Monday, November 21, 2005


Prague, 1996.

A pale young man comes to the open door of my hostel room. He's in his early 20s, tall with short, straight dark hair and brown eyes. His English is fluent, which is a good thing given my monolingualism. He asks about the time, or something equally inane, and before I know it, the silence of my solo travels is broken with a lengthy conversation. Even though I have been enjoying my solitude, I welcome the respite from my journal entries, a chance to converse with someone.

We seem to get along, this German and I, until somehow it comes out that I am Jewish. Fear enters his eyes, and he begins a long apology for the sins his countrymen committed over 50 years earlier. I interrupt before long, explaining that no apology is needed -- he has done no wrong, either to me or my family, even though some family did in fact die in the Holocaust. He relates that once not too long ago, he'd been in an elevator with an Israeli woman and her daughter. The woman harangued him for his heritage and raised her arm as if to strike him, and he felt terrified and ashamed. I do not subscribe to the theory that the sins of the fathers fall upon their children, and do what I can to put him back at ease.

Ironically, the next day I plan to go to the old Jewish Quarter of Prague, so I invite him along. He gladly accepts. When morning comes, we venture forth and learn the story of the Jews who inhabited this small area for centuries, up until the start of the 20th century. While I am soaking in the knowledge, reading of such things as Rabbi Loew and the golem, he is nervous and edgy, unable to concentrate on the placards, focused instead on the possibility of encountering other angry Jews, in a place he feels he does not belong. For all the years that Jews dwelled in this tiny space, they must have felt the same way whenever they left these walls.

Eventually we leave the Jewish Quarter to see other sites/sights. Graffiti-covered Lennon Wall strikes a chord with us both -- joy at the dangerous mischief that inspired all those Czechs to defy the Communist authorities, sadness at its hardly recognizable condition. At day's end we exchange names and addresses, though neither of us ever contacts the other.