Our good friend Roman Gronsky, from the Olomouc Jewish Community, who was primarily responsible for driving the return of the Memorial Scrolls Trust’s Scroll #740 to its ancestral home in October, 2017, published a very nice article in the November Issue of “CHAJEJNU,” (“Chayenu,” “Our Life”) the Olomouc Jewish Community’s monthly newsletter.
He details his experiences he and his wife Radka had in the US in September/October 2018 during their visit to Peninsula Sinai Congregation and also to visit our friend Rabbi Moshe Druin in Miami, just before he came to San Francisco over Simchat Torah.
Roman’s visit was particularly special for us because it was nice to reconnect with him and also for him to be present at PSC for the first time we read from our brand new Torah Scroll that Rabbi Druin’s Sofer on Site organization had helped us to write, in part, to replace the Scroll that was returned to Olomouc in October 2017 after 47 years in Foster City.
Following is a translation from the Czech using “Bing Translate” (please blame them for any gross grammatical errors, I tried to clean it up as best I could into serviceable English.) Any errors in omission/commission or other edits are mine.
By Roman Gronsky
As I have described October 2017 issue of CHAJEJNU, this was the fate of one of the Olomouc Torah Scrolls after the Olomouc Synagogue was burnt down in March, 1939. It was very remarkable, but it couldn’t hurt to remind (us of the story) as I have recently uncovered more facts of the story.
Brief summary of Scroll’s history
It belonged to nearly 1800 scrolls confiscated by the Nazis from the Territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and was saved for many years in a warehouse in Prague. But Prague was to be only the first stop on its long journey. Several hundred scrolls survived the Nazi occupation in Prague in a temporary storage facility in the former Synagogues in Prague-Michle…
The Czechoslovak state was behind the Iron Curtain and was getting into economic
problems and badly needed “hard currency.” And so they decided to sell cultural objects
not only furniture stored in a number of castles used to serve the (Czechoslovak) Army, but, it also occurred (to the Czechoslovak State) that an appropriate trade commodity would be the “books of the Prophet Moses” of the Michele Synagogue.
After examining about 500 in the “Michle Torah Scrolls” an expert in…Hebrew Manuscripts and Jewish Books examined the Scrolls in December, 1963. Dealing with “PZO” Artia (a foreign trade company)… Many of the scrolls examined were Kosher and it was clear that it would be necessary to conserve them as much as possible. PZO Artia
(whose director was at that time the son President of the Republic, Antonín Novotný brokered sale of 1564 of Scrolls at a fixed price, In the future will not be subject to trade. To get the scrolls from behind the Iron Curtain, it was necessary to pay a very high price, at that time ($30, 000?) which was paid for by an anonymous philanthropist on condition of anonymity.
In January, 1964, the Torah Scrolls were loaded into two freight cars (in Prague) and transported to the United Kingdom…admittedly, the communist (government’s) trade in Jewish property was (written about in the) The Guardian and other newspapers including the New York Times, but we now know that (this) actually saved (the Scrolls) before they were stolen or destroyed.
The Westminster Scrolls Trust
The Torah Scrolls were sent to the Westminster Synagogue in London (Kent House) Because many of them were not Kosher, they required restoration. Coincidentally, a Sofer (Scribe) from Jerusalem knocked at the door of Westminster synagogue and asked whether there was any work for him…(Heaven sent) David Brand and he worked in London on the Scrolls for more than 30 years. He managed to Kasher over a thousand Torah Scrolls and performed extraordinarily credible work. Thanks to his work,
kashered Scrolls were able to start a new life…The Westminster Memorial Scrolls Trust Foundation (MST) was established (so that) The Scrolls…(could be) lent to Jewish
communities all around the world.
After the “November Coup” (known to others as the “Velvet Revolution“), I discussed several times with my Father about life before the war, his emigration in 1939 and the fates of family members. These were oral interviews and not recorded on audio or video. But five years after Dad’s death, I found a manuscript of those interviews which described not only life in Olomouc before the War, but also how he managed to escape the (Nazi) Protectorate in 1939. I started to clarify obscure or incomplete passages, review records and documents and browse preserved family photos. I just needed (to research) unidentified places, talk to relatives and with a number of others (to refresh) my memory.
