A Tragedy in Prague

A Tragedy in Prague

The Jewish world is reeling this week from tragedies: the inhuman terror attack in Pittsburgh as well as the devastating traffic accident that killed a family of 8 in Israel earlier today.

And the Jewish community of Prague is also mourning its own, lesser-known tragedy which took place this past Friday involving the family of a long-time JewishMOM.com reader there.

While my husband and I had quite a few memorable experiences during our time in Prague, this tragedy and its aftermath are events I am certain we will never, ever forget.

First of all, some background.

When we arrived in Prague last Wednesday for the Shabbat Project, I was truly surprised to discover how many mothers there follow JewishMOM.com.

One of those loyal readers is Gafna (Tereza) Vanova, a mother of 2 young daughters who is the director of Jewish studies at Prague’s Jewish school.

When I met Gafna for the first time at her school on Wednesday, she told me that she has been reading JewishMOM.com

for years. She reminded me that 4 years ago she even won a prize from JewishMOM.com, after she submitted a photo of her daughter Shoshana Tsofia holding a sign to bring back Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

After the Thursday night Challah Baking, Gafna (who actually filmed the video I posted yesterday) shared her incredible personal story with me:

“When I was in my 20s, before I was observant, I spent a few weeks working in Israel. At the end of my trip, I spent a Shabbat in Tsfat at the Ascent Hostel, and while there, in order to receive a discount, I attended all of Ascent’s classes on Judaism.

“One of those classes was taught by an elderly rabbi, and when he asked me my Hebrew name, I told him I didn’t have one. He offered to help me choose out a Jewish name the following morning.

“So the next morning, feeling excited, I sat down with this rabbi, and he asked me the names of my deceased female relatives. I told him my grandmothers were still alive, but my great-grandmother, Gertrude, had passed away.

“So the rabbi took out a list of Hebrew names that start with G, and he asked me to choose out the name I liked best. I looked over the list and passed over the common G names like Gila, Gabriella and Gali and I chose out an unusual name–Gafna.

“I didn’t know Hebrew, so I didn’t know what Gafna meant. But when I chose out this name the rabbi got very animated, ‘This is a very special name!’ he told me. ‘Gafna means ‘grapevine.’ And this name symbolizes that in your life you will receive abundant blessings and fertility–you will get married, and you will be blessed with a Jewish home, and you will merit to raise children as well!’

“When I returned to Prague, and told my friend that I had chosen Gafna as my Hebrew name, she laughed at my strange choice. You see, I can’t stand the taste of wine!

“Over the years that followed, I became an active member of the Jewish community. And eventually, in my late 20s, I met my husband, Moshe. After we married, I realized why I had chosen my unusual name. My husband is a famous winemaker, the only kosher winemaker in the Czech republic!

“Moshe and I got married in his vineyard in the North of the Czech Republic when I was 30. And we had our 1st child, a daughter, 10 years ago. We gave her 2 names: Yo’ana, which means ‘G-d answered’ and, for obvious reasons, her second name is Ainav, which means ‘Grape.’

“7 years ago, Moshe had an accident and almost died. It was a great miracle that he eventually fully recovered.

“Chana Jenny, when you wrote 8 years ago about how you gave birth to a daughter named Tsofia, I thought it was strange that you had given her a non-Jewish name–confusing it with Sofia. But then I learned that Tsofia is a Hebrew name that means, ‘G-d watched over me.’

“So when Moshe and I had a second daughter 6 years ago, we named her Shoshana Tsofia. Because that was how I felt, that G-d had watched over us and saved my husband’s life, and he had even blessed us with another daughter.

Gafna’s story gave me goosebumps, and I asked if, pretty please, I could share her story on JewishMOM.com.

“Of course!” she answered. And she told me that she wanted to give me some of her husband’s award-winning wines as a gift to bring back home…The next morning, I visited Prague’s Jewish nursery school, and among the children there was Shoshana Tsofia, who came up with a teacher to introduce herself to me.

What a sweetheart! I couldn’t wait to tell my Tsofia that a little girl in Prague was, sort of, named after her. They even look a little bit alike.

And then, soon after I left the nursery school, I received a text message from Prague’s rebbetzin that read, “I need to inform you that our community is in mourning now. Moshe Vana, husband of Gafna, passed away this morning.”

If I, who never met Gafna’s husband, was brought to tears by this tragic news, imagine the wave of grief that washed over Prague’s small Jewish community after learning that this 46-year-old beloved husband, father, and community member had died of, what appears to have been, carbon dioxide poisoning while collecting wine samples at his winery.

Later that day, I saw Gafna. I hugged her, and the following words came rushing out of Gafna’s mouth:

“Chana, I have been thinking about the story I told you last night, and I wanted to tell you that I still believe that G-d is watching over us! Moshe could have died 8 years ago, and G-d gave us 8 more years together. I don’t even have words to describe how much Moshe loved the girls and me. Thank G-d, because Moshe lived for 8 more years, we had another daughter together, and today my daughters are old enough that they will be able to remember their father. And I know that he will be with me, and watching over me for the rest of my life.”

