Simchat Torah 5758, part Deux: Shabbat in Olomouc

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You should have seen it last night! Really, if you could have been there! some ways you’re just going to have to trust me on this one but today was an incredibly emotional day. Since some of it took place after Shabbat came in, all you’re going to get is my word’s-eye-view description. No photos on Shabbat, sorry! At the end of Kabalat Shabbat, last night, in a crowded prayer room crammed to the gills with about 75 people including dozens of guests from overseas (the US and UK) and dozens of members of the Olomouc Jewish Community, its leaders and its members, men, women and children, people whose grandparents are listed on the Memorial Wall just outside the prayer room (including Jocelyn and Doron’s relatives), just as we had finished singing Yigdal (led by Doron’s very familiar voice), we all turned around as we heard the first strains of SIMAN SIMAN TOV, MAZEL MAZEL TOV

From the back of the room, in came the Olomouc Torah, the Torah PSC hosted for 47 years allocated to us by the Memorial Scroll Trust, and now back in Olomouc for the first time in 78 years!

The Torah came into the Olomouc Prayer Room in, in Rabbi Corey’s hands. Dozens of community members’ hands reached out to touch it. One gentleman kissed it and there was one, maybe, two laps around the room, up both aisles and around to the women’s section in the back (Olomouc’s practice is Orthodox) before the Ark was opened and the scroll was placed inside to await the final repairs on Sunday at the hands of our Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Druin.

The Torah was wrapped in the familiar blue covering that many members of our community lovingly crafted years ago. This cover will be returned to PSC and new vestments from the Olomouc community will be placed on it.

Speaking of Rabbi Druin, I happened to be sitting next to him during services and just as the services were concluded, he confided to me that this was a very emotional moment for him. I suppose working on this project for the last 6-8 months had an impact? Maybe surviving Hurricane Irma with it last month had something to do with it? But I suspect it had a lot to do with the historic moment that we had just witnessed. A Torah Scroll written approximately 200 years ago in this community, a survivor of the Nazi persecutions that nearly wiped out this community and those of hundreds of Jewish communities in the area. A scroll that survived the Czech Communist regime. A scroll, the Memorial Scrolls Trust deeded to PSC and that sat in a place of honor in our Aron Kodesh for 47 years. (A scroll that I had the honor to read from before we determined that it was ritually unfit and needed significant repairs). A scroll that had been carried 9000 kilometers in planes, trains and automobiles over the past 3 days, half-way around the world (I know, I pitched in) and had now been returned to its ancestral home, to stay. Take that in for a second… Realize that THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!

WHAT A MOMENT!

Location Komenského 7, Olomouc, Czech Republic (the Jewish Community Center of Olomouc)
Latitude 49.60 Longitude 17.26
KM to Olomouc 0! Mission Accomplished!

But wait, there’s more!

Friday morning at the Kehilah at Rosh Hodesh “Mar Cheshvan” morning Minyan our own Cantor Doron had the honor of being asked to be the Shaliach Tzibbur. Pretty Cool huh? That’s the same community where Jocelyn’s ancestors made their lives and where their children and grandchildren now thrive. If you come on the Congregational Trip this Spring to Olomouc, you’ll be (to quote Hamilton, or Aaron Burr, really) “In the room where it happens”

Doron doing Hallel in Olomouc

Here’s a little bit from the Live Stream I recorded on Friday morning. Watch as much or as little as you want but see if you agree that there was something special hearing the unique PSC Ruach given voice by members of our congregation in a Jewish community 9000 Kilometers from our own. Got goose bumps yet? I certainly did, and I don’t think I am violating any confidences if I say that Ron Mester said exactly the same thing at dinner on Friday night.

But wait, there’s STILL more!

On Friday afternoon before Shabbat, some of us rented a bus and took a trip about 40 miles outside of Olomouc to a small town called Lostice, a town of about 3,000 people, where town historian and director of the Respect and Tolerance program in Lostice, Ludek Stipl, met us at the former Lostice synagogue and told us about his work teaching tolerance and respect to youth from around the community.

The building itself is not a synagogue at present but has many of the trappings of a synagogue. The building’s occupants were deported to Terezín in 1942 as the stolpersteins outside indicate. There’s no Jewish community left to speak of in the area but Ludek has turned this building into a demonstration site and an educational institution to teach the youth in the area to love and respect everyone, even those different from him. There is a small cemetery outside of Lostice established in the 17th century with hundreds of tombstones of members of the community. We walked around on a foggy “Washington Irving-esque” afternoon and took in the sights.

