The Alchemy of Militant Memory
What we call self-defense, they will always call dark magic.
Seventy-eight thousand. That’s roughly the number of names that cover the inside walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in the Josefov section of Prague. Each name is perhaps an inch tall, its calligraphy unadorned and neat, grouped first by town or region, then alphabetically. These are, it is stated upon entering, the names of all Bohemian and Moravian Jews killed during the Shoah.
In the 16th century, Prague was all but synonymous with alchemy, the mystic chemistry that sought the secret of how one thing became another, how lead might be transformed to gold, and the discovery of eternal life. A two-minute walk from the Pinkas Synagogue is the Old-New Synagogue, which, legend has it, contains in its attic the mud and clay remains of the Golem mythically brought to life by Rabbi Low, the Maharal of Prague. Rabbi Low is known to have had at least one audience with the Bohemian King Rudolf II. The subject of the meeting was the Jewish esoteric tradition of Kabbalah.
Kabbalah and alchemy are, of c…