Yes, Virginia, there are several České Budějovice Scrolls

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.

PSC’s České Budějovice scroll (MST #685) is on the left. The Olomouc scroll (former MST #740) on the right (with the blue band) was still “passul” (ritually unfit/not Kosher) when this photo was taken in September, 2017 just after the High Holidays. Don’t they look beautiful in their High Holiday finery?

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

MST #529



I had a lovely email exchange with their Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Bearman, who told me that,

“I love this connection. Thank you for reaching out!
I also have to say that I’m envious of your visit with John Freund. I have a copy of his memoir and have used it to teach both students and adults about our scroll. His is truly a remarkable story.
Your congregation’s restoration the return of a Torah scroll is also an amazing story. I have never heard of anything like that happening, and I can only imagine that it was a beautiful and moving experience for everyone involved.
A few of years ago, (2016) a delegation from our synagogue brought our scroll to Sharon, MA for a regional “reunion” of Czech Scrolls. It was an emotional day and a powerful reminder of the historical community that we have adopted into our own.
Thank you again for reaching out.”
Their community has a great Pinterest page where they have been collecting in a central location, images and information related to their scroll and the Jewish community of Ceske Budejovice.

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

MST #313


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.

Do not be afraid

John Lewis: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

The past few weeks and certainly the past few days have got me thinking a lot about how we treat others, specifically immigrants, in our great country.

The arguments are familiar to all of us but suffice it to say, on a very personal level, I am the grandchild of immigrants from Poland/Russia who came to this country in search of a better life. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they had not taken that great leap of bravery and faith to come to this country in search of their own “Goldeneh Medinah.” Chances are I would not be here, but that’s a story for another day.


My Dad, Bernard Lipman’s father, Louis Lipman (Z’L), was an immigrant from the town of Brest-Litovsk in Belarus (Louis is the young boy in the soldier costume, pictured on the left side of the photo on his father Moshe (Z’L)’s knee.). Louis’s sister Sonia (Z’L) is pictured in the center and his Mother, Rachel (Z’L), is pictured on the right.

Today it’s immigrants and refugees on our southern border and from places like Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries that are taking up all the oxygen. I make no bones about my opposition to our current despicable administration, which at its core has demonized and de-humanized immigrants and refugees as a means of providing succor to its base. I’m appalled by their behavior.

I’ve never personally felt what some immigrants must feel today at our borders. About 45 years ago on a family trip to San Diego, for some reason we decided to take a bus. At the immigration checkpoint on I-5 near San Onofre, I recall my Mom being questioned by an agent because she had gotten a suntan on the trip and must have caused some suspicion. I filed that experience away and never really thought about until today. And that was during the LBJ Administration.

I was talking with my sister Elizabeth the other day about my strong feeling that we need to focus on the important issues and not get caught up in all the stupid stuff that our President seems to revel in stirring up as a means of distracting us from the damage he and his administration are doing to our country and to our great democracy. Of course reasonable people can disagree but, at least for me there are certain issues that call me “to the barricades.” The last time I felt this strongly was in January, 2017 when the halls of the International Terminal at SFO were overflowing with protesters of the first attempt at a “Muslim Ban” by the administration.

The words of Rav Nachman of Bratslav “Lo Lefached klal” (“Do not to be afraid at all”) started echoing in my head and struck me as a very important and applicable text from our tradition after the last few weeks of “strum and drang” over immigration.

The world/politics/the news may indeed be a narrow place but eventually things will turn out OK with good works, deeds and actions. But it’s also on us to take those actions when necessary. We need to be vigilant, engaged and take action when we feel strongly on those issues.

In the end, I have to believe that evil will not triumph over good.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I drove home from Santa Cruz. I passed this sign at Waddell Beach off Highway 1.


The music is by many different artists but the melody is stirring.

Of course I had to do a U-Turn and take note of the occasion.