I discussed several times with my father about his life before World War Two At the same time I searched for everything I could related to family roots, the fate of relatives,
who did not survive Shoah, and also about survivors of family members and their families scattered across several continents.
Searching for Two Torah Scrolls
During this search, I was informed that one Torah Scroll from the Olomouc synagogue was in California. So I reached out to the Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue, Thomas
Salomon and the Chairman of the MST, Jeffrey Ohrenstein. I met with them in 2015 and they provided me with additional information about the journeys of the Scrolls from Prague to London and across the Atlantic Ocean. I learned that TWO scrolls from Olomouc were in the United States, one in Cherry Hill, NJ, and a second on the other side of the United States at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, CA, near San Francisco. On impulse, I decided to inquire if one of the “Lost” Scrolls be could be returned to Olomouc.
I soon found that returning the Scroll from New Jersey was not possible, so I directed my efforts to persuade MST Chairman Jeffrey Ohrenstein to help return the Scroll from California, and to establish a direct and spiritual connection between California and Moravia (where Olomouc is located in the Czech Republic). Throughout all the negotiations no one, other than a few relatives and friends believed the Scroll #740 would ever be returned to Olomouc.
At the beginning of 2016 I met with the President of the Czech Jewish Community, Petr Papousek and persuaded him negotiate with the MST on an official level.
I continued tirelessly through correspondence and personal visits to London and elsewhere. A positive break came when a chance encounter took place between Jeffrey Ohrenstein and Paul Rausnitz in New York in November, 2016 (Paul) decided to
support the entire project. One of the conditions for returning the Torah Scroll form California to Olomouc was that it be returned in Kosher. Repairing the scroll back to Kosher status required tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs. With many friends and sponsors (and a GoFundMe online campaign) Peninsula Sinai Congregation raised the funds to complete the repairs (in the Spring and Summer of 2017.
After two years of negotiations, and several months demanding repair by a renowned Rabbi and Scribe – Sofer Moshe Druin, in his workshop in Miami, Florida, and after a 8000 KM airplane trip from San Francisco to Prague, the delegation from Peninsula Sinai brought the Scroll back to Olomouc for the “Festival of Days of Jewish Culture” event in 2017.
This was a one time-event, the first time ever in the history of the 1564 Torah Scrolls sent to the MST that one of them had been returned to the Jewish community in its home community in our country. The wondrous tale of the Scroll’s wandering through time, space, and history proves how engaging such a story can be.
It is fascinating to note that this Olomouc scroll Torah journeyed from Moravia almost to the end of the world and back over more than three-quarters of a century (78 years) and was not totally disconnected from its descendants on Olomouc. Cantor Doron Shapira (from Peninsula Sinai Congregation) Jocelyn of Pascoe-Shapiro, (related to) Otto
Karpfen, whose grandmother Lisl (Elisabeth Karpfen – Gruener 10.10.1914 – 30.11.2014) managed to emigrate to the United States and whose family has spread across the United States.
Thanks from Olomouc
Great credit for returning the Torah Scroll to Olomouc belongs to Jeffrey Ohrenstein and Paul Rausnitz. And the city of Olomouc significantly supports The Olomouc Jewish Community’s activities. A certificate of recognition from of the city of Olomouc was awarded in cooperation with the Jewish Museum in Prague and the cities in the Czech
Republic, major contributors to the commemoration of the Jewish History. The City of Olomouc significantly cooperates in the Stolpersteine project which commemorates the victims of Shoah. Jeffrey Ohrenstein was invited as one of the honorary guests to participate in the Olomouc commemoration and was given an award signed by the director of the Jewish Prague Museum.
Visit to the US
After years of email contacts with Jocelyn (she visited Olomouc 12 years ago) and after the visit to Olomouc by her husband Doron, Rabbi Helfand and members of Peninsula Sinai Congregation (in October, 2017), my wife (Radka) and I took advantage of opportunities to travel during the holiday of Sukkot, not wandering in the desert but to be with relatives and friends. Also we wanted to spend Simchat Torah in Foster City, CA, the place where the Olomouc Scroll was restored. We flew to New York to visit relatives and then to Miami to visit with Rabbi Moshe Druin and then on to San Francisco.
