Plzeň - In the footsteps of Rabbi Wise

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise without question ranks among the famous Jewish personages born on Czech territory who have had a major impact on Jewish history worldwide. He was a reformer, a man who modernised a faith that for years had stagnated due to oppression and isolation and an over-adherence to long outmoded traditions.  
 
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He was born Isaac Mayer Weiss in the small West Bohemian town of Steingrub, today known as Lomnička. It was on Czech territory, though German was chiefly spoken in the border region. He was first taught by his father Leo before being sent away to study. At 16 he entered the legendary yeshiva of Rabbi Aron Kornfeld in Goltsch-Jenikau before university studies in Prague and Vienna. At just 23 he passed an examination at a beth din rabbinical court, becoming a rabbi.


©  Ladislav Renner, Great Synagogue

The attitude of society towards Jews at that time prompted his decision in 1846 to set off with his entire family across the ocean and seek a position in the rising United States. In a bid to get around a restrictive law allowing only the eldest sons of Jewish families to start a family he changed his name to Wise. He first settled in Albany in New York State. However, due to his reform efforts – above all the replacement of the bar mitzvah with a confirmation ceremony – he was rejected by the local Orthodox Jews and took shelter with his followers in Cincinnati, Ohio. The rabbi later established Hebrew Union College, an institution focused on the theological education of rabbis, and instigated the establishment of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The rabbi from Bohemia became an important figure, helping shape Judaism in the America of his day.

Interesting thing

There is an old Jewish cemetery east of Radnice, a few hundred metres past the town limits. You can get there on foot by following the green hiking trail or by car, though it is not possible to drive right up to it. When you reach the edge of town, follow the field path past the last house across the stream on the right; after about 800 metres you will reach a Jewish cemetery containing tombstones predominantly from the 18th century.

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The tour has two parts. The first begins at the synagogue in Radnice, just tens of metres south of the square Náměstí Kašpara Štemberka. Alongside a tour of the building you can take in an exhibition at the synagogue. From there you head east in the direction of Prague along Pražská St. where directly on the right, past Radnice, you will find a Jewish cemetery believed to be from the 16th century and containing tombstones from the second half of the 18th century. The transfer to Plzeň takes under 50 minutes by train or bus though it is faster to go by car.  The tour of Plzeň gets underway at the New Jewish Cemetery. There you can wander among around 2,000 tombs, view two memorials to the victims of war and remember your loved ones in serenity.
 
Once you have finished there you will head west down the main Rokycanská St., which will lead you to the city centre. The Old Synagogue is hidden in a courtyard between the streets Smetanovy sady and Americká třída. As well as admiring its sensitively executed renovation, you can view an exhibition on the history of Plzeň’s Jews and their culture and traditions and take in a moving monument to deported Jews on the site of a former auxiliary synagogue in the garden. To reach the centre from the cemetery you need to take a bus before switching to a tram. You will then continue in your original direction until you reach Sady Pětatřicátníků. On the opposite side of the street stands the Great Synagogue. Once the biggest synagogue in the world, the building’s grandeur and beauty will mesmerise you, though it also offers great arts events. From the synagogue you then head towards the Old Jewish Cemetery. There you can take a relaxing break in a park that stands on the original site of the Old Jewish Cemetery and take in several remaining tombstones and a granite memorial.

Common Tips

The series Music in the Synagogues of the Plzeň Region regularly takes place in the Radnice and Plzeň synagogues; the programming of the event, being held for the ninth time in 2015, is focused on works by Jewish composers.
 

Transportation

Radnice is 73 km from Prague. The best route by car is to take the D5 in the direction of Plzeň, take exit E41 and then follow road no. 234. It is worth combining a trip to Radnice with a visit to Plzeň, which is 33 km away.
 

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The Synagogue in Radnice

Jews are believed to have come to Radnice in 1504 when they were expelled from Plzeň. In the small, out of the way town they found a refuge where they could feel at least somewhat safe. The Jewish ghetto and synagogue originated more than two centuries later. Some of the buildings in the ghetto remain preserved and the synagogue has been renovated.
 

Address

Na Potocích 221, 338 28 Radnice
GPS: 49.856284, 13.606144

Opening Hours

Plzeň

It all began in 1842, when the beer with a unique colour and taste, Pilsner Urquell, was tapped for the first time at the Měšťanský brewery (today Plzeňský Prazdroj). You can taste this superb beer at the Na Spilce Restaurant – the largest Czech beerhall – which is located in the former fermentation cellar.

The New Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň

The New Cemetery, the third established in Plzeň, lies on the very outskirts of the city. Alongside a great number of historic tombstones it features a symbolic memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Above all, however, it is an ideal spot for contemplation, reflection and rest.

Address

Rokycanská, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7462789, 13.4318397

Opening Hours

The Old Synagogue in Plzeň

The history of the Old Synagogue in Plzeň began in 1857–1859. It was used for its intended purpose until the Nazi occupation, after which it was virtually forgotten for many decades. Fortunately people of good will came forward to save the historic building; it is down to them that it still possible to visit it and admire its beauty today.

Address

Smetanovy sady 5
301 00 Plzeň
GPS: 49.7443125, 13.3743411

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 55 Kč

Children fee: 40 Kč

Family fee: 80 Kč

Senior fee: 50 Kč

Student fee: 50 Kč

Great Synagogue in Plzeň

Thanks to its geographical position, the capital of West Bohemia has always been something of a cultural crossroads. A number of exotic buildings have survived in the city, lending Plzeň the feel of a cosmopolitan centre in this part of the Czech Republic. One of these buildings is the Great Synagogue, an integral part of Plzeň’s cityscape.

Address

Smetanovy sady 5, 301 37 Plzeň
GPS: 49.7466194, 13.3729889

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 70 Kč

Children fee: 40 Kč

Family fee: 110 Kč

Senior fee: 50 Kč

Student fee: 50 Kč

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň

Though you will not find hundreds of preserved tombstones at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň it is still worth visiting as a reminder of just how some Jewish landmarks were treated in the past.

Address

Lidická, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7623661, 13.3718261

Na Spilce

Pilsner beer is one of best known Czech products. If you would like not only to taste this magnificent beer but also soak up the atmosphere of the legendary Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) brewery, visit the restaurant Na Spilce, which is located in its courtyard.

Address

U Prazdroje 7
304 97 Plzeň
GPS: 49.746974, 13.386197

Rous Hotel

Located in the historical heart of Plzeň, the Rous Hotel is just a few steps away from various architectural sites and museums. The hotel itself offers comfortable accommodation and pleasant relaxation in the jazz café or on the unique terrace on the medieval city walls, commanding amazing views of the nearby park.

Address

Hotel Rous ****
Zbrojnická 7
301 15 Plzeň
GPS: 49.746807, 13.379223

Parkhotel Congress Centre Plzeň

The Parkhotel Congress Centre Plzeň is located in the middle of the tranquil and relaxing surroundings of Borský Park in the southern part of the city of Pilsen. The hotel combines luxury, relaxation and a unique setting that offers guests long and relaxing walks beneath the leafy canopies of mature trees.

Address

Congress Center Parkhotel Pilsen ****
U Borského parku 31
320 04 Plzeň
GPS: 49.720576, 13.370952