כל העולם כלו
גשר צר מאד
והעקר לא לפחד כלל

“Kol HaOlam Kulo, Gesher Tzar M’od. V’ha-Ikar, lo lefached klal”

(“And the main thing to recall – is not to be afraid – not to be afraid at all”)

Lo Lefached Klal. Do not be afraid, but do not be still or silent when evil rears its ugly head!

To quote another source from our wise tradition from Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers).

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור

ולא אתה בן חורין

להבטל ממנה

“Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, V’lo ata ben chorin lehibatel mimena”

It’s not for you to finish the task, but you are not free to cease trying

The odds may seem stacked against us and we don’t need to fix the entire problem. That’s an impossible task. But we do need to take action and not stand idly by when others are in danger. So what are any of us prepared to do?

“Ani V’Ata, Nishaneh et Ha-Olam” (to quote one last sage, Arik Einstein.) “You and I can change the world.”

Last Bus to Olomouc

Just a short post to commemorate today’s visit back to Olomouc by members of my Synagogue community on the way from Prague to Warsaw. The Olomouc community hosted all 40 of them and made a nice BBQ lunch for them.


Roman Gronsky and Rabbi Helfand

How could Linda Oberstein and I forget Helga Smékalová our 88-year-old Tereizin survivor? Helga spent over an hour with us, telling her story of survival and courage to us. Her daughter, Radka Smith from Australia translated for us. Learning her story was among the highlights of the trip for me! I am told Mrs. Smékalová is one of the oldest members of the Maccabi Olomouc Club, as well.

Petr unroll the Torah Photo Credit Sari Spector
Rabbi Helfand shows off the scroll to members of the PSC Community. Photo Credit Sari Spector
Dancing with the Torah. Photo Credit Sari Spector
BBQ (Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)
(Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)
Torah (Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)
Petr Papousek, President of the Olomouc Jewish Community (Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)
Hora with the Torah (Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)
Group Shot (Photo Credit, Julie Mabel)

Video Credit: Julie Mabel

Good times and so glad our shul could come back en masse and see a little bit of the amazing story we experienced last year. Wish I could have been there with them this time!

Take the last train to Clarksville
And I’ll meet you at the station
You can be there by four-thirty
‘Cause I’ve made your reservation, don’t be slow
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
‘Cause I’m leaving in the morning
And I must see you again
We’ll have one more night together
Till the morning brings my train and I must go
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home
Take the last train to Clarksville
I’ll be waiting at the station
We’ll have time for coffee-flavored kisses
And a bit of conversation
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
Take the last train to Clarksville
Now I must hang up the phone
I can’t hear you in this noisy railroad station all alone
I’m feeling low
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home
Take the last train to Clarksville
And I’ll meet you at the station
You can be here by four-thirty
‘Cause I’ve made your reservation, don’t be slow
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville
Songwriters: Bobby Hart / Tommy Boyce
Last Train to Clarksville lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Etz Chaim on United Flight 58 just before leaving SFO in October, 2017, by the “Peninsula Sinai Three Amigos Singers”…no rights reserved 😁

My eyes are on Israel, today–Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day)–Israel @70

No more Memorial Candles! No more somber music! No more visits to Military Cemeteries (for now)! No more sirens (for now)!

It has been too long since my last visit to Israel. How long? Well 2008 was the last time I was there


and I was still doing this!


Working on the Sidekick LX and showing off 2008’s hot new smartphone on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv!


My cute 10-year old cousin Michal (who’s now 20 and just finished her Army service) greeted me at the door of their apartment with this. I’ll forgive her for misspelling my name, it was just too cute!

I just finished watching the State Opening of the 70th Independence Day from Har Herzl in Jerusalem and this is Israel in all its prideful, nationalistic fervor! 12 torches lit by 12 dignitaries from across the Israeli social, political and religious spectrum. I was actually selfishly hoping that Omri Casspi (late of the Golden State Warriors) would receive the honor of lighting one of the torches, but apparently he had to decline with his late release from the Warriors’ roster to make way for Quinn Cook.

