US envoy’s son has bar mitzvah at his ancestors’ shul in Prague
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US envoy’s son has bar mitzvah at his ancestors’ shul in Prague

Alex Schapiro performs Jewish rite of passage at Spanish Synagogue, where his relatives prayed before they fled the Nazis

Alex Schapiro studying for his bar mitzvah at the Spanish Synagogue of Prague in 2016. (Courtesy of Andrew H. Schapiro via JTA)
Alex Schapiro studying for his bar mitzvah at the Spanish Synagogue of Prague in 2016. (Courtesy of Andrew H. Schapiro via JTA)

PRAGUE — The US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Andrew H. Schapiro, celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah in the same synagogue that his ancestors attended before the Holocaust.

The service for 13-year-old Alex Schapiro took place last Saturday in Prague’s Spanish Synagogue, which was built for a Reform congregation and is now part of the local Jewish museum.

“It’s really cool and meaningful that I had my bar mitzvah at the same place my grandma — and my great-uncle, who was at my service — went for the holidays. I am really glad I could have it there, and I think my grandma would be too,” Alex Schapiro said.

His father noted another symbolism that resonated with him.

“To be back here not just as a Jewish family but also in this role of representing the United States, the country that gave my mother refuge and saved her life, surrounded by many members of both of our families, that was unforgettable,” Andrew H. Schapiro told JTA.

The Spanish Synagogue in Prague. (photo credit: Rachael Cerrotti/Flash90)
The Spanish Synagogue in Prague (Rachael Cerrotti/Flash90)

The diplomat’s Prague-born mother, Raya Czerner Schapiro, was 5 when the Nazis occupied Prague. Her parents sent her and her sister to the United States in October 1939. She passed away in 2007 but her brother attended his grand-nephew’s bar mitzvah.

Tamar Newberger, Alex’s mother, and his father brought Rabbi Asher Lopatin from the United States to officiate at the ceremony.

The couple also had to arrange for a Torah scroll to be used in the service, as the one present was too aged and damaged to be considered fit according to religious laws.

“This group of United Synagogue Youth brought it over in a golf bag in June, and it will be used by Prague’s Masorti community,” said Tamar Newberger about the Torah scroll. United Synagogue Youth is the youth group of the Conservative movement, and Masorti is the Conservative movement’s overseas arm.

More than 200 guests attended Alex Schapiro’s bar mitzvah ceremony in Prague, some 150 of them having made the trip from the United States. The party – a non-themed one, his parents said – took place in the ambassador’s residence.

“This moment didn’t make me feel like an adult; I have started feeling more adult since I moved to Prague,” Alex Shapiro said.

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