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The Fellow of the Month section is a forum which highlights program alumni and the various activities they are involved in the Jewish world. Please submit suggestions for future articles.

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NGF Alumni - This Month's Fellow

Jewish Culture in Prague
By Peter Gyori
December 1, 2009

Peter Gyori is the Executive Director of Bejt Praha, A Jewish religious, cultural and civic organization in Prague, and a Vice Ppresident of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities. Peter, who studied at WUJS Institute in Arad, Israel, received his Masters in Jewish Communal Service at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.

I was born in Communist Czechoslovakia in an era called “Normalization,” which did not change until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the downfall of the Communist government. It was “normal” in those times to brainwash people about the “perfect socialist society,” and sometimes to jail the most remarkable people. It was “normal” for me not to tell people about my background, or that my uncle escaped in 1968 and that he escaped to Israel.

I graduated University in Slovakia and have studied in Israel, but my most recent studies were at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, where I receive an M.A. in Jewish Communal Service. After graduation I became a professional in the non-profit world.

After a year of working at the Jewish Community center in Los Angeles, I was asked by the AJJDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) to manage a newly-established Jewish religious and cultural civic organization in Prague, Czech Republic. Bejt Praha was founded in 1994 by both American immigrants and native Czech Jewish people, who were unhappy with the restrictive policy of the larger established Jewish Community against the non-Orthodox. At that time, Bejt Praha as an organization had numerous plans, but lacked professional leadership. It was also having serious problems co-existing and collaborating with the official Prague Jewish Orthodox Community. Upon my arrival, I immediately began to work on these issues. I was successful in organizing joint projects and after several years, we all began to work together for the benefit of the entire community.

Bejt Praha is now a full member of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, and even receives some financial support from the Prague Orthodox Jewish Community. We work on projects with The Jewish Museum of Prague and the Israeli Embassy. With support of the Chief Rabbinate, we hold non-Orthodox services at the very beautiful Spanish synagogue.

I believe that this new spirit of cooperation and my work outside of the Jewish Community helped induce the members to nominate and elect me to the position of the Vice-President of the Federation of all Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic. In this new position I realize how little we have done in working with other religious and ethnic groups and have taken steps in that direction.

Because of my love of music and art I was able to organize a unique concert, Light of Understanding, at both the Spanish synagogue and the neighboring Rome-Catholic church. An eclectic program of classical, jazz, rock and alternative music attracts 1,000 people annually and is now a permanent part of the Prague cultural scene. This initiative has introduced us to the leaders of other religious and ethnic communities. Another very successful cultural program is the Bejt Café in which I, as the moderator, lead panel discussion about various artistic pursuits. These discussions, which take place in a theatre, are very popular, with an audience from various national and religious backgrounds. Participants are artists, actors, economists, politicians, community leaders.

Only recently, just a few days before the High Holidays, on behalf of the Prague Jewish Community I organized a conference about the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew, the 400th anniversary of whose death we commemorate this year, with the participation of almost 70 people from all corners of the world. Lectures included some of the most well-known contemporary rabbis, thinkers, philosophers and other experts on immense work ofthe Maharal. Among them, I was very pleased to reunite with Prof. Binyamin Ish Shalom and his wife, whom I had a pleasure to meet at the Nahum Goldman Fellowship in Israel in February 2009.

The Nahum Goldman Fellowship has positively embraced various ideas, views and opinions I have had for a long time. I also feel, that it helped me to “refresh “my admiration and love for all aspects of Judaism and gave me the opportunity to meet new colleagues and friends who are able to share this passion very naturally . The intensity, professionalism and a taste of the variety and diversity of Jewish life packed in only a few precious days are hard to find. I would, therefore, encourage everyone, those who are “movers and shakers” and those just beginning to become actively involved in our communities, to attend this remarkable program.

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