When I first started this process of learning about our Czech Torah Scrolls, I never imagined the places that the story would take me. Of course, I have talked at great length about the historic, emotional, one-of-a-kind story of the Olomouc Scroll, returned to its ancestral home, last Fall. But lately, my focus has changed to our second Czech Torah Scroll from the town of České Budějovice, (CHES-kuh BUD e-OH-vit-zeh, our Senior Rabbi jokes I am the only one who’s able to pronounce the name of the town!) about a two-hour drive south of Prague in the beautiful lake district near the Austrian border. The area is very reminiscent of the area around Lake Tahoe.
“Unbelievable,” “Improbable,” “You cannot make this stuff up” are all quotes I have heard from many people when I have shared the story of our Czech Torah Scrolls. Our České Budějovice scroll will probably remain with us for the foreseeable future since there is very little if anything left of its centuries-old Jewish community save a monument to the synagogue blown up by the Nazis in 1942, in a non-descript municipal square that I had the privilege of visiting during my trip.
To say the least, I’ve been most surprised to learn that we are not alone. In fact, in addition to our community, there are at least SEVEN other scrolls that were rescued from České Budějovice and are in the possession of Jewish communities around the world through the auspices of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
It’s possible that when we say “scrolls from České Budějovice” that some of them came from the glorious main synagogue in the town,
and others may have come from the surrounding villages in the area. Regardless, here is the best list I have of the communities that have scrolls today from the Memorial Scrolls Trust and links to their synagogue webpages with more information and history.
|Community/Web Page||Location||Main Contact||MST Serial #|
|Temple B’nai Chaim||Wilton, CT||Rabbi Rachel Kay Bearman||MST #529|
|Temple Mount Sinai||El Paso, TX||Rabbi Ben Zeidman||MST #494|
|Radlett Reform (Conservative) Synagogue||Radlett, 20 Miles NW of London, UK||Rabbi Paul Freedman/Ruth Leveson||MST #236|
|Peninsula Sinai Congregation||Foster City, CA||Rabbi Corey Helfand||MST #685|
|Temple Israel||Dayton, OH||Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz||MST #313|
|Temple Beth El||San Pedro, CA||Cantor Ilan Davidson||??|
|Liverpool Reform Synagogue||Liverpool, UK||Alan Rae, President||??|
In the past several days, I have made contact with many of those communities and we are working to establish connections with all of them.
In December, 2017, I was introduced to a very nice gentleman named John Freund who grew up in České Budějovice. He and his wife, Nora, met in Toronto after the War and raised their family there. His daughter Alice lives in Sacramento and to I took advantage of the opportunity to meet John and hear his amazing story.
John tells a wonderful story as a teenager how he and several friends created a Journal called “Klepy” which essentially was a slice-of-life “gossip magazine” that was passed around hand-to-hand in the community. At the time, he said they viewed it as “entertainment” in an increasingly bleak period in their lives. I cannot help but think of “Klepy” as another form of resistance to the malign intentions of the Nazis.
John’s story was described this way:
“…some brave young people decided to create a newspaper, a magazine that would prove to themselves and their community that they were still creative, energetic, and adventurous. The magazine, Klepy (which means Gossip), was born on August 30, 1940, and over the following two years, twenty-two issues were created and circulated. The magazine included simple type-written stories, elaborate paintings, and editorials, all created in the midst of war.
John Freund was one of the young “reporters” who contributed to the magazine. In 1942, John and the other one thousand Jews of Budejovice were deported to the ghetto, Terezin. Most of these deportees were immediately sent on to Auschwitz and to their deaths. John was among a handful of Budejovic Jews who survived the war. He currently lives in Toronto.”
Remarkably, copies of Klepy also survived and are housed in the Jewish Museum in Prague and in the Museum in Tereizin.
Nora and John Freund with Steve in Sacramento, March 2018
Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown CT
I had a lovely email exchange with their Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Bearman, who told me that,
Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, TX
Holocaust Memorial Torah # 494
has linked their synagogue website with ours
and their Rabbi, Ben Zeidman was very gracious in connecting our communities further:
“This is such a great connection! I’m guessing you have seen our website, which I believe contains most of what WE have. I’m grateful to you for sending the links along…If you see any great ways for us to partner through this shared legacy, keep us in the loop? From our congregation to yours, a happy and sweet new year.”
He also connected us with several current and former members of their community that have insider information on their scrolls. One former member wrote:
“As you may remember from the inscription on the Torah case, my dad loved Budweis (That’s what he and my grandmother called it.) I fantasize that he read from that scroll at his Bar Mitzvah. Norm and I have been there twice, once with our kids. Many of our family are buried in the old Jewish cemetery and cousins from Haifa has visited multiple times.”
Radlett Reform Congregation, in Radlett, UK
MST #236 (from České Budějovice) and MST # 1176 (from Vlašim)
I recently had a lovely conversation over What’s App with Ruth Leveson, a lay person at Radlett Reform (“Reform” is similar to “Conservative” in the US) who shared some information about their scrolls and community. Ruth has visited České Budějovice where a ceremony was conducted on the memorial site where the main synagogue once stood:
and also shows some photographs of recent repairs done to their scrolls in Radlett.
Temple Israel, Dayton Ohio
Another wonderful phone conversation this morning with Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz from Temple Israel in Dayton, Ohio. She mentioned that their confirmation class had just undertaken a project to provide a new cover for their scroll and that they were working on an oral history of the Congregation which will likely include more information about the story of their scroll.
Sept. 2017 Addendum: Rabbi Bodney-Halasz shared some additional history and information about her congregation and how the Scroll Story inspired her to add to her High Holiday Sermons this year.
“I wanted to wish you a special “thank you” for giving me so much information/inspiration about our Holocaust Scroll. I have been immersing myself in Kathy Kacer’s The Underground and John Freund’s Spring’s End.
As I mentioned when we spoke, our Confirmation Class commissioned a new cover for the scroll, which was handmade by our Temple President, Carol Finley. I am attaching a few photos of the scroll for you to see how beautiful it looks. The star is unconsumed by the flames surrounding it on a black background.
I have also chosen to speak at Rosh Hashana about the voices that call out to us and inspire us, like the voice of the shofar and one of the voices that inspired me this year was yours.”
I’m so touched by this and I hope to share excerpts of Rabbi Bodney-Halasz’s sermon when they are available.
Liverpool Reform Progressive Synagogue in Livderpool, UK
MST #?? (České Budějovice) and MST #?? (Prerov)
Ruth clued me in to the possibility of another scroll from České Budějovice residing in a synagogue in Liverpool in the UK. But she was not sure the name of the Congregation. Rav Google mentioned this community and shortly after an email, I was introduced to Alan Rae, their Synagogue President who confirmed that they had a scroll from České Budějovice and another one from Prerov.
I will be updating this entry as I make additional connections to communities with scrolls from České Budějovice.