
A visit to Moravia demonstrates the smaller Jewish communities, such as the Jewish Quarter of Trebic, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with 120 homes along the bank of the Jihlava River. Although no organized Jewish community exists today, the town maintains the Jewish cemetery, a renovated synagogue-turned-museum and a recently discovered mikvah.
In Boskovice and Mikulov, non-Jewish villagers preserve the memory of Jewish cultures, with tours of old synagogues, buildings and cemeteries. One of the largest Czech cemeteries is in Boskovice.
Terezin, the former concentration camp and memorial, is also on the itinerary.
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