The Prince George County Regional Heritage Center hosted an enlightening lecture Thursday from Czech Embassy Cultural Attaché Dr. Robert Rehák.
Rehák’s lecture “The Magic of Prague: Life and Legends of Czechs and Jews in the Heart of Europe” featured ancillary photo projections to support a great number of topics including the spread of religion, magic, and a personal account of living under the rule of communism in Czechoslovakia. Rehák took part in the Velvet Revolution that overthrough Russian rule and restored sovereignty to Czechoslovakia.
“These are two police cars outside of my school,” Rehák said as he projected a photo. “They had come for me because I attended a lecture on religion.”
Rehák’s account of communist rule began in his early years. His parents took part in the Prague Spring, a failed attempt to gain sovereignty from the Russians in 1968. Rehák grew up in brutalist tenements in Czechoslovakia, and described living under his rulers with distant sarcasm. Rehák juxtaposed his descriptions of school photos featuring leaders and a disaffected youth of which he was a member.
Rehák was proud to describe a successful Czech rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe. Rehák said the Plastic People dealt with the Russian Communist Party’s request to alter their name, music and image, with resigned defiance. The attitude would become a unifying undertone for the Czech people in years to come, culminating with the Velvet Revolution and ultimate overthrow of communist Russian rule.
Rehák spoke of a man named Václav Havel with kind regards. Havel was a misfit by all means. He was arrested on several occasions for disobedience under the oppressive Russian regime. Rehák was proud to speak of all that Havel accomplished, as history would favor his actions.
“From prisoner, he became president,” Rehák said. “Here you can see him in the American Congress,” Rehák said while cycling through pictures, “and here, you can see me, almost kicked out from the school, I became a Cultural Attaché here, and introduced the Plastic People of the Universe to the stage.”
Rehák has an impressive collection of language proficiencies. Rehák can speak Czech, English, Hebrew, German and Russian. The Virginia Czech/Slovak Heritage Society billed Rehák as a published scholar of biblical proper names and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rehák has a Doctorate and M.A. degree from Charles University, and lectured at New York University in Prague. Rehák is a worldly soul with a penchant for delivering complex ideas and themes to any willing to lend an ear.
In addition to covering recent history as experienced first hand, Rehák shared a timeline of the spread of religion across Czechoslovakia. He kept things interesting by involving the audience, granting points for correct answers to questions he posed.
“If you reach 100 points, you will win a trip to Prague with me,” Rehák joked, as he began fielding the audience for answers he was willing to give.
The personal perspective of a revolution was the highlight of the evening, but Rehák gave the crowd something he said they would not find anywhere else. Rehák told a story of Czech King Rudolph II.
“Don’t share it with anybody,” Rehák said. “You will not even find it in the best bookstore, or the best books about Prague.”
The story delighted the crowd, but they had to earn it. Rehák teased about the rarity of the tale, asking “are you sure you would want to hear? Are you sure it wouldn’t be boring?”
It was with caution that Rehák spoke of Hitler and the Munich Pact that gave Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. Rehák described the extermination of Czech Jews, and one escaped Jew in particular: Franz Kafka.
Kafka was a writer. His best known work was “The Metamorphosis,” a tale of a man that becomes a vermin overnight. Rehák spoke of Kafka’s posthumously published work “The Castle.” The point of referencing Kafka was in the description of Judeo holy texts, specifically the top shelf and harder to attain Kabala. Rehák compared “The Castle” to Kafka’s curiosity about the Kabala, as well as the changing face of education in Czechoslovakia.
The lecture was filled with brado, humor, and the terrors of reality. Rehák drew a line between magic and reality. Golems walked through his lecture, and bricks flew from the Old New Synagogue in Prague to Jerusalem, marking the second coming of Christ. These are of course descriptions Rehák presented. There are no Golems to report, and the Old New Synagogue is still standing, but for about an hour, Rehák captivated about 80 people at the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center.
The ceremony concluded with a presentation of a shark’s tooth to Rehák’s son and assistant, Toby. Toby was fascinated by the fossils on display at the heritage center, and presented with the gift as a thank you to Rehák for his appearance.
Ben May/Prince George Journal
Mike Uzel, left, introduces Czech Embassy Cultural Attache Dr. Robert Rehak at the start of Rehak’s talk at the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center last week.