I would have even taken actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik of the “Big Bang Theory” who publicly urged her fans to push for her nomination of one of the torches reserved for Diaspora Jews. Sadly, no! At least they also passed on Ivanka and Alan Dershowitz as well. (I once taught her older brother Isaac in Havurat Noar in LA back in the day and she was the little kid sister that just radiated star-power in her pre-Blossom/Orphan Annie/Amy Farrah Fowler days, so way to go kid! I knew you way back when!)

Her post said: “You may not know this is a thing, but in Israel every year, a torch is lit on Mount Herzl for Israeli Independence Day. Apparently, nominations are ‘open’ and I have been mentioned along with some pretty…heavy hitters lol. If you’d like to nominate me, I would appreciate that! I would be unbelievably honored to even be nominated as a candidate for this tremendous honor!”

They did end up honoring Dr, Avshalom Kor, the well-known linguist and radio personality who used once tried to translate the Ikea Catalogue into proper Hebrew but also took some flack for his comments on Palestinians in 2014. OK, so no one’s perfect, right?

Dr. Kor used to be part of my morning wake-up routine on Galei Tzahal with his quirky radio segment “B’Ofen Mulili” on Hebrew language and grammar. The show based on a grammatical root of any given Hebrew word and/or name of the day, along with its Biblical origins and contextual references. Geeky Cool!


Afterwards, Druze spiritual leader Shaykh Mowafaq Tarif was invited to light his torch along with a medical researcher, an IAF pilot/Paralympic hero, a Haredi high-tech trailblazer who advocates for ultra-Orthodox women’s incorporation in the work force and Shlomo Artzi, one of my favorite musicians.


(OK the clip is a little weird, in that it was from 2013 at Shimon Peres’ Presidential Conference and the image of Bibi rocking out is only slightly counterbalanced by the look on Bill Clinton and Barbara Streisand’s faces! They seemed to be enjoying it.) Come back to San Francisco, Shlomo, and I’ll be there!

Israelis are very matter-of-fact. It’s one of the qualities I’ve always admired in them. And tonight, that quality is on full display as we transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut. At 7:59 PM, it’s heavy, sad and full of introspection and contemplation. But at 8:01 PM the switch flips and it’s unbridled joy, BBQs, Picnics in the national parks and airshows on the Beach in Tel Aviv.

Here’s a small sample of the fun taking place today and tomorrow in Jerusalem, alone.

It’s the Annual Chidon HaTanach (the National Bible Quiz) where some “illui” (prodigy) or 8-year-old wunderkind from Paramus, New Jersey always manages to wow the judges with their encyclopedic knowledge of Torah and “Nach.”


It’s adolescent silly string/shaving cream fights and bopping each other on the heard with plastic inflatable hammers.


It’s MEAT! Serious Meat on the “Mangal” BBQd on thousands of grills in parks and beaches across the country. (an Israeli American comedian, Benji Lovitt, once called “Yom HaAztmaut the Hebrew word for BBQ half a Cow!”)



Whatever it is, there is a whole lot to be proud of, and I am proud of all that Israel has accomplished in 70 short years! Here’s to the next 70!

!יום העצמאות שמח

Happy Independence Day, Israel!

My eyes are on Israel, today–Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day)

70 years aint chicken feed! It’s an amazing accomplishment. Something to be proud of; Something to worry about; Something to be exasperated with; Something to be vigilant about.

Just now, across Israel, the first of two air raid sirens sounded. 1 minute. Silence, noise, a metaphorical shofar, bowed heads. In another 15 hours, a 2 minute siren. The nation grinds to a halt and began to consider the men and women who sacrificed their lives for the State. Ruby Rivlin, President of the State is expressing the condolences of the nation to the “Mishpachot Ha-Shcolot” (the famlies of the 23,645 security personnel have died while serving since 1860.)

