Kol Rinah is custodian of two Czech Scrolls
Rescued from the Holocaust
Where did these scrolls come from? It is a remarkable story. There were 1,564 Czech Torah scrolls saved from neglect and further deterioration after World War II. (Learn about their incredible story below.) They ended up at Westminster Synagogue in London, where the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) was established to oversee the scrolls. The Trust provides many of these scrolls on long term loan to synagogues and institutions throughout the world.
We display these scrolls and their history so that people today may learn about and remember those Jews who perished in the Holocaust. These very scrolls were held, used, and revered by some of those people.
We hope that their history becomes more personal and meaningful to people from the experience of seeing and learning about these Torahs.
How Kol Rinah got its MST scrolls
In 1980, two St. Louis synagogues each applied for and received Memorial Scroll Trust (MST) Torahs from the Trust at Westminster Synagogue in London. In 2013, these shuls merged; Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel (BSKI) and Shaare Zedek became our current shul, Kol Rinah. That is how we came to have custody of these two MST scrolls. (We have an understanding with the Trust that the one from Shaare Zedek will be loaned to another deserving shul, at a time to be determined later.)
Information about our MST scrolls
The picture of Czech Memorial Scroll #1523, entrusted to the former BSKI synagogue, shows former Rabbi Mark Fasman, from Kol Rinah, holding the scroll. This scroll was listed as an Orphan – one of the 14% of the collection that had lost their identification tags when they were retrieved from the collection in Czechoslovakia. The Trust knows only that it came from somewhere in either Bohemia or Moravia. The Saint Louis Rabbinical Association provided the funds to bring this Torah scroll to BSKI, as a tribute to the Association’s colleague, the late Rabbi Jacob R. Mazur, of blessed memory.
The picture of Czech Memorial Scroll #1276, entrusted to the former Shaare Zedek Synagogue, shows former Rabbi Mark Fasman, from Kol Rinah, holding the scroll. This scroll came from the town of Kostelec nad Labem,about 20 kilometers northeast of Prague. Funds to bring the scroll were provided by the Shaare Zedek Congregation. This scroll will be given to another shul when the Trust deems appropriate.
There is a personal connection, by one of our congregants, to the Westminster Synagogue where the Trust is located. Kol Rinah congregant Michael Waxenberg and his family were present when the 1,564 Czech scrolls arrived in London on February 7, 1964. The rescued parchments were delivered in two large trucks to Kent House, site of the Westminster Synagogue, in Rutland Gardens. Michael’s family belonged to the Synagogue and his mother was volunteering there on the day the large “lorrys” or semi trucks pulled up to deliver the tattered Torahs. It was a scene she never forgot; recalling it, even decades later, brought tears to her eyes. And Michael, as a student in the Westminster Synagogue Sunday School, had the opportunity to watch some of the early work on sorting and repairing the scrolls, which was going on at Kent House.
What has Kol Rinah done to honor the memory of the people and communities that owned these scrolls?
We did a thorough unrolling, airing, and dusting of each scroll, to maintain their physical well being.
We had the scrolls evaluated by Sofer On Site and insured.
We have shown them to our religious school classes.
We present them in our hallway display case, with information about the origins of the scrolls, the history of their recovery, and the story of the creation of the MST.
We presented them at community observances during Yom HaShoah memorial days.
We created posters of each, and sent the posters to Westminster for the 50th anniversary of the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST).
War and the collection of scrolls
During the Holocaust of World War II, hundreds of Jewish communities in the Czechoslovakian regions of Bohemia and Moravia were destroyed or abandoned. Their religious objects were collected and stored in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Jewish curators were given the task of cataloguing each item. After the war, these items were moved, to be warehoused by the Czechoslovak government in the Michle Synagogue in a suburb of Prague. However, the scrolls were piled up in a space that was damp and cramped, with no air circulation. And, by being rolled up and unused, the scrolls seemed to be destined for complete deterioration.
Scrolls retrieved, sent to Westminster Synagogue
In 1963, the Communist government in Czechoslovakia was looking for someone to buy the scrolls. Ralph Yablon, a philanthropist and member of Westminster Synagogue in London, bought all 1,564 scrolls for the equivalent of 30,000 British pounds. Westminster Synagogue became the official trustee for the entire collection. Yablon supplied the funds for the scrolls to be packed and shipped. On February 7, 1964, the Torah scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was created to oversee the scrolls. Each scroll or scroll fragment was numbered and placed in its own compartment in racks. The condition of each scroll was recorded, along with what was still known of its history, date, and place of origin. Eventually, the Trust created a permanent museum exhibit about the Czech scrolls at the Westminster Synagogue.
Loaning scrolls from the Memorial Scrolls Trust
Having cataloged and restored the scrolls, where possible, the Memorial Scrolls Trust established how the Torah scrolls may be distributed. Many scrolls have been sent on long term loan to synagogues and institutions throughout the world. More than 1,400 of these Memorial Scrolls have been sent to over 20 countries, to cherish the memory of the Jews, and their communities, who did not survive the Holocaust. But these scrolls also serve to be used, read, and studied by new generations of Jews, to celebrate the survival of those scrolls and of the Jewish people.
For more detail about the rescue of 1564 Czech Torahs from neglect and complete deterioration, link to http://www.czechtorah.org/thestory.php
For more information about the Memorial Scrolls Trust, link to http://www.memorialscrollstrust.org