17 June 2022

Bratislava exhibition marks
20 years of building of
Chatam Sofer Memorial

The grave of Chatam Sofer in Bratislava is one of the holiest pilgrim sites in Europe for Orthodox Jews (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

A special exhibition opened in Bratislava last Friday (10 June 2022) marking the 20th anniversary of the construction of the Chatam Sofer Memorial, a unique Jewish heritage site, and the recovery of 23 graves that were destroyed during World War II and the Holocaust.

The underground complex includes the remains of Bratislava’s Old Jewish Cemetery, and was designed by the architect Martin Kvasnica. The special exhibition in Bratislava opened on Friday and commemorates the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of this major Jewish site.

The compound was built in 2000-2002 and includes a remnant of the Old Jewish Cemetery dating from the 17th century and destroyed in 1943/1944. The Chatam Sofer Memorial is the sole remaining part of the centuries-old Jewish cemetery that was destroyed when a nearby tunnel was built.

Only a small group of the graves of prominent rabbis survived, including that of the Chatam Sofer (1762-1839), a major rabbinic authority in the first part of the 19th century. His grave and the underground complex are now an important site for Orthodox pilgrims from around the world, and it is one of the most important Jewish sites in Europe.

The exhibition at the Jewish Community Museum of Bratislava presents the history and cultural context of the site over time, including unique historical photographs and exclusive documentation from the site’s construction.

The exhibition includes a photographic project by the leading Slovak reporter and photographer Andrej Bán, who has documented human stories and places in Slovakia and abroad.

The exhibition at the Jewish Community Museum continues until 9 October.

The Chatam Sofer Memorial in Bratislava was designed by the architect Martin Kvasnica (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Recently, the exciting rediscovery was reported of hundreds of centuries-old matzevot or gravestones from the Old Jewish Cemetery that had long been presumed lost or destroyed.

In a remarkable find, hundreds of gravestones from the old cemetery came to light. They date mainly from the 18th to early 19th century, and were found piled up in a neglected and heavily overgrown area near a far wall of the city’s active Orthodox Jewish cemetery. They seems to have lain there undisturbed for almost 80 years.

Tomáš Stern, president of the Bratislava Jewish community, said 300 or more baroque gravestones have been discovered over a two-month period.

The matzevot are being numbered, photographed, documented, and digitised, and their epitaphs are being translated. Matzevot and fragments are being matched to archival photos, and project workers are trying to reassemble gravestones from broken pieces.

The Jewish community in Bratislava is carrying out the project in co-operation with outside experts. Daniel Polakovic from the Jewish Museum in Prague is overseeing the translation of epitaphs, and Martin Kvasnica, the architect of the Chatam Sofer memorial, is advising on the placement of matzevot at the site.

The graves of rabbis buried beside the Chatam Sofer in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For my prayers and reflections this Friday evening I return to the version of the Mourner’s Kaddish by Lord (Jonathan) Sacks:

Mourner: Magnified and sanctified may His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel, swiftly and soon – and say: Amen.

All: May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.

Mourner: Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond any blessing, song, praise and consolation uttered in the world – and say: Amen.

May there be great peace from heaven, and life for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

Bow, take three steps back, then bow, first left, then right, then centre, while saying:

May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

The translation of Kaddish in Service of the Heart is:

Extolled and hallowed be God’s great name in the world he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom, in our lifetime, and let us say: Amen.

Let his great name be praised to eternity.

Lauded and praised, glorified, exalted and adored, honoured, extolled and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though he is above all the praises, hymns and adorations which men can utter, and let us say: Amen.

May God grant abundant peace and life to us and to the whole house of Israel, and let us say: Amen.

May the Most High, source of perfect peace, grant peace to us, to all Israel, and to all mankind, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Prayer books in the prayer hall emphasise that the Chatam Sofer memorial is a place of prayer and pilgrimage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
17 June 2022 (Psalm 114)

‘When Israel went out from Egypt … The sea looked and fled’ (Psalm 114: 1-3) … an illustration in the ‘Passover Haggadah’ by the Polish-American artists Arthur Szyk

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, this is Ordinary Time. Two of us are staying in Lichfield, and planning to return to the Chapel of Saint John's Hospital and Lichfield Cathedral later today. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 114:

Psalm 114 is the second of the six psalms (Psalms 113-118) comprising the Hallel (הַלֵּל, ‘Praise’). It is sometimes known by its opening phrase in Latin, In exitu Israel. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate, this psalm is the first part of Psalm 113.

Psalms 113-118 are among the earliest prayers written to be recited in the Temple on days of national celebration. They were sung as accompaniment to the Pesach or Passover sacrifice. Early rabbinic sources suggest that these psalms were said on the pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

These psalms are known as the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ because of the references in this psalm to the Exodus from Egypt.

Psalm 114 is a lyrical account of how nature itself trembled and rejoiced at the Exodus, when the Supreme Power intervened and recused the powerless.

This psalm begins with the Hebrew:

בְּצֵאת יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם; בֵּית יַעֲקֹב, מֵעַם לֹעֵז

In Hebrew this is an acrostic poem. At eight verses, this psalm is comparatively concise. It is composed of four stanzas of two lines, which the word Jacob envelops. The two central stanzas evoke with images full of life the miracle of the Red Sea and the passage of the Jordan. God is evoked only at the end of the Psalm, doubtless to arouse the expectation.

The first stanza recalls by the verb that the Hebrew people are born in the Exodus. The words sanctuary and domain designate the entire inheritance of God, not only in the geographical sense but also in a spiritual sense. The miracles that allow Israel to cross the Red Sea and cross the River Jordan are poetically enhanced by the process of hyperbole and by images evoking a life of natural elements, water and mountains. It is a means of manifesting all creation, with Israel and actively participating in its march towards the Promised Land.

1, Verses 1-3 recall the Exodus and its initial and final events: the people led Egypt, and were able to cross the Red Sea and the Jordan.

2, Verse 4 may be referring to the earth tremors that accompanied God’s appearance on Mount Sinai.

3, Verses 5-6 ask why these miracles too place.

4, Verses 7-8 tell us this was because the Lord of all creation was present. He commanded water to spring from the rock, quenching the thirst of the people during the Exodus.

As the physical earth responded to God’s command then, how do we respond?

Part of the Psalm 114 is quoted at the beginning of Dante’s Purgatorio, and this psalm was associated with burial and funeral rites in the Mediaeval Church. Later, John Milton wrote ‘A Paraphrase on Psalm 114’ among his poems of 1645.

‘The Lord … turns the rock into a pool of water’ (Psalm 114: 7-8) … rocks by the beach at Preveli on the south coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 114 (NRSVA):

1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Focus 9/99,’ which was introduced on Sunday by the Revd M Benjamin Inbaraj, Director of the Church of South India’s SEVA department.

Friday 17 June 2022:

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

We give thanks for ecumenism and the ecumenical example shown by the Church of South India. May we remember that we have much in common with different denominations across the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org