Thursday 20 December 2012

Senator Daniel Inouye R.I.P.

The United States Senator Daniel Inouye has died this week. We remember him at the MST thanks to information from the Hawaiian guardians of our scroll MST #154 from Polna. This article explains how the senator ensured safe passage for the scroll from London to Kona by organising first-class seats for it all the way. He was truly our friend - may he rest in peace.

The Guardian
The Boston Herald
The Washington Post

Czech Scrolls Holiday Hours

Greetings to you at this festive season!

The Czech Scrolls office and museum will be closed from 21st December 2012 and will reopen on 3rd January 2013.

Please note that it is unlikely that e-mails and telephone messages will receive a response until we return since we do not have remote access to our machines.

Looking forward to meeting you in 2013!

Czech Scrolls at Limmud UK 2012

If you're planning to be at Limmud UK next week at Warwick University, why not check out the MST presentation? You may find it in the catalogue under "The Czech Scrolls - a second life". This is how they catalogued us:

The Czech scrolls - a second life
Ariel Friedlander
Location:  Ram 2
Tracks:  Now & Then
Type:  Lecture
The Memorial Scroll Trust's collection of 1564 Torah scrolls from Czechoslovakia are almost all that was left of the Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia after the Shoah. What roles may and do they play currently in the lives of congregations and organisations across the world?

What, you'd like a date and time as well? Ok ... next Wednesday 26th December at 22:15. See you there!

Thursday 8 November 2012

Scrolls Reunion

Czech Torah Scrolls from Dale Bluestein on Vimeo.

Earlier this year, scrolls from the MST collection that were previously together in the town of Susice were reunited in a Yom HaShoah memorial service in Princeton, New Jersey. This brief film reports on the event.

The MST is hoping to do something similar in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the scrolls in London. If your community has a scroll, why not encourage people to bring it to Kent House on 8th February 2014?! If you start now, you'll have time to save up for the ticket ... and if you watch this film, the rabbi will give you a tip on how to shave a little off the cost :-)

Tuesday 6 November 2012

A Second Life

Our scrolls are certainly a memorial to the lost Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia. We believe, however, that the idea of a memorial is something that lives in the present as well as recalling the past. It is for this reason that we encourage our scroll-holders to involve their scrolls in the current life of the congregation. A Torah scroll should not just sit in a display case and be looked at as a dead relic of a dead community. It needs to work, and it has so much to share.

I was delighted to see the following on the website of Congregation Achduth Vesholom in Fort Wayne, Indiana:

"In early June 1997, after several months of exploration, a call was placed to London, England. Within the first few moments of that call to the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust at the Westminster Synagogue, it was made clear that the Temple was ready to assume the responsibility of having a memorial scroll on permanent loan ... a condition of guardianship. We were cautioned that all undamaged Torahs had been released much earlier world-wide, and that the Temple would be receiving a badly damaged scroll:  Torah #1172.

Five days later, the Torah was delivered to Achduth Vesholom by a member of the congregation who had volunteered to retrieve it from London. As the 300-year-old parchment was gently unrolled to its full length, its devastation became increasingly obvious. Indeed, before us lay a broken piece of history. Three books were missing. Of the two remaining - Deuteronomy and Numbers - only parts were readable. Fire and water damage bore testimony to the horror to which that Torah had been a silent witness.

As the Temple was in process of commissioning a Torah to commemorate the congregation's 150th anniversary, an idea was placed before Dr. Eric E. L. Ray, the master scribe who had been hired for this project. After critical examination by Dr. Ray, we were advised that our devastatingly crippled treasure could be restored - its destroyed sections rewritten and the new pages interspersed among the old - to become a living link to the past ... a poignant symbol of the indestructibility of our people.

On Sunday, October 11, 1998 - nearly one year after the task was begun - the Torah was completed in the Temple's sanctuary and presented to the congregation by Dr. Ray. On Simchat Torah, the scroll was unrolled around the perimeter of the sanctuary and, having risen from the darkest period in Jewish history, once again enfolded those celebrating its origins. On Saturday, October 17, 1998 ... the Shabbat morning celebrating the 150th anniversary of our congregation ... Torah #1172 was read for the first time in its new home."

The Temple website may be found here

Thursday 27 September 2012

Chinese Whispers

It is incredible how an event may become distorted over the years as the story is told and retold, just like the children's game of Chinese Whispers. At the MST we must fight that constantly with regard to telling how the scrolls were saved. Here, for example, is a current web page that describes one of our scrolls previously from Kutna Hora:

"This scroll now in the Bristol and West Progressive synagogue has a remarkable provenance. A Jewish businessman travelling from England to Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War learned by chance that many Torah Scrolls were still in a cellar where they had been originally dumped during the Nazi occupation of that country. Many of the scrolls were defecated on or otherwise defaced. Some reportedly still had blood on them from the Jews who were killed when the Nazi ransacked and destroyed the synagogues. As there were virtually no Jews left in the country, a few English Jews arranged to bring a number of the less damaged scrolls to the Westminster synagogue in London in the 1950s. There they stayed until a travelling torah scribe called into the synagogue to see if any work was available. He ended up staying several years to repair the scrolls. One was donated to the Bristol congregation, some of whose original members were themselves Holocaust survivors."

The current link may be found here.

We have written to them, noting that the paragraph contains hardly any accurate information. The scrolls were in the Michle synagogue, not dumped in a cellar. There was neither excrement nor blood on them, and no defacement either. The scrolls were not ransacked by the Nazis, but sent by the Jews to the Prague Jewish Museum. Etc. It's a dreadfully emotive piece, and utterly false!

