Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Justin Turner was wrong. Foolishly wrong. Stupid and unbecoming a sports role model. Turner endangered his teammates, coaches and support staff. He set a horrible example.
He blew it, big time!
He should not have celebrated on the field with his teammates after it was announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
He should not have held up the trophy and passed it to others, He should not have run around the field and in the dugout embracing teammates and Dodger personnel. He should not have posed in a team photo with Dodger Manager Dave Roberts without a mask.
“Thanks to everyone reaching out!” Turner tweeted after the game. “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA #WorldSeriesChamps.”
The Dodgers won their first World Series Championship since 1988, last night and Dodger fans and others were celebrating the accomplishment and rightfully so. In the Top of the Eighth Inning, in the clinching Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Rays, news leaked out that Turner was missing from the lineup for some unknown reason.
Let’s stipulate the following which is as close to the truth as we can ascertain to date:
Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan “that in the second inning, the lab doing COVID-19 tests informed Major League Baseball that Turner’s test from Monday came back inconclusive. Turner’s test showed “some characteristics associated with a positive test, but the efforts to amplify the results by doctors running the tests did not say for certain.”
“Inconclusive tests are relatively commonplace in coronavirus testing. There are no known cases of the league pulling players from games for inconclusive tests. Samples taken from Tuesday then arrived and were run, sources said, and they showed up positive. The league then immediately called the Dodgers and said to pull Turner. He was replaced in the field by Edwin Rios. “We learned during the game Justin tested positive, and he was immediately isolated to prevent spread,” Manfred said.”
So far, so good. I really don’t have a problem with any of this explanation until the 8th Inning. What I have a problem with was what happened after.
One general manager texted: “A superspreader event on live TV. Welcome to 2020.” A prominent player messaged: “what the f— is going on.” Turner was apparently warned by security personnel on the field to leave the field and apparently, he emphatically refused to comply.
The failures in this incident were multiple and took place on live TV in front of millions of fans. So, what should have been done?
Major LeagueCommissioner Rob Manfred should have gone in front of the cameras and called out Turner’s behavior. He could have even noted that MLB had, for the most part, contained the virus after the initial hiccups at the start of the season. In time, he could offer to make a significant donation to COVID-19 relef.
Justin Turner should not have been on the field. Period, full stop! I am sorry that he was disappointed. I am sorry he didn’t merit celebrating his team’s accomplishment in the moment. That’s the breaks, especially considering 227,000 Americans are dead and more than 8 Million persons are infected with COVID-19. He boorish behavior was an affront to all their memories and especially the memories of families that were denied the right to say good bye to their loved ones properly. Many of the deceased died alone and isolated in agony. His actions were an embarrassment and he should be held accountable for them.
Manager Dave Roberts is known as a players’ manager and apparently beloved nearly across the board. His skill and enthusiasm were on display until 8:38 PM PDT last night, when the final out was recorded. After that he tried to have it both ways. He wanted to show support for Turner and yet, he had to know that Turner should not have been on that field, mask-less, with what was for many a deadly disease. He gave a rousing speech on being handed the Commissioners Trophy.
What if Roberts said the following: “I accept this trophy on behalf of our friend and teammate Justin. We’re sorry you could not be on the field to celebrate with us. You did amazing things for us all year and we salute you. I hope I will be able to make it up to you sometime in the future but for now, for your health and for the health of everyone else involved, we will have to delay that public acknowledgement. We hope and pray for your speedy recovery. Get well soon, Justin. We love you.”
Can you imagine how the story would be different if something like that could have happened? Justin Turner is by all accounts before last night a stand-up guy. He’s loved in the clubhouse and by fans for his accomplishments (I still recall seeing his walk off home run in the NLCS in 2017 against the Cubs, the first Dodgers playoff walk off in 29 years (to the day!) since 1988 in Kirk Gibson’s iconic World Series Home Run (“in a year that has been so improbable, the IMPOSSIBLE has happened,” Vin Scully).
So what can Justin Turner do now to repair his tarnished reputation?
First of all, he should apologize. Heartfully. He should admit a temporary lapse of judgement. He should shout out the frontline heroes that are saving us during the pandemic like Doctors, Nurses, Fire Fighters and Police Officers and Teachers. He should make a MAJOR contribution of his World Series share to the dozens of organizations straining to provide COVID-19 relief. He should admit that he could have done better and encourage others to do the same, especially young kids for whom he is rightfully a role model. He should offer his condolences to the families in Los Angeles and around the world that have suffered during this pandemic both with the loss of life and the economic disaster afflicting 20 million Americans, many of those, in normal times, would be forking over big bucks to see his Dodgers play in Chavez Ravine. He should be contrite. If he really had balls, he’d take all the reporters’ questions at this event and answer them truthfully and not defensively.
He screwed up and the longer it takes for him to make good, the harder it is going to be for him.
So start the repentance process today, Justin. I’ll be waiting to see what you do next. Doing nothing is NOT an option!
A recent story in the LA Times got me thinking about all the crazy disruptions in this weird COVID world we find ourselves in. The author muses about “missing the comfort of ‘my’ seat in synagogue when the whole world is askew.”
“One Saturday morning last fall I arrived at my synagogue, only to discover that someone had taken my seat. I’ve never been a regular at a bar or a restaurant or even a gym. But on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, I go to synagogue. And I always sit in the same place: on the aisle, not too close to the front, not too far from the action. A couple of rows behind Ruth and Reuven, across the aisle from Cheryl, just in front of Len.”
Many might remember there was a schtick in the “Big Bang Theory” TV show where Dr. Sheldon Cooper, portrayed by actor Jim Parsons, used to neurotically drive people crazy when people would sit in “his spot” which was, in his words, ‘in an eternal state of “dibs.'”
“In an ever-changing world it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a 4-space|four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be (0,0,0,0).”
“In the winter that seat is close enough to the radiator to remain warm, and yet not so close as to cause perspiration. In the summer it’s directly in the path of a cross breeze created by open windows there, and there. It faces the television at an angle that is neither direct, thus discouraging conversation, nor so far wide to create a parallax distortion, I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point,” Sheldon explains.
Yeah, I’ve sort of wondered about “my seat” in shul which I haven’t sat in for 5 1/2 months. Third row on the aisle, stage right as you’re facing the bimah. I’ve missed you, old friend! There’s a certain comfort, a routine, a sense that things are right with the world when I sit there. When I don’t things just seem a little “off.”