This year, Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) begins at sundown on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 followed the next day by Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day). It’s a long standing tradition, going back nearly to the founding of Israel, that Memorial Day immediately precedes Independence Day. It really is a day of “emotional whiplash.” A day of sadness and introspection followed immediately by a day of wild celebrations. In fact Yom HaZikaron ends around 8 PM every year. The transition is pretty wrenching. It’s almost as if “at 7:59 PM, we’re sad. and at 8:01 we’re deliriously happy.” Add to the fact that this year we will commemorate 70 years since the founding of the State of Israel in May, 1948 and you just know that this year’s celebrations will be epic!

I’ve always thought Israel does this the right way.

“The Secular Zionist High Holidays”

A guide I once had in Israel,described the period between Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, one week earlier) in Israel, and Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut as the “Secular Zionist High Holidays.”

From Yom HaShoah where 6 million Jewish victims of the largest tragedy to befall the Jewish people through to Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAztmaut, these 10+ days are quite meaningful. Since many Israelis are not religiously observant, the religious high holidays in the Fall (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) take on a very different meaning than this period of time in the Spring. The secular Zionist high holidays are nearly universally observed, except by small, fringe segments of the Orthodox communities and many, but not all, non-Jewish communities in Israel.

There’s a famous poem that’s read every year on Yom HaZikaron called “Magash HaKesef” (“The Silver Platter”).

With the UN Vote for the partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947 , people around the world stated that the state of Israel was handed over on a “silver platter.” Chaim Weizman, who would become the first president of Israel, gave the following quote to HaAretz newspaper on December 15, 1947: “A nation is not handed over on a silver platter (אין מדינה ניתנת לעם על מגש של כסף).”

A poem, by Israel’s National Poet, Natan Alterman, appeared in Alterman’s column, “The Seventh Column” in the “Davar” newspaper of December 19, 1947.

Nearly 1% of Israel’s pre-war population died in the 1948 War of Independence. Think about that, for a second. Extrapolate that to the US and that’s nearly 3.3 Million people today!

My Personal Connection to Yom HaZikaron

I’ve been in Israel twice on this holiday.

The first time was during my year in Israel at HUC in 1987 and I was privileged to witness it from the courtyard of the Rene Cassin Municipal High School in Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem.

We arrived at about 10:30 AM and the courtyard was filled with kids babbling about this teen drama or that piece of gossip. It was Spring, exams were approaching and I’m sure they had many things on their minds. The ceremony began and the mood flipped 180 degrees as the faculty started reading out the names of those alumni of the school who had sacrificed their lives defending the State. (Rene Cassin was known at the time as a school that had sent a very high proportion of its graduates into the IDF Officers’ Corps) Pre-State, 1948, 1956 (Great Grandparents, Grandparents); 1967, 1973 (Parents and Older siblings); 1980, 1986 (Friends and Classmates). Then at 11 AM, the Siren went off across the country and I was stunned but what I saw, what I felt and what I heard.

There’s no celebration of a nation’s independence without being mindful of those that sacrificed to make and keep the State. Everyone, in Israel, it seems, knows someone who has died in holy service to the nation or in an act of terror. It’s immediate, it’s personal, and its very sad.

In 2008, my most recent visit to Israel in honor of Israel’s 60th Birthday, I was in the Military Cemetery in Kiryat Shemona in the far north of the country, literally spitting distance from Lebanon and Syria. This town had been hammered during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 by rockets and artillery from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Many of their children gave their lives in that awful conflict.

I was in the Military Cemetery that day at 10:30 AM and the mood was decidedly different. The first thing I noticed as I got off the bus was the sound of crying. A woman was prostrate on the ground weeping over what appeared to be the grave of a close relative. Talk about being hit between the eyes! Hundreds of people were milling about under a large white tent covering the graves of the fallen. Some brought flowers, some milled about quietly chatting and hugging. I noticed a bunch of old men with what appeared to be Russian military uniforms bedecked with old Soviet army medals. I guess a lot of Jews from the Former Soviet Union settled in Kiryat Shemona. I happened upon a family I did not know standing next to one of the graves, and I asked if it was OK if I joined them, and they graciously agreed. They told me the story of their son who died in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and in some way I felt that I was part of that family, if only in a small way.

