Welcome to the second edition of the Memorial Scrolls Trust Newsletter.
We have had an excellent response from those who received our first Newsletter. We continue to expand our database of contacts and are sending this edition to more scroll holders. We also encourage you to share this newsletter and to ask others to sign up for future editions here. We hope to reach many more of you this time around.
In February I attended a gathering of 28 communities with our Torah Scrolls at Temple Beth El, Hollywood FL. My thanks to Lynn Strauss for arranging this event which more than 100 survivors of the Shoah attended.
In May I was in Los Angeles for a gathering by LAMOTH for their Yom Hashoah commemoration which included 18 of our Torah Scroll Holders. The highlight was a gathering which over 1,000 people attended including the Mayor of Los Angeles and many survivors. This could not have taken place without the dedicated work of Samara Hutman and her team as well as the Trustees of LAMOTH who plan to repeat the gathering every year, with a different group of MST scrolls each time. Please read the report.
We are also working with them to promote this idea with Museums around the USA.
While In LA I visited several synagogues as well as the Shalom Institute in Malibu who were completing the restoration of Torah MST#770. Rabbi Bill Kaplan and his team work tirelessly. Please take a look at YouTube.
Making contact with our Scroll-holders is proving very interesting and rewarding. Not only are we able to remind communities of the treasure they care for, but in some cases we have identified our Torah scrolls they no longer knew they had. A Torah “lost’ in Palma de Mallorca has been located being cared for by the Xueta Jewish Community Synagogue. Descendants of Jews who lived in the Balearic Islands for over 1,000 years who were forced to convert to catholicism in the 15th century, they always retained their identity with little intermarriage and are now accepted as Jews.
I hope you find this second Newsletter interesting. Please send us articles, information and photographs of your Scroll and your community as well as suggestions and comments.
And please do share this newsletter with your communities and networks. Simply click here: Forward
Elie Wiesel, who died very recently, wrote a Foreword for a Memorial Scrolls Trust booklet in 1988:
“Once, when trying to explain the Torah to my students, I said: “A Chassidic legend reports that it was not the Ark that saved Noah from the flood, but the word, tevah which means letter as well as ark, in Hebrew. In order to save Noah from the flood, God commanded him to fashion a language which would serve him as shelter and refuge”.
Words bring infinite thoughts into the human domain. Nevertheless after Auschwitz words have lost their innocence; after Treblinka silence is filled with new meaning; after Maidanek insanity regained its mystic power of attraction. The world of language is a world of danger. Yet one can find a shelter, a refuge in each letter, each tevah of the Torah, even though the Torah itself is under attack. Torah scrolls were burned in a time of darkness, and the letters flew upward, out of reach of the tormentors. Some scrolls were held captive, and were redeemed when the flood receded. The Memorial Scrolls Trust has dedicated itself to the task of preserving many of the scrolls from Prague, of sending them to new homes, of studying the material that was saved, of making them a reminder of light which shone through darkness. It is my hope and prayer that the Memorial Scrolls Trust will flourish in order to preserve the letters which have preserved us. May it be a reminder of the dark times; of the hopes which endured within the Jewish people of the task of remembering, which we all share.
His words are still valid, nearly 30 years later and we are trying to make the task of studying and remembering a little easier by moving – slowly – into the electronic age.
When the Torah scrolls first came to London, such information that was available was written on cards, which had to be referred to for information about the provenance, height and other details. With the help of an intern, we are delighted to say that we have now photographed and uploaded all of those cards individually, making research much quicker which is an enormous help in our task of remembering and honouring as in the words above of Elie Wiesel.
In 1975, when our congregation got one of the Holocaust scrolls from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, we were told that it came from Dvůr Králové nad Labem, an industrial town in northeastern Bohemia. But we were not able to learn anything further about the Jews of the town, not even the names of any of the Jewish men, women and children who had lived in Dvůr Králové before the Nazis deported them to Terezín and from there to the death camps. The government had the names but they had no interest in releasing them.
Why was that? I believe that the names of individuals were not important to the Communist regime. Individualism was a capitalist sin. The desires of individuals had to be submerged for the common good. Everyone had to make sacrifices for the future – a future we now know was never coming.
The suppression of names by totalitarian regimes like that of the Communists is the exact opposite of Jewish expectations of leaders.
Obviously, most of us don’t think individual desires should always or automatically override society’s needs; that would create chaos and anarchy. But it is clear to us now that when even one individual is mistreated by a government, no one is safe at any time.
It was only with the collapse of the Communist regime that the Jewish Museum was able to provide us with names and information about the fate of the Jewish citizens of Dvůr Králové who had been murdered during the Holocaust – 111 men, women and children – and once we knew who they were we could write about them, we could say kaddish for them by name, we could remember them, we could prevent them from being murdered a second time, which is what was happening during the Communist years: their names, their memory, their very existence were being erased.
My wife and I wrote a book about the Jewish community of Dvůr Králové, which led to the construction of a monument at the site of the destroyed synagogue in Dvůr Králové. We went to Dvůr Králové with the members of my synagogue’s Confirmation class in February, 2008 to dedicate the monument. Joining us were the mayor and members of the City Council, priests and ministers, children from the Dvůr Králové schools, scouts in uniform carrying Czech, Israeli and American flags, and Eva Nosková, the one Jewish survivor of the pre-war Jewish residents.