There is another factor that creates inaccuracies, i.e., when new information is discovered that negates the previous version of the story. The main example for the MST is the idea that the Nazis were planning a Museum to an Extinct Race and that is why they collected the scrolls. We are trying to erase that concept, since there is absolutely no evidence that such a plan ever existed. Rather it seems likely that the Jews in the Prague Museum organised the collection in order to save as much as they could in desperate times.

To find out more, have a look at our website. Meanwhile, do make sure that when you tell people about your Czech scroll, you share the most up-to-date version of the story!


Thursday 20 September 2012

Boy Scout Barmitzvah

Our Czech Scrolls take part in the Jewish community in myriad ways. This is Samuel Zager, preparing for his recent Barmitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City, Arizona. Sam is a Boy Scout, and this particular scroll was lent to the Grand Canyon Council of the Jewish Committee on Scouting. The scroll he is holding is MST #180 from Kolin.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Things a Sofer/et Does

Have you ever wondered what a Torah scribe actually does? Soferet Avielah Barclay is currently repairing MST #236 from Ceske Budejovice for its guardians the people of Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue. She has been kind enough to post some photographs of her work online. Here is an example of when the ink has faded to a point where it make the scroll pasul, i.e., not kosher for use:

You can see where it has faded to a reddish brown at the bottom in the middle. These words must be rewritten. This is what the column looks like after it has been repaired:

If you are on Facebook, you should be able to see these photos and others here. Thank you Soferet Barclay!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Kayitz comes to Kent House

LJY-Netzer Kayitz takes a group of students to Jewish heritage sites across Europe each summer. This year, before boarding the coach to Prague, the leaders thought it appropriate to visit the Scrolls Museum as an introduction to the trip. We were delighted to meet everyone, and tell the story of our scrolls and our hopes for the future. After our meeting, these happy people posed for the camera :-)

Thursday 5 July 2012

Or Chalom collects its Scroll

Or Chalom, a Masorti community in Aix-en-Provence, came to the museum to collect MST #1420 which was part of the collection at the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. They arranged for the ceremony that we created to be filmed, and the film-makers also interviewed Evelyn Friedlander. The film-makers and Or Chalom are happy for us to share this piece with you.

PS  There are subtitles!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Piano Recital in Aid of the MST

Last Sunday 17th June, the pianist Lada Valesova gave a private recital hosted by Evelyn Friedlander in her flat. The music was mainly Czech, and included in the programme were many pieces by composers new to the audience. These included works by Josef SukBohuslav MartinuLeos Janacek and Pavel Haas.

What we found particularly engaging was the way that Lada introduced each piece with both a verbal sketch of the composer's life and personality, and a mental picture of the terrain being expressed by the music. This drew us into pieces that were not always neat and pretty to hear.

At the conclusion of the concert, Mrs. Friedlander gave the vote of thanks, and presented Ms. Valesova with a beautiful bouquet. We all then descended to the Friedlander Room in the synagogue for a scrumptious tea and the chance to talk to Lada.

If you missed the concert, but would like to know more about the music, Lada's CD "Intimate Studies" is on iTunes and includes most of the pieces that she played for us!

Thursday 7 June 2012

Scribal Mystery

Sofer Kevin Hale is currently working on our scroll MST #145 from Trebic. He just posted this photograph on our Facebook page, wishing he could speak with the original scribe and ask him about these swirly letter Pehs. They are very Time Tunnel-y!

Thursday 31 May 2012

Scribal Midrash

Soferet Avielah Barclay is working on our scroll MST #1177 at the moment, and posting photographs and information as she goes along. Here she comments on the tiny letter 'hay' within the word:

"The letter Hey is small in "be-hibaram" because the letter Hey is one of those which symbolizes G@D - an abbreviation of both the Four-letter Name "Y-H-V-H" and "HaShem". And according to midrash, before the creation G@D *was* ... that's it. All there was was G@D and G@D was all there was. So in order to make room for us, The Holy One had to contract. The word our tradition uses here is "tzimtzum" (צִמְצוּם) - "reduction" in modern Israeli Hebrew. Like a mother's body making room for a growing baby. So the Hey in the word meaning "they were created" (נִבְרָא) inspired this midrash which teaches us about G@D's process."

It is not traditional for a woman to work as a scribe. Learn a little more about this soferet here.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

A Wandering Sofer Comes to Rest

This photograph shows Sofer David Brand working on a Czech Scroll at his desk on the third floor of Kent House. Not long after the scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue, he was walking along Knightsbridge and saw the sign on the street corner (no longer up since these days it is not considered secure to publicly announce the presence of a synagogue). He knocked on the door and asked if there were any Torah scrolls that needed mending.  "Come in, sit down," he was told, "er ... we have one thousand, five hundred and sixty four Torahs!"

Sofer Brand stayed with us for 27 years until he retired and moved to Israel, where he still lives.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Distant Journey (a Czech movie)

Have just come across this film online. Have to admit I've never heard of it. Has anybody seen it? It sounds like it could be interesting. The Wiki page about it is here.

NB Wiki notes that Stanley Kubrick uses footage from the movie in "A Clockwork Orange". Will have to check that out!

Dobrý Den!

Better late than never, we've decided to join the world of Blogging! It's another way to communicate through the ether with those who are interested in the lives of Torah Scrolls, the history of the Jewish people, the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, and the heritage of the Shoah.

We hope to bring you notes and queries about the 1564 Torah scrolls in the collection of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, share photographs from then and now; and perhaps even discuss and debate thoughts engendered by our encounters with the Scrolls and their people.

It seems appropriate that we reach out to you all in the week that the Children of Israel approach Mount Sinai  and prepare to receive the Torah. May its light illuminate the work we do.

Chag Sameach!