Synagogues without Jews – Trnava

I was not planning a visit but an accidental stop-over on the way to spa Town of Piestany took my breath away. Forget the iced coffees and elderberry lemonades that cooled us down on a hot August day. Forget the comfortable seating in discreet compartments fenced off by bookshelves. Instead, imagine driving into a narrow street of Austro-Hungarian character, squeezed between numerous churches, towers and spires. Picture a towerless white washed building with circle and arched windows reminiscent of a Greek Church would it not be for a tablet of ten commandments placed above the entrance.


Welcome to the Synagoga Cafe – a new type of a  Coffee House with an ornamental ceiling that will make you wow and the altar (with another ten commandments tablet) that will make you think. Numerous art pictures, books, antiques and memorabilia, hanged on the walls or exhibited leisurely about the hall will make you brush upon your knowledge of art and history, if you’re that way inclined. For some, the place may be even haunting or moving – depending on how much you know about Jews and their history in the region.

According to a very small letter type explanation on the origins of the synagogue, placed above the ritual wash-basin in the entrance hall, the building is an excellent example of an Orthodox place of worship. This is different to either the Status quo ante or Neological branches of Jewish faith that also historically had their presence in the town of Trnava. Influential rabbis Izak Tyrnau, Simon Sidon and Chatam Sofer-Schreiber all had a connection with the town and the Orthodox faith in different times.

Considering that Trnava is just a throw away from Bratislava, easily reached by frequent trains and buses, it has a lot to offer to those who are interested in religious and social history as well as those who follow the Small Carpathian Wine Route

The blog and the pictures are only a little taster of what Trnava has to offer.



The Sea was a bowl

The Sea was a bowl with one too many
She spitted me out on the naked stones.
My arms were shawled by sludge and oil,
A little heart pounding on a pile of soil
I gathered courage to tread inland.

The is Sea behind me,
And so is the world I know so well.
The grey sky above me isn’t inviting,
What else is left but to walk ahead…

It was summer, August, 18 years ago. I took a cumbersome train route from Brighton to Dover, changing trains three times. The sky was overcast and there were no clouds. I was a naive student on a Sussex Uni scholarship paid for by George Soros. European Studies was my subject but unlike my classmates who based their dissertation on regurgerating library books I thought I needed to put some physical effort in, visit some places, talk to some people, experience their hardship and ‘make recommendation for a government policy’.

It was 1998 and asylum applications from Czech and Slovak Roma in UK were at their highest. Albanians, Kurds, Afghans, Iranians & Eritreans continued arriving. The Dover District Council was looking to Kent County Council to pick up the pieces from the impact on the community cohesion and the Government was masterminding the NASS dispersal – desperately.

I arrived that August and never left until 2002. I became a community liaison, interpreter, asylum accommodation manager – you name it, I was it. With my knowledge of East European languages I could communicate with at least half of the residents, possibly empathise with the other Middle Eastern, Persian and North African half. The induction programme we developed in Amsterdam House was later copied by the government and I have some great memories of Folkestone Road that was considered a real ‘shit-hole’ and a ‘hotbed of dodgy foreigners’ by indigenous population but for many arrivals symbolised hope and positive ‘entering’.

Still, the poem I started this blog with describes the unsure and anxious side to immigration. Being from a European landlocked country myself, it took me a while to get used to the idea of having a large pool of water between me and my past. It felt ‘final’ and ‘oppressive’ at times because you couldn’t just walk or take a train like they do inland Europe to bounce from my country to another. And I was a lucky and privileged student compared to the residents of Amsterdam House. The poem is dedicated to those who had a lot more to give up than a cosy floor of a Sussex University library.

Humpbacked moon

It is 15th of August and the moon has another few days to go until he becomes full on 18th August exactly. They call it a humpbacked moon, also known as ‘waxing gibbous’ because he still has that little bit of the back to still grow….Like him, I also have 3 days to go before I fly out to see my children who are currently spending holidays with their grandparents. I will gather them up like little crumbs from one country and bring to another (this is a reference to my previous blog!).

I look outside the window in the row of Victorian houses somewhere in the Midlands and remind myself of the poem I wrote a few years ago, when my children were still very small and, in constant looking after their everyday needs, I have almost lost my identity. It goes like this…

The moon where I live
Sucks up all darkness
It’s a pond upside down

The moon that I know
Casts a circle of brightness
A Chinese lantern dangling in the sky

Like a pot of honey never falling
She just sits there waiting for my glance

I no longer ask any questions
What’s the air like or is there any noise?
I am quite happy sitting near the window
Resting my eyes on the distant ball of stone

I narrow my view – does She ever wonder
Am I a blot of blood, a stubborn stain
Or just a fleeting interest
With a shimmering spotlight
A random puppet
Positioned in a frame…?

A shut of an eye and everything’s forgotten
There is nothing of me imprinted on the Moon

Gather up the crumbs

‘It’s a choice you made’, I hear you say. You brought on your own suffering. You long for your homeland, your family, the meadows and fields you have walked in your youth and that now only recur in your dreams. Just before you go to sleep you have that uneasy feeling as if someone airlifted you from your ‘den’ and dumped in somebody’s garden.

Is that natural? Do we all have these feelings – expats, immigrants, migrants – all of us in exile?

Surely, others experience it too? What about diplomats, academics, those who moved from rural areas to big cities? Isn’t our uprooted existence a very common 21st century human condition?  Thanks to affordable travel and technology we have conquered the distance. The whole world has now become our backyard. And it could be anywhere, at any point in time we let people into our lives, people that influence our path, perhaps even become our husbands or wives.

But then we start a family and something strange happen….The old bond to the soil and ancestors start creeping in, trailing around our minds like Russian vine. All we want now is to have met our partners in our childhood backyard and our families to live next door to each other ever after. When this feeling kicks in, I am thinking of…

Gathering up the crumbs

Ever since I have met you
I wished I could cut up a map.
Put your piece next to mine
Gather our families like crumbs
And put them into a friendly warm hand.

We would put ants into shame.
Straightening up
All lines and duty
Then tossing and shaking
Every time someone shakes our den.

We thought of living on the edge.
Full of fright and excitement
Brushing lustfully against each other
Dreaming of ‘growing our own’.

What we are left with is worrying and sleeping
Watching our relatives pop up on Skype.
Exhausted from mundane life
Brushing each other with regret
Pondering eternity in our dreams.

I look out of the window. I see our garden. It’s another morning.

Exactly here, our lives go on…



Stop Trying to Ruin the Olympics For Us

Through this brilliant case study one can put a spotlight on negative journalism on any country that US has a political issue with. It clouds a judgment, distorts perspective and goes again international cooperation. This is how they have been covering Russia and South American countries for years!

Megan Kalmoe, OLY

Today we are one week away from departure for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Competition starts in eighteen days; and in twenty-two days I will have completed the final race of my career.  Rio will be my third Olympic Team after walking on to my college rowing team in 2002 with no knowledge or background in the sport.  Rio will be my first trip to South America. My family and friends are planning on being there to support me for my last-ever attempt to make the podium while representing the United States in rowing competition.  I will be traveling to Rio as part of one of the most talented and decorated women’s rowing squads in history.  I am incredibly excited for this trip, and this opportunity.  I have worked for ten years to get to this point and will continue to work as hard as I can over the…

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