I’ve been at my shul for 26 years. I first got a notion of “my seat” in shul when an older generation started dying off. Bernice, Jerry, Henri and Barney were not in their old familiar places any more. It just did not seem right when others took their places. Now, there are sadly others added to that list, some of them have passed much younger.
I know rationally, my seat is not “mine.” But I wonder what it will be like when when we see it again and if we’ll ever be back to the way it used to be? Probably not, old habits are hard to break.
I’ve often mused that one year a fun Purim prank to play on the Rabbi would be to conspire with the ushers in the lobby to ask the “regulars” to sit in any seat but their regular seat. I’m sure when he realized that “something was ‘off’ we’d all get a good laugh over that.
I’ve always joked with the people that regularly sit a row behind me in shul that it just doesn’t seem right when our pod is disrupted, either because one of us was late to shul and missed the boat, or someone, “gasp”, is sitting there before we arrive, violating all social norms and customs! 🙂
One time their grandson who was about 5 or 6 at the time drew a picture of what Heaven looked like to him and she asked him about the images in the picture. “Who is that?” she asked. “That’s God”, he said…you know, the guy who sits a row in front of us? (We still laugh hysterically at that story. I am that I am and will be offering special dispensations a week from Tuesday.)
I just learned they are moving in a month or so, so when we get back to normal, things won’t be normal that way either. More new things to get used to in our future post-COVID world, I suppose.
So for now, I guess we’ll all keep Zooming. My seat is my kitchen table, one row back from the laptop.
One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, we’ll all be back in our familiar places. Our spots in shul, will still be there. Maybe it will be 2021, if not sooner, when this pandemic is over. Hopefully we’re all vaccinated and this COVID nightmare will be behind us all. Hopefully there will be a new President in office. Hopefully we’ll forget about face coverings and social distancing.
Maybe then we’ll be back greeting each other in person in shul with a handshake or a hug and a “Shabbat Shalom” (or as I have conflated “Shabbat Shalom” and “Good Shabbes” to “Shababbes”).
Or, as Sheldon Cooper sighs when he returns from a three-month scientific expedition to the North Pole, he addresses his Spot by saying, “hello, old friend,” and upon settling into it, he contentedly sighs, “Daddy’s home.”‘
Yes blood…human blood, vampires, Bela Lugosi, Dracula…
OK let’s not, but let’s talk about donating blood and why, especially in this Corona virus-afflicted world, donating blood is so much more important than it normally is.
I have been a regular platelet donor at Stanford’s Blood Bank for over 25 years and this week, I donated for my 110th time, lifetime. This time I did a “triple donation” of platelets and added on a unit of plasma. The whole thing took 106 minutes hooked up to the machine and about 3 hours total from the time I walked in the door until I walked out clutching my last sips of POG (Passion Orange Guava) juice and my cookie.
Platelets are a component of whole blood. Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognize damaged blood vessels,” says Dr. Marlene Williams, assistant professor of medicine and CICU director at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. “When you get a cut, for example, the platelets bind to the site of the damaged vessel, thereby causing a blood clot. There’s an evolutionary reason why they’re there. It’s to stop us from bleeding.”
When you don’t have enough platelets, it’s called thrombocytopenia. Symptoms include easy bruising, and frequent bleeding from the gums, nose, or GI tract. Your platelet count drops when something is preventing your body from producing platelets. There are a wide range of causes, including:
An inherited condition
Certain types of cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma
Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
Kidney infection or dysfunction
Too much alcohol
I’m told that they are critical components of treating patients, particularly those whose blood is compromised due to illness or a suppressed immune system or in patients undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that cause damage to a patient’s own blood.
I happen to be particularly desirable as a donor because I am genetically predisposed NOT to to be infected with something called “CMV.”
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus. Once infected, your body retains the virus for life. Most people don’t know they have CMV because it rarely causes problems in healthy people.
If you’re pregnant or if your immune system is weakened, CMV is cause for concern. Women who develop an active CMV infection during pregnancy can pass the virus to their babies, who might then experience symptoms. For people who have weakened immune systems, especially people who have had an organ, stem cell or bone marrow transplant, CMV infection can be fatal.
Most healthy people who are infected with CMV may experience no symptoms. Some experience minor symptoms. People who are more likely to experience signs and symptoms of CMV include:
Newborns who became infected with CMV before they were born (congenital CMV).
Infants who become infected during birth or shortly afterward (perinatal CMV). This group includes babies infected through breast milk.
People who have weakened immune systems, such as those who have had an organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant, or those who are infected with HIV.
So, CMV is bad and I don’t have it. Tie that to the fact that I am also O+ blood type and that makes me a Universal Donor. The vampires at Stanford are all over me to donate.
What’s it like to donate blood?
You typically start by making an appointment. For platelets, as I mentioned, the whole process takes about three-hours from start to finish. Whole Blood takes significantly less time and often times there are walk-up slots available. The good news is they do everything they can to make you comfortable during the process and typically I fire up Netflix and watch a good movie while I am sitting in the chair. They’ve got other streaming options available as well. Last time I was able to watch Hamilton from start to finish.
But what about COVID-19? Isn’t it dangerous?
There are risks everywhere but in my experience, Stanford takes social distancing and hygiene very seriously. Donors and Staff must wear a mask and the staff are double or even triple-protected with medical grade masks, face shields, gloves and disinfectants.
The first person you encounter on walking into the center is a tech who takes your temperature and asks some basic screening questions to make sure you aren’t sick.
Next you are handed an iPad with a bunch of very personal questions about your medical and sexual history. After you’ve done it about 20 times, questions about accidental needle sticks, HIV exposure or sex with prostitutes are kind of second nature. They used to have to ask you all these questions orally but it’s nice they’ve streamlined the process so it’s simple, requires less staff overhead and is more private and less time-consuming.
After you complete the iPad questions (the device is wiped down with disinfectant after each use) you are ushered into the screening booth where a nurse goes over your history and weighs you and takes your temperature, BP and does a small finger stick to test for appropriate levels of hemoglobin in your blood.
