Hours of Devotion

Who was Fanny Neuda?

Children's Choir in Lostice

The Children's Choir of Lostice, Czech Republic, singing Hebrew songs in the Lostice synagogue, accompanied by a cellist, May 31, 2006. Following this concert, which Dinah Berland attended, an award ceremony was held for the first Fanny Neuda Scholarship. The award was presented to the choir director, Mrs. Svatava Simkova.

Fanny (née Schmiedl) Neuda was born on March 6, 1819, in the Moravian town of Ivancice (then Eibenschitz). At that time, Moravia was part of the German-speaking Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Today it is part of the Czech Republic. Fanny was born into a rabbinical family on both sides. Her maternal grandfather, Rabbi Moses HaKohen Karpeles (1765–1837) and his wife, Titl (née Grünbaum) Karpeles, raised three sons and a daughter. All the sons (Fanny’s uncles) became rabbis, and the daughter, Nechoma Karpeles, Fanny's mother, married Rabbi Juda Schmiedl (1776–1855), Fanny’s father. Thus Fanny grew up virtually steeped in religious study and worship. In a very real sense, prayer was her birthright.

By the time she was two years old, the family had moved to nearby Prostejov (then Prossnitz), home to Fanny’s maternal grandfather, Moses. Prostejov was then a flourishing center of Talmudic study as well as the center of the growing German Reform movement. It was there that Fanny’s brother, Adolf Schmiedl (1821–1913), was born. Like his father, grandfather, and uncles before him, Adolf became a rabbi, eventually assuming a prominent rabbinical post in Vienna. Adolf Schmiedl is counted among the first generation of “modern” rabbis in Moravia, as was Rabbi Abraham Neuda (1812–1854) of Lostice, the man Fanny would eventually marry.

Buzov Castle

Bouzov Castle, near Lostice, built in the early 14th century. The earliest record of Jewish settlement in Lostice is from 1544, when Lostice was a part of the Bouzov feudal estate.

Some time in the 1830s, Fanny and Abraham settled in Lostice (then Loschitz), Abraham’s hometown in eastern Moravia, when Abraham's father, the rabbi of Lostice, died and Abraham was elected to succeed him. Despite all the advantages of this flourishing period for Jews in Eastern Europe, their lives were not easy. Fierce conflicts over the reforms taking place in Jewish ritual and practice caused the Neudas much grief. The chief rabbi of Moravia, a staunch traditionalist, opposed Abraham’s assuming the post of rabbi of Losticeciting the fact that the young rabbi delivered his sermons in German instead of Yiddish and had received a “secular education.” After seven long years of legal battle, Abraham finally prevailed. The struggle took its toll, however, and he died at only forty-two. Fanny was widowed at the age of thirty-five with three young sons to raise.


Portrait drawing of Fanny's husband, Rabbi Abraham Neuda, ca. 1850. Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York.

In 1855, the year following her husband’s tragic death, Fanny Neuda published her book of prayers, Stunden der Andacht (Hours of Devotion), which would go on to become a best seller, reprinted more than two dozen times in German between 1855 and 1918, and translated into Yiddish and English.  Following is an excerpt from the author's preface to the original edition, which appears for the first time in English in Dinah Berland’s Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women:

 

 

From Fanny Neuda’s Preface to Hours of Devotion

These prayers were not originally written for publication. During my lifetime, so richly filled with the most diverse events, I frequently felt powerful, inescapable urges to enter into dialogue with the sublime Spirit of the Universe – who is enthroned so high and yet sees down so low – that I might find the insight and the strength in God not to stray from or sidestep the path of duty, which so often demanded great sacrifice. That is how most of these prayers were written. In them I found the staff of Moses calling forth to me from the arid rocks of a sad fate, a wellspring of elevating emotions and heavenly consolations – Jacob’s ladder, on which the angels of patience, hope, and devotion to God descended from heaven.

"Door to nowhere"

"Door to nowhere," adjacent to the Lostice synagogue, a remnant of the lively Jewish community that once occupied this area but was wiped out during World War II. Today there are no Jews living in Lostice.

For some time many competent parties have encouraged me to present these prayers to the public, but I always resisted subjecting the emotions and thoughts that moved my heart in my loneliest and holiest hours to the judgment of critics. Now, however, my own heart urges me to do so, out of special considerations. Namely, I would like to employ all my meager powers, by publishing these pages, to erect a living memorial to the spirit of my notable late husband, Abraham Neuda, rabbi of Lostice, Moravia, who was taken from me February 22, 1854, at the age of forty-two, after a grave bout of illness in the middle of a life rich in noble and pious deeds. Most of these poems are the outpourings of my heart associated with events I experienced at his side, with him and through him. May his transfigured soul in the life beyond recognize in them the faithfulness and love with which I strove to make his life happy here below.

Ludek Stipl opening the door to the Lostice synagogue

Ludek Stipl, director of Respect and Tolerance, Lostice, Czech Repubic, opening the door to the Lostice synagogue, which now serves as a center for the preservation of the Jewish history of the Lostice area and is home to many cultural and educational activities.

Much remains to be discovered about Fanny Neuda’s life after her husband’s death, yet some tantalizing clues have begun to emerge from research in the Czech Republic and Austria, conducted in large part by the Respect and Tolerance foundation in Lostice. Records show that Fanny remained in Lostice at least until 1857. The trail picks up again in 1880 in Vienna, where she is listed as “living alone at Grosse Morengasse no. 2,” a street that still exists. Her brother, Adolf, was then serving as a rabbi in Vienna, and Fannyat age sixty-one, with her children now grownjoined him there.

Later Fanny apparently had enough resources to travel to the still-popular spa town of Merano, Italy (then Meran, Austria), the “jewel of the Tyrol” in the Austrian-Italian Alps, where she died on April 16, 1894, at the age of seventy-five. The original version of her book would remain in print for another twenty-four years.

 

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