Stories that connect us- from digitising our scrolls, to visitors from everywhere, and back to our bookshop MSTshop.org
60 in '24
MST Newsletter November 2021 - Chanukah Sameach
Digitising our Scrolls
Welcome to the 21st edition of our Newsletter.
We have had a busy month in the Czech Scrolls museum.
Nearly 130 Scrolls are on display in our museum here in London, mostly Torah scrolls, but also a few Haftartah (Haftorah scrolls). Most are too damaged to be restored. Some have been returned to us from communities that closed or merged with another Czech scroll-holder community, and are waiting to be loaned out to new custodians, as we continue to receive requests for our scrolls
The scrolls are bio-degradable and need looking after, even if kept in a display case. They should be aired to prevent mould and rolled annually to delay deterioration.
Sofer Bernard Benarroch generously volunteered his time for two weeks, rolling130 scrolls, and at the same time examining and photographing them.
The most important fact about Torah scrolls is that every one is identical in certain respects; they all have 304,805 letters in 79,976 words in 5,844 verses. Today the standard column has 42 lines, but in the past and amongst our own collection you can find scrolls with between 36 and 60 lines. Although the scrolls are all made from parchment, they can be of different kosher animals and of various qualities. Over the centuries there have been many variations in how the skins were prepared, the recipes for the ink as well as how the parchment sheets were sewn together.
One of the most important variations in Torah scrolls is the calligraphy, which from examining together with the parchment, experts can often tell the area where it was written as well as its age.
Sofer Bernard has taken new measurements of the scrolls in our museum, which we shall record, together with photographs showing the calligraphy, number of lines and size of the scroll, making the information available for scholars. A number of scrolls have very unusual letters and signs which will also be photographed. The richness of Jewish history is recorded here, and helps us to celebrate the lives of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia.
Visit the Czech Scrolls Museum
In the past month, we have had both cheder and b'nai mitsvah group visits. We have also had a synagogue group of 12 adults, as well as individuals and families. We were delighted to welcome visitors from the Czech Senate, Prague, as well as from the Czech Embassy in London.
During Lockdown an anonymous donation allowed us to replace the Museum lighting system, which had failed just at the start of Covid lockdown. Our thanks to them for giving us new Lights in time for Chanukah.
Last year our Torah scroll MST#1504 was carbon dated to the second half of the 13th century. It has now been sent to a specialist conservator with the plan to make it available for exhibitions. This scroll is being studied by a group of experts in Jewish paleography, in the materials of parchment and ink, as well as Sofrim. In order to learn as much as we can about this scroll we have agreed for it to be taken to Berlin, Germany, for three days of non-invasive study, with the hope that even more can be learned about this scroll and about Jewish life in central Europe!
Chag Sameach Hannukah
PS We publish many short articles and Czech Scroll Museum visitor pictures on our Facebook page - please click Facebook Like to keep in touch with us.
The Steiner Files
Say Kaddish… But Not Mournfully…
It is a lovely, fresh, blue-skied, autumnal day here in London. I came to the library of the Trust to write the fourth Steiner story. After my MST ritual of popping into the Scroll Room where 130 Czech Torah scrolls are on view, saying "Hi" to them in English and then Czech (in case they have not yet mastered English), telling them that they are amazing, I find my way to my desk, a folder from the files of Frank Steiner’s correspondence in hand.
One of the recurring themes in Frank Steiner’s correspondence with the US communities receiving the Czech Scrolls is a call to remember the name of the Scroll Town in memory of the perished community and to say Kaddish for its people.
Frank Steiner describes this in a letter to Ms. Fern Seckbach, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd, in Jerusalem, Israel dated the 4th of May 1984:
“We are dedicating ourselves to tracing the origin of each Torah – the name of the town it is from and making the history of these towns available to the places who presently have these Torah. This way the memory of these now nonexistent Jewish communities will be remembered– and we recommend that Kaddish be said at least once a year naming the particular town. In most instances no one has ever said Kaddish for the Jews of these towns.”
In fact, many congregations had been asked by the Steiners to say Kaddish for the perished communities upon the receiving of the scroll. An example of which can be seen in a letter to Mr Cotlar in Sun Lakes Jewish community, Arizona from the 30th of August 1985:
“Please be so kind and we ask one favour of you. At least once a year say Kaddish naming the Jews of Koloděje by name – no one ever said Kaddish for them when they perished. Thank you.”