Assuming all are a pass (I only once had low hemoglobin but it could have been due to dehydration and it also happened in Israel so who knows what their standards actually were?) you are taken to the donating area.
For platelets you sit in what amounts to a COMFY CHAIR! I suppose on request they could POKE YOU WITH THE SOFT CUSHIONS!!!
They’ll offer you a disposable blanket (like an airline blanket) if you want and there is also a heating pad if you are susceptible to cold room temps.
Once you have positioned yourself in the chair, you have to keep your arm extended and you can’t move it once the donation process starts.
They clean your arm and find a suitable vein to insert the catheter. (It’s no more painful than a blood draw and honestly these guys do it so often, they are real professionals and I hardly feel a thing.
Once you have been stuck they’ll withdraw a small sample for testing and then start running your blood through a Trima Machine that separates out the required blood products and then replaces everything back in your arm. Think of it as a car wash or a centrifuge. Everything it needs, it takes, and the rest is returned to you.
During the process (called Apeheresis) you squeeze a small warm bottle that makes sure the circulation is good (and I think also is a means they have of keeping you awake so your arm doesn’t slide off the chair. During the procedure they use an anti-coagulant
(If you really want to know). Sometimes you may feel some slight tingling in your lips which can often be taken care of by and OTC antacid like Tums.
After about 2-3 hours (again the length of a good Netflix movie) they unhook you and you go over to the canteen for the traditional POG Juice
and a COOKIE!
Why do I do this?
Well there are lots of reasons? First and foremost because there are a lot of people that need platelets? It is a blood product that is critical and often damaged in Immuno-compromised patients or those vulnerable folks undergoing cancer and chemotherapy treatments. Even if you don’t have 2-3 hours to give, a simple whole blood donation can be done and over with in less than an hour. Secondly, it’s a life-saving Mitzvah and one that I am happy to to. As the saying goes, מצווה גוררת מצווה “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah” (Pirke Avot: 4:2) which loosely translated means “one good deed will bring another good deed.” It’s relatively painless and I feel good doing it.
Also Stanford takes really good care of it’s donors. Their 100+ donor club members are rewarded with a lovely breakfast in November (pandemic pending this year) where they say thank you.
Also the schwag they routinely give you has filled out my tie dye collection very nicely! 🙂
So, if you have any questions about the process or whether apheresis or whole blood donation is right for you, feel free to ask me any questions. I am happy to get you the information you need. I hope you’ll consider joining me in this life-saving Mitzvah.
I came across an article in the LA Jewish Journal today, talking about the custom of the “Bar Mitzvah partner.”
What’s that you say? You actually had to SHARE your big day with someone else? You’re not the STAR of the show? All eyes are not focused solely on YOU as you read your Maftir or discordantly chant your Haftarah and deliver your brilliant speech?
(Deuteronomy 32:49) “…and see the land of Canaan that I am giving the Israelites as a possession.”
Thanks to TBE’s first Rabbi, Aaron J. Tofield, who arrived in 1957 and was the long-time founding clergy member of shul , ” JUST as the Children of Israel accepted the responsibility for the Land of Israel, SO TOO (!) do I accept my religious responsibilities on this day!”
How’s that for brilliant Talmudic exegesis? Compared to some speeches today, mine was comparatively brief and written under the theory that children were meant to be seen and not heard. So get to the point kid, and sit down. I still want to lay my hands on that speech that was typed on “onion skin” paper on a manual typewriter by my Mom.
A number of years ago I found a cassette tape (remember those?)
recording of my speech and the Rabbi’s charge to the “Bar Mitzvah Bucher.” As an adolescent, I recall thinking of Rabbi Tofield as rather old, and not particularly relevant. But listening to the speech decades later, I discovered that what Rabbi Tofield had to say was actually pretty relevant and cutting edge. I guess the passage of time causes us to look at things with a different perspective?
But coming back to the custom of the “Bar Mitzvah partner.” What’s that all about?
Ed Rodman, one of my Hebrew School classmates wrote, “For many of us who came of age in the 1960s, double b’nai mitzvah were unavoidable; the Jewish demography of the times dictated them. There are just so many Shabbats in a year, and suburban synagogues, whose sanctuaries dotted the Southern California landscape like sesame seeds on a challah, did not have enough dates for the oncoming wave of baby boomer b’nai mitzvah.”
So that’s the way it was. I never gave it a second thought. You were paired with another kid and you each shared the responsibilities of leading the service on your big day!
My Bar Mitzvah partner was Lee Goodman (z’l). Sadly, Lee passed away a few years ago and when the anniversary rolls around I always think of Lee fondly. That, and the picture that sits on my parents’ coffee table of Lee and I standing side-by-side in front of TBE’s iconic Aron Kodesh with the marble Twelve Tribes up either side. Many of my peers may know that the TBE building was sold to a Romanian Pentecostalist Church and now the front of the building says, Emanuel Church of God, but that’s s story for another time.
Lee was over 6 feet tall and I was just barely 5 feet tall, even in my early-disco platform shoes and hounds-tooth suit coat.
For some reason, our parents scheduled it the day after Yom Kippur, not the most convenient schedule-wise for out of town visitors.
My birthday is in August but I suppose a summertime Bar Mitzvah was “pas-nischt,” just not done, if you wanted all your Hebrew School classmates to attend who were away at Summer Camp.
The portion was HaAzinu and it does lead to weird calendar quirk.
In years where Yom Kippur falls on a Wednesday or a Thursday, there is an extra Shabbat before Sukkot and that means, HaAzinu gets its own dedicated Shabbat in those years. In other years, HaAzinu is combined with “Shabbat Shuvah” (The “Shabbat of Repentance”) that falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. That means when we read HaAzinu, the Haftarah is a special haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah. Not very good for nostalgia purposes and so for 2020, we don’t do my haftarah on that day.
I’ll have to wait for my reprise until 2021, which is probably just as well, since none of us are attending shul in person these days anyway in this COVID-19/Zoom-shul reality that we find ourselves in these days!
Lucky for me, there’s often a division of labor in my shul. Our Rabbi is also a HaAzinu kid so he traditionally gets the Torah reading and I get the Haftarah when we are together in shul.
So Lee, read from the Torah that day and I got half of the HaAzinu haftarah that day. I also led Musaf, since Lee led the Torah service.