In New York, we visited Paul Rausnitz, and other survivors. We flew to Miami and took up Rabbi Druin for his offer of hospitality. we spent an unforgettable holiday with him and his Synagogue community over Sukkot. Moshe lives in part of Miami in a typical American neighborhood. A home with a garage and intersecting roads without traffic lights. Around 10,000 Jews live in this part of Miami and the Jewish community has 12 Synagogues!
Moshe’s home was built originally for his family with six children, and eventually he raised eleven total, some of whom have already left the nest but the youngest are still at home. Many of the older children are married and his own children live a few streets away. Family and friends came and visited for festive holiday activities. I met with Rabbi and Sofer Levi Selwyn (Moshe’s student), who repaired the Domažlický Scroll (MST #515)
515 for New York Hospital and Hospice and Calvary Hospital (for more information see in my article in Chajejnu in February 2017, Page 8.)
Moshe Druin (born, 1963) is a native of New York, and his father was a University Professor. They moved to and in 1969 to Israel. In 1982, he returned to New York and then attended Yeshiva in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his first five children were born.
Since the return to the the US at the end of 1980, he lives in Miami, where his next six children were born. It’s amazing, his wife looks like one of my daughters. She gave me a farewell gift which she wrote, “My Eyes looking Back at Me“, (by Menucha Meinstein (Author), Leah Cik Roth (Author), Marcia Cohen (Editor) and Esther Basha (Editor) which describes a mother (her mother?) and is about surviving the Shoah. She grew up Orthodox in the Carpathian village of Brustury and then in Chustu. The book speaks very openly about a number of facts that many survivors (and of women, especially?)
We also visited the shop of one of Moshe’s sons. Asked how it is possible that there are such large families in his community, his explanation was simple, here Jewish girls get married between age 18-20 (now more like 19-23) and their husbands are 5 – 6 years old
older. They have jobs and are able to support their families.
Because the community is an Orthodox community, the new synagogue holds 700 people and the women’s gallery on the upper floor is fitted with (opaque?) glass, so that the ladies can see out , but men can’t see who’s behind the glass in the (women’s section).
Peninsula Sinai Congregation
After a couple of days of hospitality, worship in Moshe’s synagogue and a very pleasant time spent in Moshe Druin’s sukkah, and one of his d aughter’s sukkah, we flew to San
Francisco, where Jocelyn picked us up at the airport. We stayed in a hotel close to SFO (and near Foster City). The hotel was about ten minutes drive to Jocelyn and Doron’s house and close to Peninsula Sinai.
We had an unforgettable experience during the Simchat Torah Festival and felt welcomed as members, not only because we were greeted by many we had seen in Olomouc but because there was a very family friendly atmosphere. Men and women sit together in the pews. A number of guests came from Israel and one of them told us that here was the place he felt the best in the world. He regularly visits dozens of congregations around the world, and prefers it here.
Doron asked me to speak briefly to the Congregation, so I spoke for about 5 minutes about linking the past with the present, Foster City with Olomouc and God watches over us and connects us
Peninsula Sinai was also happy because they have a new Torah Scroll (partially to replace the one returned to Olomouc) and the children were happy because they could cuddle with plush (stuffed) “Torah Scrolls”, which were hidden in the Aron Kodesh during services. Later we had “Live music”, with Doron leading his band (during the hakafot for Simchat Torah). We sat in Doron and Jocelyn’s family sukkah with Jocelyn and her children – Two twin boys (Eitan and Eliyahu) and a daughter (Yael). Later Doron took us in to downtown San Francisco where we saw the Coit Tower and even met a group of Czech tourists.
Later that evening I met Jocelyn’s sister and mother.
We spent a half day with Steve Lipman (me :-). Steve took us in to San Francisco again where we took a Cruise around San Francisco Bay, passing around Alcatraz (and the Golden Gate Bridge).
We hope that in about 8 years Doron and Jocelyn’s sons will visit us in Olomouc to celebrate their B’nai Mitzvah with us. The Olomouc Scroll connects our two communities together forever.
A sad postscript to this story.