Helene Silverberg wrote (“In Slovakia, Acts Of Memory,” Dec. 26) that the bar mitzvah ceremonies in Slovakia of her two nephews “reminded us of the importance of preserving Jewish history.” She added that finally, her “family has come to appreciate the heroic efforts of Jews in places like Bratislava … to preserve a sense of Jewish identity and community.”
Many bar mitzvah ceremonies took place during the Communist period in the Slovak Republic, which became a separate country after the fall of Communism, often at great risk during a totalitarian regime that did not encourage religious practice. And in small communities, miles away from the capital, Bratislava, some Jews, led by devoted rabbis and volunteers, boldly kept all of the holidays and had regular services.
Since my arrival here 26 years ago, I have officiated at 14 bar mitzvahs, not including those of four of my sons, and a fair share of weddings. A few of the bar mitzvah boys were members of ex-pat families. We have also made several bat mitzvah celebrations.
Our synagogue, which the article incorrectly described as “ultra-Orthodox,” is a standard Orthodox congregation, the historical Bratislava Orthodox synagogue, built in 1926, which follows Jewish law. The vast majority of the members are not observant. And almost all of my regular minyan attendees are intermarried.
Two of the bar mitzvah ceremonies at which I officiated were with teenagers who undertook to have circumcisions beforehand. One of those young men went on to become a successful Hebrew instructor; he prepared some of my bar mitzvah students of later years.
A sense of continuity characterizes the Jewish re-awakening in Slovakia. The significance of these Jewish life-cycle events is NOT that they are somehow a “first,” but that they are a continuation, a restoring of a link in a chain reaching back to previous generations and forward to future generations.
Rabbi Myers, a native of New Jersey, has served as the official rabbi of the Jewish Community of Bratislava and the emissary of Chabad Lubavitch to Slovakia since 1993.