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Holocaust Torahs

Early in February 1964, 19 years after the last German troops had surrendered in Prague, 1,564 Torah scrolls, representing hundreds of Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia that had been wiped out in the Holocaust, arrived in London’s Westminster Synagogue. For many years, the scrolls lay unattended in a Prague synagogue used as a warehouse.  These scrolls traveled across Europe and arrived at the Westminster Synagogue in London.  From there, over the years, they have been sent to Jewish communities around the world.  The members of these communities cherish these sifrei Torah as memorials to a tragic past and, more importantly, use these scrolls for study by a new generation of Jews, the guarantors of Jewish survival and rebirth. Central Synagogue – Beth Emeth is charged with the sacred duty of looking after two of these scrolls, on behalf of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.  Information regarding the Memorial Scrolls Trust can be found at:
http://www.memorialscrollstrust.org/

Scroll Number 771: The Neveklov Torah is one of the few remnants from the 300 year old Jewish community of Neveklov, Czechoslovakia.  The hamlet of Neveklov is located 30 miles from Prague, part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Neveklov was already occupied by Germany in November 1938. During Kristallnacht, its synagogue was burnt and its sole Torah scroll was so severely damaged that it was no longer considered fit for sacred use by the congregation.

In 1940 the Germans entered Neveklov and deported all of the town’s Jews. They took the Neveklov Torah, already ruined beyond repair to the warehouse in Prague.

A quarter century ago, Bill Rogers brought scroll #771 from into the interfaith chapel at JFK while students from the Liberal Jewish Day School sang songs of hope.  The school would hold this scroll in trust with the fervent prayer that one day a Jewish community would again thrive in this central Bohemian village.

Mr. Rogers believed that scroll #771, written in 1900, would serve as a living memorial for the Jews of Czechoslovakia and an inspiration to the students at the school. He was personally connected to these sacred scrolls.  His father was a spice merchant from Czechoslovakia, in 1910 he came to the U.S. on a holiday and was urged to remain here; he did not to return to Czechoslovakia.  How fitting that his son would bring a Czech Torah scroll to his adopted land. Bill saw his dream becoming a reality.  As the children learned about this scroll and studied its ancient words, they, in turn, gave the Torah renewed life.

The day school closed and the Torah needed a new home.  Central Synagogue of Nassau County, was afforded this sacred trust. Central Synagogue – Beth Emeth continues to use this scroll for confirmation and b’nai mitzvah.  This scroll is faded in places; we have scrolls that are easier to read.  Yet, whenever youngsters hear the Torah’s story and are offered a choice:  a scroll with clearly written bold letters or our Holocaust scroll, every youngster chooses to work a little harder and give voice and life to the words of this century old Czech scroll.  Scroll #771 was saved by the Nazis to serve as an artifact bearing witness to the destruction of the Jewish people.  We read from this scroll and dance with it when we celebrate our cycle of Torah reading, learning, and living on Simhat Torah.  It is an act of defiant hope and a joyful re-commitment to our holy covenant with God. 

Scroll Number 150: In September of 1998, a sacred memorial Torah scroll made the journey from London’s Westminster Synagogue to Congregation Beth Emeth. The scroll was hand selected by Rabbi Jonathan Pearl from a collection of scrolls which has been rescued from the Czech Museum in Prague. The Nazis had warehoused the Torahs in Prague during the war after looting them from synagogues. The Nazis’ had meticulously numbered the scrolls along with other Jewish treasures apparently for the purpose of creating a permanent exhibit showing relics of an “extinct” culture.

This scroll was written in 1860 and is from Kyjov, a town in South Moravia, Czechoslovakia, approximately 150 miles southeast of Prague. The town, which was the only one of the royal cities where Jews were allowed to live, had only one synagogue. The Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis in 1945.

Upon arrival in the United States in 1992, the Torah remained in storage for a few weeks until October 11th. This date marked the holiday of Simchat Torah and the scroll was ceremonially brought into the congregation. The crowd that gathered was able to rejoice with the Torah and celebrate its return to the honor and dignity it had been denied for so long.

Our Torah’s continued presence in our community is a constant reminder that this significant mission did not end with the bringing of the scroll to Beth Emeth and now CSBE continues this important task, in hopes of one day returning the scroll to its home in Czechoslovakia.

Wed, June 12 2024 6 Sivan 5784