As if I needed anything more. I had the unique honor of layning (Reading Torah) this morning from from Parshat Noach, taking the yad from the Chief Rabbi of the Czech Republic, Karol Sidon (who passed it to me after reading the preceding three aliyot).

Just after Shabbat Services ended And before we were headed to a festive Kiddush Lunch with the community (pretty good, even by PSC standards), a gentleman named Peter Briess from London grasped my hand and wished me a “Gut Shabbes” and a “Yasher Koach” on my Torah reading and told me he was old enough to remember the scroll as a child growing up in the Olomouc Synagogue before the Nazis destroyed it….78 years ago and now coming full circle….Wow! (Peter came all the way from London to be with us on this beautiful occasion.)

And now for some reason I’m sitting in my hotel room waking up from my Shabbat nap, listening to the Saturday afternoon church bells pealing through Olomouc from the surrounding churches when who should be looking down on me? A stone sculpture of the late Pope John Paul 2. It sits on a wall  of the ecclesiastical college across the street. How’s that for random? I am told JP2 spent significant time in Olomouc and was responsible for opening up a hugely important Olomouc library filled with rare books and manuscripts.

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OK, now off to Seudah Shlishit. What could be in store for me now? 🙂

Asked and answered! We ran into the Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Daniel Meron (@AmbMeron) at the exhibition space where they were talking about the history or the Olomouc community and the Beit Knesset that was burned by the Nazis in 1939

But wait, there’s still STILL more.

Enjoy a clip from Havdalah and a brief tour of the Olomouc synagogue (You don’t want to miss this. It’s great!!) Look at all the really old scrolls and some of their history including some Kabalistic Era Scrolls.

and also a Making plans for Sunday’s final completion of the repairs and a nighttime walk back to the Hotel through the streets of Olomouc

I’m hungry…It’s time for dinner now! Another eating event!  Oh boy!

I hope you’re liking my “word’s eye view” of this weekend’s events!

Lostice Update:  August, 2019

I made the acquaintance of Rabbi Bruce Elder, spiritual leader on Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL. His congregation was the one that had the connection to Ludek Stipl’s “Respect and Tolerance” organization in Lostice that we visited while we were in Olomouc before Shabbat.

In 2005, Rabbi Elder’s Congregation was in contact with Stan Canter (nephew of the founder of Canter’s Deli in LA) who happened to be one of the financial sponsors of Ludek’s organization. In 2005, Rabbi Elder’s congregation visited Lostice for the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish community there.

Rabbi Elder’s community has had a 350-year-old Czech Scroll (MST#753) since 1984 from a school outside of Lostice. It is used on Yom Kippur and for B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies in his community.

Remember, the Bat Mitzvah Ludek mentioned?  Well it was a young girl from Rabbi Elder’s congregation.

“In August 2016, Hakafa member, Morissa Lambert, traveled with her family/friends and Rabbi Elder to Lostice with the Torah. There, Morissa became the first Bat Mitzvah ever to take place in Lostice.”

The occasion would mark the first worship service held in the Lostice synagogue in more than 60 years.

Rabbi Elder recounted that one of the amazing moment of their Bat Mitzvah trip was that they used a prayer book written by Fanny Neuda, (the daughter the a Moravian rabbi of Lostice) written in 1865 called Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women 

Written in the nineteenth century, rediscovered in the twenty-first, timeless in its wisdom and beauty, Hours of Devotion by was the first full-length book of Jewish prayers written by a woman for women.

Some 150 people-mostly non-Jews from the town, but a few Jews from surrounding areas- turned out to greet them at the town hall, where the mayor and community leaders waited. In addition a handful of Jews from Prague, 80 miles away, had heard about the event and traveled to Lostice to be a part of it. The crowd traveled with the Hakafa delegation through the streets of the city to the synagogue, where the Torah was placed in the Ark for the first time since the late 1930s.

 

 

 

 

Published by ad6ab

Steve has an Masters Degree in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and a BA from UCLA. For the last 20 years he has managed support and training teams across Silicon Valley. In October 2017, Steve accompanied a 200-year-old Torah Scroll back to its ancestral home in Olomouc in the Czech Republic for the first time in 78 years. It was an amazing, historic, one-of-a kind adventure. Steve has blogged widely about the experience and is a recognized expert in the stories of the Olomouc Scroll and its sister scroll from Cheske Budejovice.

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