And oh…was there hell to pay. Fresh off a summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai, I decided to wing it and do a “campy” melody for “Yismachu” (apparently NOT on the approved list of melodies approved by our beloved Cantor Moddel.)
I can still recall the “crickets” from the congregation and the sense that Cantor Moddel’s eyes were boring laser beams in my skull. “Young Man, what is it with this unapproved Congregational melody?” I still sweat bullets 46 years after the fact.
One day, hopefully in the near future, we will all be together on our bimahs. Hopefully, be we will kvelling over the newest generation of B’nai Mitzvah and we can all think back fondly to that Shabbat in 1974 when I proudly stated, “today, I am a fountain pen!”
I have been to Prague twice. Once in 1998, a few years after the 1989 Velvet Revolution where a repressive Communist Czechoslovakian government was peacefully overthrown by Vaclav Havel and his associates, and split into the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia. The second time, was in October, 2017, as part of a delegation of several members of my Peninsula Sinai Congregation community, escorting a 200-year-old Sefer Torah back to its ancestral home in Olomouc for the first time in 75 years.
Both times, I had the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum in Prague. Both times I was overwhelmed by the quantity of artifacts of Jewish life on display there, some of those artifacts dating back centuries. Both times I heard a variant of the following story: “The artifacts were collected by the Nazi authorities in charge of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (the two components of today’s Czech Republic) to create a “Museum to an Extinct Jewish Race.”
But that story always bothered me. First of all, Jews are not technically a race. But perhaps more importantly, why would the Nazis be creating a museum to a community of Jews that they were cynically trying to remove from Europe and the rest of the world? The story didn’t seem to make much sense, and in fact gnawed at me for a number of years.
Another narrative told us that the Jews of the outlying provinces sent their precious artifacts to Prague for “safe keeping” during the war as the situation was becoming more and more dire for them at home and none of them knew the fate that awaited them as part of the Nazi’s diabolical “Final Solution.”
Of course, we now know that the Jews of these regions knew far more about their ultimate fate than this passive narrative leads us to believe. Perhaps they couldn’t envision the scale of their destruction but why send their artifacts to Prague if that was the case?
So, coming back to the original question, “How did all this stuff end up in Prague and why was the “Museum of an extinct race” canard so widely distributed and believed?
What I’ve discovered, is in fact the story is far more nuanced and probably exists somewhere in the middle of these two narratives.
When you travel to Prague, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum.
There you will find dozens of exhibits spread across museums, public institutions, synagogues and cemeteries across the old Jewish quarter of Josefov in the Praha 1 district. Synagogues like the Maisel, the Pinkas
are packed with exhibits of Judaica from Prague and the surrounding pre-war communities outside of Prague.
All three of these sites are easily view able in a day or two if you chose to visit Prague, as we did in October, 2017.
Dozens of these communities existed in Czechoslovakia before World War Two and today, only 10 communities have survived with a total of about 3000 Jews left. A pre-war population of ~120,000 Jews was decimated by the Nazis and some estimates have less than 20% surviving the war. Most were sent to transit camps like Terezin which has its own sinister history and from there to the extermination camps in Poland like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. There is a monument just outside of Prague that details their haunting fate in a decrepit, relatively un-used railroad station called Praha-Bubny.
Some communities managed to survive the war only to fold afterward due to lack of members or the oppressive restrictions placed on them by the Communist authorities who took over in Czechoslovakia in 1948.
To understand what happened to the Museum, you need to go backwards to its founding in 1906. At that time, Prague was undergoing significant changes. Assimilation of the Jews into the larger community was strong and Prague’s Jews were not particularly religiously identified. Several synagogues were being razed in Josefov and the founders of the Museum saw a chance to document a disappearing way of Jewish life that had existed in Prague since the 10th and 11th Centuries. From the Museum’s perspective, from its opening in 1912, it was viewed as a largely secular institution. It even invited people in for several hours to see exhibits on the Jewish Sabbath.
Between World Wars 1 and 2, the collection grew, though it largely remained a small collection. A permanent home was located in the Ceremonial Hall just outside the Old Jewish Cemetery.
A review by historian Benjamin Frommer (“Ark of Memory. The Jewish Museum in Prague’s Journey through the Turbulent 20th Century”) details the history of the interwar years based largely on the work of historian Magda Veselská (The Museum of an Extinct Race—Fact vs. Legend, 2016)
The Munich Agreement in 1938 between Great Britain and Germany (Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in our Time” declaration) started the long slow slide of Czechoslovakia Jews into oblivion. In fact, it seems rather ironic that with the resulting Nazi conquest of the Sudetenland (the border areas between Germany and Austria and Czechoslovakia) Jews living in those areas might have actually gotten a head start away from Nazi oppression before really terrible things started happening with the Nazi occupation in March on 1939. Some Jews in Ceske Budějovice (where one of our Sifrei Torah comes from) and even Olomouc may have benefited from this head start.
Frommer writes, “True, German anti-Semitic policies of expropriation, forced emigration, and ultimately genocide provided the tragic opportunity. But it was the Museum staff itself that worked tirelessly to gather the materials left behind by Jews who departed first for abroad and later for concentration camps and ghettos.”
Veselská notes, “The staff (of the Jewish Museum), and not the leading Nazis (including Adolph Eichmann, who maintained a quixotic fascination with Prague) in the so-called Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung), developed the concept behind wartime exhibits. She explains, “Without doubt the greater initiative was demonstrated by the Prague Jewish Community which followed its goal, to protect the property of the Protectorate’s Jewish communities for the future.”
Veselská adds three distinct periods during the war for the Museum:
From 1939 till the spring of 1942, it was a “Prague Jewish Art Museum existing with the agreement of the Zentralstelle”
From then till summer 1942 it was “a select, limited museum built according to the vague wishes of the Zentralstelle.
Ultimately it became little more than a “warehouse called a museum”. Incredibly, the Museum remained open to the public in the early months of the war.
After 1939, the only visitors to the Museum were the highest-ranking local Nazis, who came alone to preview detailed exhibitions curated seemingly only for them. The chiefs of the Zentralstelle, Hans Günther and Karl Rahm, demonstrated the greatest interest in the Museum.
Neither of them communicated any reports or reported back any directives from the Central Nazi Government in Berlin. Frommer says, “Günther did call for an exhibit on “interesting things” from pre-emancipated Jewish life in the ghetto, but he left it to the employees to determine the content.”
