GREAT SUR­VIVOR

RES­CUED TO­RAH SCROLL GOES HOME

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY LIANNE KOLIRIN

MST #740 is a sur­vivor — a Holo­caust sur­vivor.

But in­stead of a tat­too, this sur­vivor has a pa­per tag bear­ing its hand­writ­ten iden­tity hung around its body.

MST #740 is one of 1,564 Czech To­rah scrolls that sur­vived the Shoah and were brought to Bri­tain, from where they were mostly dis­trib­uted to blos­som­ing Jewish com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

But now, more than 75 years after it was last used in its orig­i­nal syn­a­gogue, MST #740 is mak­ing the jour­ney back to its “birth­place” — the city of Olo­mouc in the Czech Repub­lic.

It is the only one of the so-called Czech “me­mo­rial scrolls” to be re­stored to its for­mer home — so many Czech Jewish com­mu­ni­ties were de­stroyed by the Nazi that the syn­a­gogues that housed the vast ma­jor­ity of the scrolls no longer ex­ist.

Next month a del­e­ga­tion from the Penin­sula Si­nai Con­gre­ga­tion in Foster City, Cal­i­for­nia, will travel to Olo­mouc to ac­com­pany the To­rah they first re­ceived in 1970 back to its orig­i­nal com­mu­nity. There they will meet Jef­frey Ohren­stein, chair­man of the Lon­don-based Me­mo­rial Scrolls Trust, which has been in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing about this fairy tale end­ing.

There are no pre­cise records for the scroll, but Mr Ohren­stein says a sofer — a To­rah scribe — dated it circa 1880.

He said: “I was ap­proached about 18 months ago by one of the mem­bers of the Olo­mouc com­mu­nity. He knew the scroll had come to Lon­don and asked if there was any way it could come back.”

A search of the records led to MST #740. Mr Ohren­stein said: “Only two scrolls are recorded as be­ing from this town. One is with a com­mu­nity that had just spent the last two years restor­ing it.

“The other, MST #740, was at the Penin­sula Si­nai Con­gre­ga­tion. They agreed to re­turn the scroll to us so we can al­lo­cate it to Olo­mouc.”

He added: “This has never hap­pened be­fore and is un­likely to ever hap­pen again. There’s no ques­tion in my mind that had the scrolls not come to Eng­land at that time there would be noth­ing left. A mir­a­cle saved them and now one is go­ing back to the com­mu­nity. It’s a very spe­cial sit­u­a­tion.”

Not only was the Cal­i­for­nian com­mu­nity happy to help, but they also wished to re­store the scroll to its for­mer glory. More than $11,000 was raised to ren­der it kosher for use in an Ortho­dox syn­a­gogue like Olo­mouc. Com­mu­nity mem­bers were asked for do­na­tions to fund a word, a verse, a chap­ter, a bar- or bat­mitz­vah por­tion — or even an en­tire book of the To­rah.

Rabbi Moshe Druin, a Florida sofer, spent five months restor­ing the To­rah. When he de­liv­ered it back to Penin­sula Si­nai he told the con­gre­ga­tion: “It’s about to be re­united with the same town it came from. The

Jef­frey Ohren­stein To­rah will not just be happy to be home, but it will be happy that it’s healthy.”

Olo­mouc’s first Jewish res­i­dents set­tled there in the 11th cen­tury and num­bered around 2,500 be­fore the Sec­ond World War. Only one tenth re­turned post-Holo­caust, and many left once the coun­try be­came Com­mu­nist. Just a few dozen Jews re­mained in the area dur­ing this pe­riod and the com­mu­nity be­came a satel­lite branch of an­other, an hour away.

The syn­a­gogue was torched by fas­cists in March 1939. Al­though the build­ing was not en­tirely de­stroyed, it was later de­mol­ished by the Nazis and dur­ing the Com­mu­nist-era stat­ues of Stalin and Lenin stood in its place. Once the Iron Cur­tain fell, a lo­cal res­i­dent called Miloš Do­brý be­came ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Jewish com­mu­nity. His plans for a re­vival started with ac­quir­ing the land where the shul had stood. To­day his grand­son Petr Papoušek is the pres­i­dent of the com­mu­nity. He told the JC: “Our main goal was to bring back Jews to Olo­mouc.” Now the third largest com­mu­nity in the Czech Repub­lic after Prague and Brno, it has 162 mem­bers. There are reg­u­lar Shab­bat and fes­ti­val ser­vices in a ke­hila, which also has a kosher kitchen and a com­mu­nity cen­tre.

On Oc­to­ber 22, they will host an ex­tra spe­cial ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony to wel­come back the To­rah.

An ex­cited Mr Papoušek said: “Now we can es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion with our an­ces­tors who read from that To­rah be­fore the war and show that there is a fu­ture for Jewish life in Olo­mouc and that the Nazis didn’t de­stroy us. We are very thrilled to re­con­nect to our past and se­cure our fu­ture.”

A group from Penin­sula Si­nai, led by its rabbi, Corey Helfand, will at­tend. Rabbi Helfand told the Jewish News of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia: “Restor­ing the scroll and re­turn­ing it to its home means the Holo­caust is not just a mem­ory, but that there is new life. It’s like rekin­dling the light, in a way, to know Jewish life didn’t end there.”

Clock­wise from main pic­ture: an 1895 image of Olo­mouc Syn­a­gogue; the Olo­mouc scroll viewed by Penin­sula Si­nai mem­ber Steve Lip­man (left), and Rabbi Moshe Druin; the shul’s con­gre­gants be­fore the war; scrolls at the Me­mo­rial Trust’s Lon­don mu­seum

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