Michelle Obama petitions Rabbi Loew during Prague visit


US President Barack Obama told thousands of cheering fans on Sunday that he was proud to be the man who had brought Michelle Obama to Prague. While her husband spent the day in talks with EU leaders, Mrs Obama went on a tour of one of the city’s most famous historic monuments – the old Jewish ghetto. Her guide was Michaela Sidenberg, of the Jewish Museum in Prague, who says the First Lady had a special petition to make.

Leo Pavlát (Director of Jewish Museum), Michelle Obama, Michaela Sidenberg (left to right), photo: CTKLeo Pavlát (Director of Jewish Museum), Michelle Obama, Michaela Sidenberg (left to right), photo: CTK “We started in the Pinkas synagogue, which is one of the main sites of the Jewish town and the third oldest synagogue in Prague, and which today is a Holocaust memorial. So we wanted to show the First Lady the memorial itself and the names of 80,000 Jews, victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia inscribed on the walls of the synagogue. Then we wanted to show her the exhibition of children’s drawings from Terezín. From the Pinkas synagogue we went to the old Jewish cemetery, a world-renowned site, where we stopped by some of the graves of very important personalities from the history of the Jewish ghetto. And we of course saw the most famous of them, which is the grave of the great Maharal of Prague, rabbi Loew, and this is where the First Lady actually placed her little petition on a piece of paper which in Yiddish we call kvitl.”

Did she write that little petition on the spot, or did she have it prepared beforehand?

“I think that she came with her note prepared and she had it with her all the time. So she had it prepared in her hand and she placed it when the right time came.”

Mrs Obama spent quite a while in the Jewish Museum, about an hour and a half. What were the things she showed a special interest in?

Old Jewish cemetery in PragueOld Jewish cemetery in Prague “I think that the most interesting for her were the children’s drawings because she is so connected with children’s education, she is a mother herself, so she was definitely very interested in what we feature in that exhibition. We also talked in a little bit more detail about the educational methods the teacher who organized art lessons in the Terezín ghetto used. She was very interested in some of the particular stories of the particular children that we feature in that exhibit.”

Did Mrs Obama get any souvenirs from the Jewish town?

“We presented her with two gifts; the Jewish Museum presented her with a collection of books some of which were about children’s drawings and poems from the Terezín ghetto. There was a recently published book about the story of the girl whose suitcase was found in Auschwitz. This is the famous book “Hannah’s Suitcase” which made its way to the school curriculum in the United States and Canada. The Jewish community also presented her with a Kiddush cup and a memorial medal commemorating 700 years since the foundation of the Old-New synagogue.”