Nearly all the staff, by contrast, perished in Nazi German ghettos and camps. The staff painstakingly collected and recorded these items to maintain them, but also because a job at the Museum provided protection, though temporarily, from deportation. In two-and-a-half years the Museum classified and recorded more than 200,000 items and ensured their survival.
It is thanks to the eight heroic curators of the Czech State Museum and Prague Jewish community staff working at the museum, people like Tobias Jacobovits (former librarian of the Prague Jewish community) and Josef Polak (the chief curator) – that the these objects, including the 1564 scrolls found warehoused in an outbuilding of the Michle Synagogue outside of Prague probably survived to tell their story.
Contrary to popular belief, the directors and employees of the Jewish Museum, and not the German occupiers, were the driving force behind the survival and huge expansion of the Museum’s collection.
The “extinct race” story was largely false. The concept was nowhere to be found in the writings of the few museum staff members who survived the war. There was no evidence that the Nazis cooked up this scheme and in fact the story probably dates back to the post-WW2 years as a means of explaining the collection and denying any supposed exceptionality on the part of the Jews by Czech Communist authorities. The Czechs were the victims, not the Jews, in their skewed retelling of history of the Shoah. Namely it was in the Communists’ interest to paint all of Czechoslovakia as victims of the Nazis and not the Jews.
The Museum was nationalized in 1950 and a great deal of ideological pressure was placed on the curators to tell the stories of only “permissible topics.”
Veselská writes that Vilém Benda, Director of the Jewish Museum in the 1960s, may have been responsible for spread of the idea of a ‘museum of a liquidated race’ in an effort to draw international attention to its collections. To a great extent, he was successful.
But to understand the Museum’s history, you need to look to the incredible postwar efforts of Hana Volavková to ensure the survival of the Museum.
During the occupation the staff had long imagined that they were safe-keeping religious and communal artifacts which could be returned to Jewish communities after the war. Since it became clear that few Jews were alive to return and, consequently, very few communities could be reestablished, the Museum’s role shifted to one of preserving the memory of the world that had been destroyed. Volavková and her coworkers successfully convinced the Czech Communist regime to keep the Jewish Museum as an intact institution.
The shifting politics of communist-era Czechoslovakia battered the Museum over the subsequent decades. The communists presented the staff with a series of challenges and threats, both in terms of their personal standing –changes in state policy led to changes in Museum staff, including the forced retirement of Volavková in 1961 – and in terms of the content of the displayed collections.
In 1960, the Museum expanded from its existing two buildings, the Klausen Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall, and opened new exhibitions in the Pinkas, Spanish and Maisel Synagogues.
But the Museum found a way to memorialize the Holocaust as an independent event. The Museum gained international renown through repeated exhibitions of children’s drawings from Terezin as one example.
I first became aware of the amazing story of the Museum collection in September, 1984, sitting in my parents’ synagogue during the High Holidays in Anaheim, CA. That year I heard our Rabbi Irwin Schlessinger tell the story of the Precious Legacy Exhibit that was touring the United States, at the time. For some reason the story made a big impression on me and I remember it to this day.
In that era, only a small selection of the Museum’s collection was on display, but the two Americans were shown some of the items the Museum had in its storage rooms. According to Talisman, “The collection was over a thousand times larger than anyone had known. What moved Talisman most was that “the whole horror of the Holocaust was brought to life again when I realized that each (carefully labeled and recorded) artifact was attached to a person”. Talisman worked for the next 15 years to arrange for the loan of a remarkable traveling exhibition. It started in Washington DC in 1980 and eventually toured all over the Unites States and Europe for the next several years.
You have to understand the context of that exhibit through the lens of the Cold War and the bad feelings that existed between the Reagan Administration and the Soviet Union to understand how remarkable it was that the exhibit ever made its way out of Czechoslovakia.
Later, the opening of the most visible memorial to the Shoah, the Pinkas Synagogue, with its haunting registry of the Bohemian and Moravian Jews murdered during the war, was part of an unprecedented burst of public activity for Museum.
The survival of nearly all the Museum’s collection over past seven decades is remarkable. The Communist state was forever short of hard currency and tried to sell off to the West anything of value. In 1964, for example, the regime sold most of its Torah scrolls to Great Britain and those scrolls eventually became the scrolls lent to Jewish Institutions around the world by the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
Over time, however, thanks to the efforts of the staff and the interest of the outside world, the Museum successfully demonstrated the collection’s value as a positive representation of the country and as a magnet to tourists, who increasingly came to Prague to view the city’s Jewish heritage.
Ironically, the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which ended Communist rule, presented the greatest existential threat to Museum in decades. Thanks to the new democratic government’s desire to build good relations with the outside world, Czech political leaders nearly agreed to send more than two-fifths of the collection to a private institution in Israel. Though democracy opened up this possibility, it also offered the Museum’s employees the means to rally supporters at home and abroad and thus effectively end the threat.
So, no, the 1564 Torah Scrolls, did not come to Prague as part of some Nazi-sponsored initiative to create a museum to “extinct Jews.” The truth is more nuanced. And their survival to this day, in Jewish communities all around the world is all the more amazing.
Yesterday, Rabbi Corey showed me something kind of cool that he discovered while cleaning his office a few weeks ago. It’s apparently part of the original rollers or staves (Atzei Chaim/עצי היים in Hebrew) from the České Budějovice Torah Scroll.
Peninsula Sinai Congregation was originally allocated two Torah Scrolls in 1970, one from the Czech town of Olomouc (MST #740) and one from the town of České Budějovice (MST #685) by the London-based Memorial Scrolls Trust. These two scrolls came from a collection from a collection of 1541 Scrolls purchased from the Czechoslovak State authorities in 1964. Many of those scrolls had plaques affixed to the staves when the collection arrived in London in 1964.
Scroll #740 was re-allocated to its ancestral hometown of Olomouc in 2017 by the Trust, and in partnership with Peninsula Sinai Congregation, was returned to Olomouc in October of that year, where it remains in use today.
Scroll #685 remains at Peninsula Sinai Congregation where it is also in regular use.
