That’s Ghetto

One of the amazing byproducts of traveling is all the great material and lesson plans I create for my classroom. There’s literally a whole new wealth of knowledge that allows me to continuously push my students to learn and excel.

The time we visited the Jewish Quarter in Prague reminded me of one particular day I taught my students about the connotation of words; or the meanings and the change of meanings in words. Most school days start off with a warm-up, known as a journal prompt. That day’s prompt was: “What’s your definition of ‘ghetto’?”

This was our conversation:

Student A: “It’s like someone who doesn’t make money.”

Student B: “Someone who doesn’t dress well.”

Student C: “This ratchet right here [points to photo on the phone]”

Me: … “Get off your phone.”

Then I heard the most concise response: “someone who lives a low-income lifestyle, in a low-income neighborhood.”

The meaning of ghetto hasn’t changed much here in the U.S. from its original meaning. Used as a pejorative, “ghetto” often refers to a person, place or thing that falls outside the social constructs of “cool.” Things that are “ghetto,” are lower-class and are often alienated from society, which is exactly what Josefov stood for at one time.


Josefov: so pretty. Josefov: so pretty. more Josefov more Josefov A set of clocks A set of clocks

Josefov is the Jewish Quarter in Prague. It can also be referred to as the “Jewish Ghetto.” But, these days, there’s hardly anything “ghetto” about it. Major designer stores outline the streets of Josefov. Every building’s design is so ornate, it’s like walking through a fairy tale. There’s very little sign of anything being “ghetto,” with the exception of a guide book or Google maps labeling it as such.
It wasn’t until Pinkas Synagogue that there was a reminder of a place once known as a ghetto.

Pinkas Synagogue

Names on the walls of Pinkas Synagogue Names on the walls of Pinkas Synagogue

The synagogue’s walls are grayish white. On just about every wall are names. Thousands of names. Some of them in red. Others in black. But the names never seem to end. From wall-to-wall, they only seem to grow exponentially. Those are the names of the people who didn’t survive the Holocaust. It’s sobering to see so many names, but it doesn’t end there.

Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery Jewish Cemetery Hard to read tombstones Hard to read tombstones


Pinkas Synagogue leads out into the cemetery. Some of the tombs are so old that the inscription are faded, leaving a memory of what once was.

The Hebrew Clock

Hebrew Clock, Roman Numeral clock Hebrew Clock, Roman Numeral clock

This is where I was reminded of ghetto. Remember my students who think certain people are ratchets and ghetto. But, you know what’s “ghetto”? Five American teenagers touring as a group with a Jewish-Czech tour guide…And instead of listening to him explain the Roman clock and Hebrew clock, they’re laughing, gossiping and giggling about everything else.
 That’s ghetto.

If it hadn’t been for me eavesdropping on that tour guide, I wouldn’t have known the significance of those clocks: it sits on the Jewish Town Hall building, which was a former meeting place for the Jewish community. See that, kids? Listen to your teachers…They know things.

If you’re planning to visit Josefov, buy a combination ticket at any of the landmarks to get a discount. If you have a student ID, bring it. You may save some money.

Pop quiz: tell us a time you were amazed by the history and scenery on your travels.

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10 responses

  • This actually was one of those times. I too visited the Jewish ghetto in Prague and the juxtaposition of what has been left was so striking to me. On a lighter note, it was also a welcome opportunity to have a less heavy Czech beer. The Kosher restaurants in the area are wonderful.

    • Oh wow, I should have tried those beers! I disliked some of the other ones, like the pilsner urquell. It was heavy, indeed.

  • You’re right – I never thought about how strange it was that this area was called ghetto… but yes, it speaks to history.
    I was always blown away by the history in Poland. Such a fascinating country.

    • It was just so gorgeous, it doesn’t hold the same imagery that people consider a ghetto to be. But, the history, I suppose, is all the same. We would love to see Poland’s history, too!

  • Prague is such a pretty city…I just did not connect with it like I thought I would. I did get some nice photos and hung out with an old acquaintance. After all the raving from friends I realized it was just my guy friends who loved the beer guzzling and partying there.

    • That sucks, it was so gorgeous. I think your guy friends may have been on to something with all the cheap beer and partying. But, hopefully they go back and see it for all it’s worth. =)

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