At times the responses to these requests are extremely touching. After the dedication of Torah # 77 into their community in September 1985, Mr Cotlar replies:
“Dear Mr Steiner, I want to thank you for your rapid reply to my phone request. The information reached me with plenty of time to use it for the dedication ceremony. We had well over a hundred people in attendance, including clergy from other faiths that utilize our All Faith’s Chapel here in Sun Lakes. I related the history of Koloděje as outlined in your information. Many of those in attendance were moved by the recital and when the Torah was brought in with its new mantle (made by one of our congregants), there were hushed expressions of respect. When the Torah was held aloft for “v’zos ha torah”, all were moved. Many expressions of gratitude were expressed and I want you to feel certain that the Koloděje Torah has found a home among those that love Torah in Sun Lakes. As soon as pictures are available, as well as news articles, I will send you copies as well as to Mrs Shaffer in London. My personal regards for a healthy and prosperous new year. L’Shannah tovah. Sincerely, Charles Cotlar.”
Or Samuel Frank, whose congregation Hakafa in Highland Park, Illinois received a Torah scroll from the town of Loštice #753, writes on the 5th of December 1985:
“… The presentation that I made, during our regular Sabbath service… complete with eight or ten slides… drew a crowd almost as big as Kol Nidre. People that we rarely see came that night since all of the local suburban newspaper in the Pioneer Press chain picked up the story. (You will note that the non-Jewish make-up man at the newspaper put the detail photograph of the Torah’s repair in upside down.)
I was going to suggest that we add a special section to our regular yearly Shoah commemoration, in remembrance of Loštice. But, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was too mournful, too sorrowful, too gigantic a matter for us humans to deal with. I didn’t want our Torah to be a symbol of horror and sorrow. I felt it should be associated, instead, with joy and rebirth… just as the memory of Loštice has had a rebirth with us. So, I suggested that we include a special section in our services for Simchas Tora, instead. But the Rabbi took it one step further. He suggested that our Torah, and Loštice, were important enough to stand on their own and not have to share a holiday with any other matter. So, we have designated the Friday night before Thanksgiving as “Loštice Shabbat” and each year we will honor the memory of the community and say Kaddish … but not mournfully. But rather in joy that their memory has been passed on and rekindled and that the continuum is once again complete.
Once more, Mr Steiner, my most sincere thanks for all of your help. You’ve been a wonderful aid and your encouragement made it possible for us to have a heightened feeling of kinship and association with our brethren of long ago and far, far away.”
When I read these lines, and see what an impact a single saved Czech Torah can have on its new community, I go back to the Sefer Torahs’ room and look in awe and in silent contemplation at the powerful potential lying on the shelves in front of me.
Jari Shani (05.11.2021)
Editor: in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's Sofer David Brand and Ruth Shaeffer would speak with each other in Yiddish. So it is possible that the Czech Scrolls in London have not yet learnt English...
Visit by the President of the Czech Senate & Colleagues
The delegation to the Memorial Scrolls Museum from the Senate of the Czech Republic and from the Czech Embassy in London. We were delighted to gift the Czech visitors with copies of "Light Beyond the Shadows".
They heard the story of how our scrolls survived the Shoah, unlike those Jews who had used them in Bohemia and Moravia. How 1300 communities around the world use Czech Sefer Torah Scrolls, including our recent loan of a Czech scroll back to Ec Chajm Community in Prague.
Our warmest thanks to our Czech visitors
Photo Left to Right. Mrs Eva Zažímalová, Chairwoman of the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic; Mrs Jari Shani (MST); Mr Ondřej Šimetka -Senator and member of Senate Health Committee; HE Marie Chatardová, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in London; Jeffrey Ohrenstein, MST Chairman; HE Miloš Vystrčil, President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic; Mr Ladislav Faktor, Senator and member of Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs; Mr Jan Žaloudík Vice-chairman for Senate Health Committee.
Using Zoom, MST is delighted to offer sessions to provide educational content about the rescue and ongoing commemoration of 1,564 scrolls from Bohemia and Moravia. These scrolls survived the Shoah and have been spread around the world for safe keeping and to pay tribute to so many lost communities. Our story resonates with all kinds of people: scroll holders, non-scroll-holders, people of all faiths and backgrounds but especially seniors and B’nai mitzvoth students. Our virtual content can help educate and entertain during this unusual time of social distancing requirements.
We offer, free of charge, opportunities to share our programming and expertise with your congregations. We have volunteer Experts available to speak about the following topics:
The Czech Scroll Story: From Bohemia and Moravia to the Diaspora
Our Binder (wimpel) collection: Custom-made Textiles representing 200 years of Jewish life in the Czech Republic
Czech Jewish Towns: A photo journey about the towns that held scrolls
We are reminding scroll holders that, if possible, you should "air" your scrolls, to stop the build up of any moisture or fungal spores. Scrolls should be rolled from beginning to end once a year, even if your scroll is a Memorial and not readable. We do the same with our scrolls in the Czech scroll museum.
We were honoured in 2019 for Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, to accept the personal loan of a kosher Czech Survivor Scroll