Over time, the two Czech scrolls had their עצי היים replaced. In fact, when Peninsula Sinai arranged to return one of their scrolls to Olomouc there was some doubt as to which scroll was which. Their provenance was eventually verified by Rabbi Moshe Druin from Sofer on Site. Rabbi Druin traveled to Cherry Hill, NJ where a second scroll from Olomouc was housed. Comparing the scribal art of that scroll with the scrolls at Peninsula Sinai, we were able to conclusively determine which scroll was which.
Note the Hebrew letters Mem and Bet carved into the stave? We are not exactly sure what they mean? Perhaps they are someone’s initials? Perhaps they were placed there by the original Scribe/Sofer, or after the fact by someone else? Perhaps they represent Hebrew Numerology for the number 42?
“We have a failure of the spacecraft. We unfortunately have not managed to land successfully,” Opher Doron, general manager of the Israel Aerospace Industries space program, said on the SpaceIL’s livestream of the landing attempt…”
“We are the seventh country to orbit the moon and the fourth to reach the moon’s surface,” Doron said. “It’s a tremendous achievement up to now…”
The only other countries to reach the lunar surface before Israel are the United States, Russia and China. No private entity has safely landed a spacecraft on the moon. (CNBC)
Oh my! I was sitting here this afternoon on pins and needles watching and hoping for this amazing project to succeed. I was furiously scribbling notes as the milestones passed:
The Blessings from the dignitaries.
The mention of a child, Petr Grinz who drew a fanciful image of what the moon looked like in 1942, before he perished in Auschwitz
The technical description of what was happening in real time, attempting to slow the spacecraft from 600 MPS to 0 MPS
The firing of the main engines to “passing the point of no return (12:12 PDT)
The first hints of trouble, the loss of telemetry from the spacecraft (12:20 PDT)
The announcement of a problem with the main engine (12:22 PDT)
The main engine reset (12:23 PDT)
The announcement (12:25 PMay 15DT) that the spacecraft had crash-landed.
Not before taking a selfie from 22 KM above the moon on the landing attempt.
One the one hand I was filled with pride at the audacity of the attempt, then gasped when they announced a problem with the gyroscopes and the main engines and then saddened when the reality hit that the soft landing we were all hoping for did not come to pass.
In typical Sabra Engineer speak, “We landed, just not how we wanted.
I’m thinking back to October 30, 2018 when I attended a presentation about SpaceIL at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos with Yonatan Weintraub where he took a selfie with me in the the audience and promised to include the selfie image on the DVR/time capsule attached to the lander’s body. I was going to the Moon (at least I thought)! I got there, just not in one piece, I suppose!
This morning, before the landing was attempted, someone posted the following from Ben Gurion Airport’s arrival screen. Note what was happening at 22:00
The sign says Flight “IAI BRSHT” from (destination) “The Moon” at 10 PM… “Lo Sofi” (not final). You get the idea…
In the end it was not about the politicians, it was about the hope. Nothing captures that hope and pride better than this, if you ask me!
I think President Ruby Rivlin said it best consoling the dozens of kids that were watching from the Beit HaNasi (The President’s Residence) in Jerusalem, “Don’t be disappointed. In 30-40 years you’ll be telling your kids where you were the night when Israel first tried to land on the Moon. We didn’t land ‘as we had wanted’ but it’s an amazing accomplishment, nonetheless. There’s nothing to be disappointed about…”
That’s leadership, friends! Not bloviating or chest thumping or crying “Why me?” or “It’s not fair” (or it’s a witch hunt, Mr. Trump). It’s a sense of the history of the moment and even when things don’t go our way, we have much to be proud of. It’s consoling and encouraging the children at the same time.
Listen to Rivlin leading the audience in singing “Hatikvah”, Israel’s National Anthem (1:20 in the video). In his own self-deprecating way just before he starts to sing he comments that he is (not) an “expert at singing…”
Next time, hopefully, the outcome will be different.
The day after according to SpaceIL:
“the spacecraft began to fall a free fall from a height of 10 kilometers, apparently at a speed of 400 to 500 km per hour until the loss of contact and apparently a crash on the moon.”
(the photo was taken from Genesis during the landing)
May 15th Postscript
NASA photographed the crash site of Israel’s failed moon lander, and it’s not pretty
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.
Roman’s Book about the life of his father, “I was there” (memories of Dr. Lothar Grunwald-Gronsky
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!
Author Roman Gronsky (r) with Sofer Moshe Druin and the Lulav/Etrog in Moshe’s Sukkah
In Moshe Druin’s workshop In the workshop. On the left, partly tanned parchments
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?)
Mrs. Ahuva Druin, mother of eleven children
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.
The interior of Moshe Druin’s synagogue which holds 700 people. Upstairs the womens’ gallery where the mechitzah is made of opaque glass to allow the women to see out but the men not to see in.
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.
Peninsula Sinai Congregation
Simchat Torah at PSC
Jocelyn Shapira with her daughter Yael and plush Torah Scrolls that delighted the children
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).
Radka and Roman Gronsky and Steve Lipman
Roman capturing the beauty of San Francisco on our Bay Cruise.
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.
November 11, 2018, Paul Rausnitz, the owner of Meopta, and an honorary member of the Jewish Community in Olomouc, who has long supported our village, died in his sleep.
War veteran, holder of the State Medal of Merit for Grade I, Prize winner Arnošt Lustig, winner of the Gratias Agit Prize and many other awards.
Condolences are also accepted in a memorial book at Meopta’s main reception, at Kabelíkova 1, Přerov.
As most of you know, so many things have touched me about the Olomouc Torah story. The memories are flooding back as we approach the one-year anniversary of that amazing experience in a few days.
One of the connections that sticks in my head is that of Mr. Peter Briess, who, as young boy, recalled sitting with his father in the Olomouc Synagogue and hearing Rabbi Berthold Oppenheim read from the same Sefer Torah that, through the auspices of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, was returned to the community in Olomouc for the first time in 78 years, last October.
Rabbi Oppenheim initiated the construction of the Olomouc Synagogue and served as the spiritual leader of the community until 1939. On October 15, 1942 he was deported to Treblinka, where he was murdered in the same year.
I spoke with Mr. Briess this week on the telephone and he shared some details from his childhood story.
