The Czech Memorial Torah Scroll
Temple Beth Shalom is honored to have Czech Memorial Torah Scroll #723, from the area of Pisek and Strakonice. It was was scribed in the middle of the 18th century. Jewish inhabitants formed a small percentage of the total of Písek, where a grand synagogue was built between the Smetanova and Soukenická Streets. It was closed during the Nazi occupation and not reopened after the war. Yad Vashem records state that around 200 people with a connection to Pisek perished in the Holocaust.It is impossible to be certain exactly when Jews settled in the town and surroundings of Strakonaice. At the end of the 19th century, the area did not accept Jews and it is also known that even after that time Jewish merchants were unable to succeed there. It is known that the Jews had their cemeteries and prayer houses in the Strakonice area at a much earlier date.
In 1942, when all communities in Bohemia and Moravia were instructed “historically valuable” items to the Jewish Museum in Prague, “some members of Prague’s Jewish community persuaded the Nazis to allow them bring other religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 212,000 artefacts were brought to the Museum. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. After the war some fifty Jewish congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious artefacts, not necessarily from their own communities. When the Communists took over the government of the country in 1948, Jewish communal life was again stifled, and most synagogues were closed. Their possessions went to the newly refounded Jewish Museum of Prague. The scrolls were transferred and warehoused in the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague where they remained until they came to London in 1964.” (Source)
In 1964, Ralph Yablon, a British solicitor and philanthropist, funded the purchase of 1564 Torah Scrolls from Czechoslovakia and donated them to Westminster Synagogue in London. The scrolls were shipped across Europe to London where they were catalogued, repaired and restored, if possible. Each Torah was given a numbered brass plaque that identified its origin. Scrolls that could not be restored were sent to religious and educational institutions as memorials. Scrolls repaired and able to be used in religious services were sent to fulfill requests of synagogues all over the world in return for a contribution toward restoration expenses. More information about the scrolls is available at The Memorial Scrolls Trust website.
The Scroll at TBS
When Jules Rothman heard of the precious Czech scrolls, he and Rabbi Abrami, both of Temple Beth Shalom, started a series of communications with Memorial Scrolls Trust in London. Together, Jules and Rabbi Abrami instituted plans to purchase and transport a torah to Temple Beth Shalom. Through a very generous donation from Eva and Eugene Schlesinger (OBM), the necessary funds were provided to make the dream a reality.
In 1994, the torah arrived at its new home and set in motion a concerted effort to design and construct a fitting and proper resting place for the scroll. A beautiful display case designed by distinguished artist Ron Simmons and constructed by multi-talented Nelson Fishman, both members of Temple Beth Shalom, is further testimony to the extreme concern exercised by all to preserve and protect this scroll of holy writings.
The Czech Memorial Scroll Museum
The Czech Memorial Scrolls Museum is located at Westminster Synagogue in London. The permanent exhibition, which was established in 1988, tells the unique story of the arrival from Prague in 1964 of 1,564 Torah Scrolls and of their restoration and distribution to communities throughout the world. The exhibits include some of these Scrolls, a display of remarkable Torah Binders, some of which date from the 18th century, and other moving reminders of the vanished communities of Bohemia and Moravia.