In a telephone conversation prior to the ceremony, Eva told me a very moving story. After the monument was erected at the beginning of November, from the evening of November 9th and through the day on November 10th, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, at least 50 lighted candles and many bouquets of flowers were placed on the monument, a magen david three meters high. Mrs. Noskova had no idea who put them there. She had been worried, she said, that there might be swastikas. Instead, there were memorials – individual tributes in this town in which she was the only remaining Jew.
Because of the respect and honor we have given to our Torah scroll from the destroyed Jewish community of Dvůr Králové, because we have made the names of those forgotten Jews so much a part of our lives at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, we began the process that led to the creation of the monument and its dedication.
Our Holocaust scroll sits in the center of our ark. It is the scroll which all of our b’nei mitzvah have used since 1975. Our congregants know the story of our scroll, both from the weekly retelling and from our book about the Jewish community of Dvůr Králové. We include the names of the Jewish victims from Dvůr Králové in our weekly kaddish list and annual memorial book, thus keeping their memories alive and helping tell the truth to a new generation.
The Dvůr Králové monument, a memorial we helped to build, is a witness to the darkest time in our people’s history. It, together with the ways we use our Holocaust scroll, is an affirmation of our Jewish faith, the Jewish role in Czech life and the absolute virtue of democracy, where every individual has a name.
Rabbi Norman Patz is the rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom of West Essex, Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and the president emeritus of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews. He was the founding chair of the MetroWest New Jersey Federation Committee on Holocaust Remembrance and vice chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
MST#1375 from Prague – Malzavinky: What makes this Torah Scroll different from all others?
This Torah scroll is in fact very different from all the others scrolls that grace our community. So you may ask: mah nishtanah HaTorah hazot mikol sifrei haTorah; why is this Torah different from all other Torah scrolls?
Well that's a bit of a long story. Several years ago, our shul decided that we wanted to house one of the special Holocaust Torahs from the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST). The scroll that we received was scroll MST#1375 from Prague – Malzavinky. We were told that our Torah had been in a fire (most likely while the synagogue that housed it had been torched by the Nazis), and was not restorable. When the scroll was rolled to the section of burnt parchment, it was not rolled any further, and was believed to be too brittle, and too far gone to be reclaimed. All we could do was put the scroll on display as a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.
That was until we recently had a scribe come to do some work on our other Torah scrolls. He asked to see our Czech scroll, thinking that it might be in better condition than previously thought. Cleaning some of the smoke-damaged parchment, the letters popped, and that section of the Torah sprung back to life. And upon examining the rest of the scroll, there were more surprises. This scroll had been written by a scribe following a Kabbalistic tradition using many special, stylized letters rarely seen in other scrolls. In fact, while other scrolls contain maybe a dozen such letters, our scroll contained well over 100 of them, making this scroll a very rare example of a lost scribal tradition. The sofer and I were awe-struck as we went through this Torah scroll and discovered one surprise after another!
And best of all, this Torah was indeed restorable, and written with exceptional skill on a very high-quality and light parchment. The more we thought about it, we knew we had to take on the task of bringing this wonderful find back to life. It was obvious that this special Torah scroll ought to be again used and treasured by a thriving Jewish community, and not left to languish in a display case.
When I look at this old Torah scroll, I do not simply see the tragically successful attempt to eradicate Jewish life in the community from which it came. I also see all the simchas that were once celebrated around this Torah, the holiday services, the bnai mitzvah, the aufrufs and the baby namings. By restoring this Torah scroll, we are not just preserving a relic of the shoah, but we are ensuring that the beautiful heritage of the Jewish community who loved and honored this scroll will never be forgotten, and that Jews right here in Atlanta, Georgia will keep the flame of their memory alive for future generations.
With God’s help, as we complete the work of restoring this precious Torah scroll, may it inspire us to continue to be its students, so that the lessons of Jewish wisdom, courage and resolve contained therein will never again be lost. And as we read in our siddur each Shabbat as we return the Torah to the ark: ki lekach tov natati lachem, Torati al ta’azovu, for I have given you good instruction, do not forsake the teachings of My Torah.
The Trust appreciates those communities who have completed and returned their Scroll Tracking form, as mentioned in the previous newsletter. A considerable amount of work has been put into upgrading our database which can now be accessed remotely. Each Scroll has its own entry and the valuable data you provide by means of your Tracker is entered. The Trust was fortunate to secure the services of a charming young intern from Korea who undertook the huge task of photographing and uploading the original index cards of the Trust’s 1500 plus Torah Scrolls.
Our Chairman, Jeffrey Ohrenstein, initiated the programme creating reciprocal links between the website of the Trust and individual communities. To date close to 150 communities have established a link. We ask that all communities holding one of our Torah make mention of it on their website and create a link to our website: www.memorialscrollstrust.org
It is with great sadness that we receive Scroll Trackers which highlight little use of their Czech Scroll. It is a term of loans today that as a minimum, a Memorial Service is held annually to honour the memory of the Jews from the town of origin of their Scroll. On the other hand, it is always heartening to see many communities who go far beyond the minimum, for example making their Scrolls the focal point of educational programming, and forming real links with the towns that their Scrolls came from, in many cases inspiring the Czech towns of origin in a process of reconciliation with their Jewish history and appropriate recognition of their lost Jewish community.
Certificate of Recognition
The article included in this issue by Rabbi Norman Patz is an inspiration to us all. The Memorial Scrolls Trust, together with the Jewish Museum in Prague, has developed a “Certificate of Recognition” to honour the citizens of communities such as Dvůr Králové who have acknowledged, recognized and honoured the memory of their lost Jews. We would welcome any suggestions that you might have for other Czech towns that have similarly gone to great lengths to honour the memory of their lost Jewish community.