The day the Nazis rolled into Olomouc and occupied the town was a day that Peter could never forget. It was a cold, rainy day, March 15, 1939. Peter recalls watching the Nazi soldiers and armored vehicles passing some 50 meters from his window and encamping in a small nearby park.
The first thing the Nazis and their sympathizers did on occupying Olomouc was to ransack the Synagogue building and set it ablaze. The Olomouc Synagogue was a lovely building built in 1899 and the subject of last year’s Historical Retrospective.
Olomouc Historical Exhibition Program
The Nazis prevented the Czech fire services from dousing the flames. Later the Jewish community was forced to pay to demolish the ruins of the building that were not destroyed by the fire.
Peter and his family were able to escape from Olomouc when Peter was 7 years and 9 months old. His mother’s father, Karl Schulhof was an officer in the synagogue in Olomouc and died shortly after the Briess family emigrated to England on June 30, 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two. Peter suspects that it was from natural causes though he also noted that the stress on his Grandfather with the family leaving may have been more than he could handle.
Peter recounts that most of his family remaining in Olomouc died during the war. His own immediate family’s escape from Olomouc was oddly facilitated because their family home was occupied by the Nazi Gestapo Commandant who moved into the family house at the start of the occupation. In exchange for leaving quietly, Briess’s family was given emigration papers. At that time the Nazis seemed to be more interested in ridding themselves of Jews, rather than slaughtering them.
The Olomouc Synagogue building was never rebuilt. Today, all that is left is a car park that the Jewish community draws incremental income.
My friend Rudolph Dub took me out for a beer at a nearby former Jewish-owned brewery called Moritz near the car park where the synagogue building used to stand.
Car Park where the Olomouc Synagogue used to stand
Rudolph Dub at the Moritz Brewery
Menu outside the Moritz Brewery. They were serving a special menu of “goose” dishes.
Olomouc’s pre-war population was about 2500 Jews. Today there are approximately 160 Jews in the community.
Peter shared details of the extensive Olomouc Diaspora that he has information on:
Some came to England:
Rudolph Littmann and Hanna, lawyer
Paul Fischer and Madi & 2 daughters
Robert Zaitschek.. timber business
Eva and Anita Graetzer sisters and nieces of my father who escaped on Kindertransport and later went to Australia
It is worth nothing that another series of memories from our trip was inspired by Roman and his wife Radka Gronsky’s recent visit to Peninsula Sinai last month for Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Roman was the community leader from Olomouc most responsible for driving the return of the scroll to Olomouc from Foster City.
Come again? Dayton, Ohio? You mean halfway between Indianapolis, IN and Columbus, OH? Just a hop, skip and a jump up the road from Cincinnati, OH, THAT Dayton, OH?
Well, yes…let me explain…
A few weeks ago, as I was researching the story of the 7 remaining Torah Scrolls from Ceske Budeovice, the home of Peninsula Sinai’s remaining Torah Scroll from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London. One of those scrolls is housed at Temple Israel, in Dayton. Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz is the Senior Rabbi there.
Temple Israel, Dayton, OH’s České Budějovice scroll (MST #313) . Temple Israel’s Conformation Class commissioned the cover with a star on a black background which is unconsumed by the flames surrounding it. The cover was handmade by Temple Israel President, Carol Finley.
Peninsula Sinai Congregation’s scroll from České Budějovice (MST #685, left), dressed in its beautiful High Holiday finery. Peninsula Sinai’s “Olomouc Scroll” (MST #740, right) was returned to Olomouc in October, 2017 at the behest of the Memorial Scrolls Trust and in partnership with the Olomouc community and Peninsula Sinai Congregation. The scroll had a blue band around the outside when this picture was taken, shortly before the High Holidays, indicating it was “passul” or ritually unfit. Through the efforts of Sofer Rabbi Moshe Druin and his “Sofer on Site” team, the scroll was completely repaired and rendered Kosher for ritual use in a ceremony in Olomouc in October, 2017 witnessed by hundreds of community members and witnesses from overseas.
I had a lovely conversation with Rabbi Bodney-Halasz about the shared legacy of our České Budějovice scrolls and of course shared our own remarkable story that included returning the MST’s scroll to its ancestral home in Olomouc.
Rabbi Bodney-Halasz was so taken by our story that she used it as primary source material for her Erev Rosh HaShanah Sermon on September 9, 2018.
With Rabbi Bodney-Halasz’s permission I am re-publishing part of her sermon here. I’m getting goose bumps just reading it again!
The major theme of her sermon was listening to the voices that call out to us during the Chagim, the Shofar being one of them. Our Olomouc story was another voice that inspired her (and us) this holiday season.
Excerpted from “Listen to the Voices of the Shofar”
Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779
September 9, 2018
There have been a lot of voices in my head lately. Don’t worry, there’s no need to call the doctor yet! They haven’t asked me to do anything nefarious or risky. They don’t stop me from doing work or reading books. I mostly tune them out, which is far better than trying to decipher meaning from the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s unintelligible teacher….
Hearing, for most people, happens effortlessly. It is passive- the exact opposite of listening. Listening is done with intention. I admit, I don’t always listen to everything my ears hear, especially sports. But the act of listening is fundamental to Rosh Hashanah. Also known as Yom Teruah, the Day of the Shofar Sounding, Rosh Hashanah requires us to LISTEN to the shofar. In fact, a person who has not listened to the shofar, even if he or she went to synagogue, does not get credit for observing the holiday. Even if he or she hears the shofar being blown, but not with the intent to fulfill the mitzvah of “lishmoa kol shofar” … that doesn’t count either. [The rabbis have put a LOT of thought into this!] In fact, if someone were to blow the shofar into a ditch and only hear its echo, that wouldn’t count (Talmud Rosh Hashana 27b)…
…And now today, on Rosh Hashanah, we hear the shofar call out as untold generations of Jews have done before us. We listen, “lishmoa,” to “kol shofar”, the voice of the shofar. And if we listen closely, we can hear the “kolot,” voices, of all who came before us, reminding us to do as they did at this season – to listen, to wake up, to return, to act, to improve…
…Over the past year, the kol shofar and the voices of all who have heard its blast before me, have called out to me. Unlike the voices calling out scores and plays of Cubs games from my television, I had been listening for these voices. And because I was ready to hear them, they stirred my soul, inspired me, and renewed my faith.