On account of the tragedy, several of the Shabbat Project events were cancelled. Some people apologized that we had ended up coming to Prague on one of the saddest Shabbats in the recent history of this ancient Jewish community.

But I felt very differently.

It seemed very clear to me, from the moment I received that text message, that Hashem had sent me and my husband to Prague for this specific Shabbat in order to be there for Gafna. I hope we were able to provide her with a drop of comfort and a tiny spark of hope.

May Hashem send Gafna and her daughters comfort among all the mourners mourning today around the Jewish world.







  1. Dear Gafna,
    Hamakom yenachem otach!
    May the almighty comfort you and give you strength!
    Maale Michmas, Israel

  2. Yael Maizels

    Hi Gafna,
    My name is Yael Maizels and I live in Ariel Israel. I visited your home in Prague this summer for the first time in my life and I was charmed. I read Jenny’s post and I wanted to wish you my condolences. I hope Hashem gives you a lot of strength to deal with this challenge.

  3. May Hashem give you strength to get through this time. The soul of your husband is eternal, and it never dies. Focus on moving forward in life with your children as that is what your husband would have wanted. Am Yisrael is with you in your pain.

  4. Roberta Carasso

    Dearest Gafna,

    It is so difficult to lose someone you love so much. May Hashem give you strength to continue being such a wonderful Jewish Mom and Jewish Woman. Yours is a beautiful story and it will continue being beautiful, just different.

    Sending lots of love and buckets of courage from,

    Roberta, Chaya Rivka, of Irvine, California

  5. Wow, what a strange turn of events… Gafna, my heart is breaking. Hashem should bless you and your family with great comfort and extra Divine assistance in raising your daughters.
    Sarah from Jerusalem

  6. SarahChaya Menashe

    Baruch Daayan Emet!

    Gafna, as we all mourn with you from all over the world, the strength you showed in your words to Jenny is truly amazing!
    May H” continue to bless you and your daughters with strength, and may you all be comforted during this difficult time!
    May we all be blessed to learn from your strength and may we all, all of Am Israel, welcome the Moshiach bimerah biyamenu!

    Sending you love and peace from Dallas, Texas

  7. Gafna, What a week of tears for the Jewish people. May you continue to find comfort in HaShem’s presence in your life. So many Jewish moms are truly sharing in your sadness and praying for you and your girls.

  8. Dear Gafna,
    My tefillos and thoughts are with you. Although I never met you, i feel for you. May Hashem give you continued strength and emunah and endless nachas from your girls. Please know that you are not alone. You will be in my heart and my thoughts.

    With love,
    Rachel from Monsey, NY

  9. Dear Gafna, may the sorrow and mourning be forever overpowered by your deep knowing that, as you’ve said, Hashem gave you 8 more years together and beautiful daughters that will not forget their father. Thinking of you, Noga from Jerusalem.

  10. Gafna you and your husband were certainly a special couple devoted to the community and to your family. Your husband was certainly an elevated soul who prepared wine for so many kidduchs and berahot to be said. May he rest in peace with the tsadikkim and may Hashem send you comfort and nahas from your daughters! ann from israel

  11. Janet Waller

    My heart goes out to you and your children and I send my deepest condolences on the passing of your beloved husband. May Hashem give you strength and abundant blessings in your life. May He watch over you and comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. May your husband’s memory be for a blessing.
    With love,
    Janet form New Rochelle, NY

  12. Jodie Cohen

    Sending you lots of prayers for strength at this difficult time…

    With love, Jodie, Ra’anana Israel

  13. Shoshanna Arzouan

    Gafna, I am so sorry to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your story. We will remember you and will pray for HaShem to send you comfort and strength.

    Shoshanna Arzouan in Silver Spring, MD

  14. Dearest Gafna, I am so very sorry for your loss.

    Your response to such a tragedy is truly inspiring. I am in awe of your insight, wisdom, and emunah. We should all learn from you!

    May you and your daughters be blessed for all good things, and only simchas from here on out.

    I don’t know what Hashem has in store for your future, but considering your strength in the face of adversity, I’m sure it will be something amazing.

    Lots of love and hugs from Israel.

  15. Dear Gafna,
    I am so sorry you and your daughters have had such a tremendous loss.

  16. Gafna , you and your daughters are in my heart and prayers.
    As I fumble for words to comfort you I am deeply moved by your own reaction of deep gratitude in your words to Chana Jenny.
    May your own inner strength and incredible perspective continue to shine light and warmth into your lives. Tenachamu min Hashamayim

  17. Dvorah Wagner

    Dear Gafna,

    we are all with you and for you.

    Maale Adummim, Israel

  18. Dearest Gafna,
    תנחמו מין השמים
    May Hashem bless you with comfort and with much strength, and keep you and your precious girls תחת כנפי השכינה.
    You are an incredible person with an incredible story. And we are sending you our love and prayers. You and your daughters are in our hearts.
    -Eden from Rehovot, Israel

  19. Dear Gafna,

    Words are inadequate to express our feelings, but please know that you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. Your response shows tremendous inner strength of which we are all in awe. May the Ribono Shel Olam grant you the fortitude and wisdom as you carry on, and may we all be zoche to see the complete Ge’ulah.

    המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

    P.S. Is there any special chocolates or Nash that the children would like to have?

  20. Carla Abramovich

    Dear Gafna,
    May Hashem bless you with comfort and strength to go through this.
    Sending lots of love from Germany.
    Carla – Frankfurt

  21. Gafna. Hamakom Yenachem Eschem B’Soch Sha’ar Aveili Tzion V’Yerushalayim. May Hashem console, comfort, and strengthen you and your girls in this time – as only He truly can! Thinking of you!
    Lakewood, NJ

  22. Dear Gafna,
    May you be comforted with all the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. And may the many mitzvahs you do, continue to bring an aliyah to your beloved husband’s shining neshama.
    Bracha Goetz from Baltimore, Maryland

  23. Dear Gafna,
    Sending you and your girls a big hug. May you be comforted with all the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. There are Jewish moms all over the world thinking about you and your girls and praying for you all.
    Malka from Los Angeles, CA

  24. Dear Gafna,
    I am sending you words from my heart, to tell you how sorry I am at your loss. You give us all strength with your strong emnuna. May Hashem continue to give you strength, and much comfort.
    With hugs,
    Sharona from Jerusalem

  25. Dear Gafna,
    I will be Davening for you and your family to continue to be comforted by Hashem’s embrace. We are all here for you should you need anything.
    Lots of love,
    Sara from Providence, Rhode Island

  26. Dear Gafna,
    I am so terribly sorry about your loss. May you and your girls always feel Hashem’s loving embrace and may you know no more sorrow.
    lots of love,
    Ramat Beit Shemesh

  27. Dear Gafna,
    Sending you comfort and strength- and holding you in my heart.
    Beit Shemesh, Israel

  28. Dear Gafna:

    To a strong exquisite woman. Thank you for sharing your story and your strength . Wishing comfort to your daughters and yourself and the warmth of Klal Yisrael during this trying time.

  29. Tiferes carroll

    Dear Gafna,

    May H-Shem comfort you and your daughters among the mourners of zion and Jerusalem.

    Your story was very inspiring and may all the good you and your daughters do continue to raise your husband’s neshama higher and higher.

    May we all see Mashiach soon and in our days.

    tiferes, from Baltimore, Maryland

  30. So sorry to hear this tragic news. Really I have no words. Thinking of you and your daughters. xo Devorah from Brooklyn.

  31. May Hashem comfort you, Gafna, since only He can see your heart and feel your pain through.
    Sophie Sarah from Berlin, Germany

  32. Gafna, Hashem should give you the strength to keep going ! He should comfort you among all the mourners of Klal yisrael.

  33. May Hashem continue to comfort you and your daughters. Thank you for sharing your story. Your incredible emunah is inspiring. Rachel in Canada.

  34. Dear Gafna,

    My deepest condolences on your loss of your husband. You have inspired so many and you are beautiful both on the inside and out. Keep strong and may Hashem guide you and strengthen you during this difficult time. Much love from Keren in Israel.

  35. Vardi Jacobs

    Dear Gafna,
    Firstly, may you and your daughters not know any more sorrow.
    Sending you light, love & blessings.
    Your perspective on having your husband for those extra 8 years is so touching and inspiring.
    I hope to one day come to Prague (I live in Australia) and have the privilege and pleasure of meeting you and your daughters.

  36. Chaya Basha

    Min HaShamayim Tinuchamu.
    May you continue to plant spiritual vineyards in your beautiful orchard.
    May you see much Yiddishe nachas from your sweet daughters!

    Much love,
    Chaya Basha,

  37. Dear Gafna, may H’ give you comfort among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.
    May H’ give you strength and clarity to see His hand in every situation. May your cute daughters give their abba much yidishe nachas.
    Tamara from Jerusalem

  38. Dear Jenny,
    thank you for this post. We met on this saddest Shabbes I’ve ever had. But Gafna is much stronger that we can imagine. I visited her at shiva and surprisingly she gave me so much energy and balance… So many people from Prague Jewish community came there to support her, it was just beautiful.

    Thanks to her blog I read yours for the first time and I couldn’t imagine that the very evening I was going to meet you face to face! Your story was fascinating and gave me many themes to think of. And thanks to your husband I felt cheerful that evening. It would be my greatest pleasure if I had the possibility to visit you the next time in Israel.

    Take care and hopefully see you again 😉
    Olga Rút, Prague

  39. Dearest Gafna,
    May you be blessed with strength and comfort from Hashem….. your faith is astounding.

    Thinking of you in Elad, Israel.

    Yehudit Levy

  40. I was doing a random search and this page came up. Never saw this website before. Not so random I think.
    Gafna I want to tell you that my heart is broken with you and for every neshomo I hear that Hashem has taken back, my heart breaks again. Every day I wake up and say, really Hashem, are we still in golus??? Not good enough!
    Moshiach is really coming soon and we need to cry to Hashem ad Mosai for it to happen. Hashem will fulfill his promise to those sleeping in the dust and your husband and my son , and all the neshomos He took, will walk back in the door, May it be immediately!
    Ad Mosai
    Soro in Manchester, UK

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