The first is the voice of a new friend, Steve Lipman, who attends Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, CA. Steve reached out to me after returning from Olomouc [‘Ȏlȏmōts] in the Czech Republic. How he ended up there is nearly impossible to believe.
In 2016, the most incredible request was made to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, the organization that has placed Czech Holocaust Scrolls into the care of thriving congregations around the world. It read:
Dear Mr. Chairman, I received information from Mr. Gronsky regarding Torah scrolls from our former synagogue in Olomouc. We are now in process to get any suitable or new Torah for our community because we have just one kosher Torah scroll and its status is deteriorating. It would be for us great satisfaction to get one of the Torah scrolls which was used by our grandfathers in Olomouc. Our community has 164 members. We have regular Shabbat services, strictly kosher kitchen and we have about 30-45 participants in those services. Let us know if it is possible to receive one of the Torahs and what we should do in this matter.
One of the conditions is that we need a Kosher Torah. The community of Olomouc [‘Ȏlȏmōts], whose Torahs had been on loan to Jewish communities abroad that promised to keep alive the memories of all who once read from them, once again needed a kosher Torah…
…Incredible, wouldn’t you say?! Olomouc’s [‘Ȏlȏmōts] synagogue had been set ablaze at night on March 15, 1939 and was pulled down. At first, its scrolls were gathered in the emerging Central Jewish Museum in Prague. During the turbulent post-WWII period, the museum was nationalized, and the scrolls were moved to a former synagogue in Prague.
In 1963, under the Communist regime, the Torahs from Michle and other scrolls, a total of 1,564 pieces, were sold to the congregation of the Westminster Synagogue in London, which established the Memorial Scrolls Trust to preserve and restore them.
The trust lends them to Jewish congregations across the world, particularly here in the United States. The Memorial Scrolls Trust reached out to Peninsula Sinai, where Steve belongs, to ask that they take on the sacred task of making their entrusted scroll kosher again and then return it to its former home in Olomouc [‘Ȏlȏmōts]. The(ir) rabbi, (Corey Helfand) without hesitation, responded to this call. The scroll that Peninsula Sinai had agreed to restore had rested in their ark for 47 years. It had been in use at their community nearly half a century. And before that, it remained in storage for nearly a quarter of a century. This would be the first time that Torah had been home in 78 years, and it would also be the first Torah returned out of more than 1,500 Bohemian and Moravian scrolls stored outside the Czech Republic.
I could go on and on about the incredible journey to Olomouc [‘Ȏlȏmōts] and the celebration that took place less than a year ago when Steve accompanied that scroll home. But Steve was reaching out to me for another reason. Peninsula Sinai had not one, but two, Holocaust scrolls.
The second scroll in their care was from České Budějovice, (CHES-kuh BUD e-OH-vit-zeh), the same community from which our memorial scroll originated. According to Steve, who has done an incredible amount of research, there were nine scrolls from the town altogether. Five are in the United States, and two in England.
When he visited Olomouc [‘Ȏlȏmōts], Steve decided to take a trip to see the town of České Budějovice, (CHES-kuh BUD e-OH-vit-zeh). Unfortunately, Budějovice had not experienced the same revival as Olomouc. All that remains of the Jewish community there is a stone monument to mark where the ornate Gothic synagogue, built in 1868, once stood.
Steve and I spoke at length about the home of our sister scrolls. České Budějovice, (CHES-kuh BUD e-OH-vit-zeh) is a large town on the Vltava (‘vǝltǝvǝ) River about 90 miles from Prague. It was once the capital of Southern Bohemia and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire now in the Czech Republic. Jews had lived there since the 14th Century. Before WWII the synagogue was the centre of Jewish life, in June 1939 the congregation was closed down. Soon after, Jewish businesses and homes were confiscated and on April 18, 1942, 909 remaining Jewish individuals were deported to Theresienstadt. The Germans blew up the synagogue on June 5, 1942.
By the end of the war, only 120 of the 1,500 Jews of České Budějovice were still alive. In 1991, only one Jew, an elderly woman, remained in the town. It is Steve’s dream to one day reunite all the scrolls in Budějovice. The Memorial Trust offers a Bar and Bat Mitzvah twinning program for congregations like ours with Czech Torah scrolls. Appropriately titled “Message from the Scrolls – Unlocking the Silence,” the curriculum they provide shares the following with those considering taking on this project.
…this scroll is very different. For if it had a voice it would speak of the brutal way its community was treated by the Nazis. It would tell how it was rescued by the curators of the Jewish Museum in Prague before they were taken away. The scroll survived the Holocaust. It is the remnant of a once flourishing Jewish community in Europe.”
Indeed, as I was listening to Steve Lipman, I heard the voice of our own Czech scroll for the first time.
This beloved Torah scroll, (residing at Temple Israel in Dayton, OH) with its mismatched atzei hayim, has sat quietly in our ark for years. Our scroll, written nearly 200 years ago, has long taught us of the genesis of the Jewish people, our exodus from slavery to freedom, and our march to the Promised Land. But, thanks to a new friend who invited me to listen more closely, it has also told the stories of those who had once read from it in České Budějovice, (CHES-kuh BUD e-OH-vit-zeh)…
…Spearheaded by Fran Rickenbach, Temple Israel is partnering with WYSO to undertake a unique oral history project to collect and share the voices of our community. We will hear from and about the characters who have helped to build it and who continue to sustain us. We will work to capture the memories and legacies of our members and their families so that, when we, or our children, are ready to listen, they will draw us in and inspire us with their deeds, values, and rich memories. To the voices of our own memories I will include the voice of our Memorial Scroll, and have asked Steve Lipman to help me with this, sharing his personal visit to her home…
…The most important mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to listen “lishmoa” to the shofar, that it may effectively wake us and call upon us to return to our Creator. This year, as we begin 5779, let us learn to listen a little better, with attentiveness, so that the sound of the shofar reverberates and resonates deep in our souls instead of falling upon ears that don’t listen. May the powerful blast, filled with the voices of all who have come before us, inspire us, wake us, and move us to live our lives with greater intention.”
Thank you so much Rabbi Bodney-Halasz for your inspiring words and telling the story of our remarkable shared heritage. I am awed by the kavod you have given us and our Olomouc story and I hope we continue to build the bonds between our two communities, halfway across the country from each other.