The siren sounded at 11 AM and had a different quality, probably because the loudspeakers were aimed downtown and the Cemetery is a little but out in the hinterlands. This is what it sounded like.

After all that, let’s hope for happier times.

One side benefit of Yom HaZikaron is that the radio and television switch to somber, sad music. There’s also a lot of “oldies” on the radio. Take a listen.

Postscript: My tradition, if I cannot be in Israel, is to participate in some small way by listening to the 2-minute Siren over the Internet. So here it was, just a few minutes ago on Reshet Gimmel:

B’reisheet to Radical Amazememt. A collection of amazing moments


50 Years ago, PSC started a journey. 47 years ago, The Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, England gave PSC, on permanent loan, 2 Torah scrolls rescued from the Nazis. 4 months ago, in October, 2017, I just privileged to be part of a delegation from our synagogue to return a 200-year-old Torah Scoll to its ancestral home in the town of Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Yesterday, our synagogue began the process of replacing that scroll and writing a brand new Torah scroll to commemorate the 50 year history.

It was a truly fun day with about 60 families participating in theMitzvah of helping to write a letter in that scroll. A real Breisheet moment!

Over the course of the next 9 months, we will write a new scrol, raise some significant funds for the synagogue, and build community by filling in letters from beguning to end with the able assistance of our Sofer Rabbi Moshe Druin.

It got me thinking about other B’reisheet moments I’ve had in my life.

One was sitting on the beache on the Big Island of Hawaii with my aunt Fritzi and Bubbie Ruth Z’L about 28 years ago, watching lava flow into the Pacific Ocean from the Kilauea Volcano. I remember sitting mesmerized on the shore watching the hissing lava flow into the Pacific and throwing up a huge plume of steam. It was almost as if the world was being created right in front of my eyes. Truly, “in the begining.”

Another was standing on an eerily silent highway outside of Jackson, WY on a late summer morning, gazing at the Grand Tetons in all their majesty. When I had arrived in Jackson, WY a few days earlier, it had been pouring rain and so the view had been obscured.

I remember standing awestruck on that road looking at the beautiful majestic panorama in front of me.

Earlier that week I recall having a similar moment standing at the foot of Old Faithful.

and the other nearby Geysers.

Then, there was staring at the majesty of Niagara Falls.

or the magnificent beauty of the City I am privileged to call home.

One Breisheet memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget was this past August in Columbia, Missouri staring up in “Radical Amazement” (as A.J. Herschel put it) at an incredibly rare totally eclipse of the Sun.



Article in Zidovske listy 43 – December 2017. A long return of Torah No. 740 to Olomouc (by Roman Gronsky, Jocelyn and Doron’s Cousin in Olomouc)

An article by Roman Gronsky who orchestrated the return of the scroll to Olomouc from Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City. (Translation from the Czech by Google Translate.)


In my search for the family roots and fate of our family members, in 2015, I found that two scrolls of the Olomouc Torah survived the burning of the Nazi synagogue in Olomouc 15 March 1939 and the following difficult period.

In 1700 Prague had the largest Jewish the population in Europe that was at that time, 11, 000 people, while at the same time. thousands of Jews in London and even less in New York.  In the middle of the 19th century already the Czech-Moravian territory lived 115,000 Jews in 340 communities, but many of them were very small. Many were concentrated in bigger cities and just before World War II in 1939 was already in our country only 200 communities. After the border was blocked both building and other monuments in this area, just like in Germany, almost all destroyed.

After the Nazi occupation the rest of the republic was controlled by the Germans. Jewish property including religious items in particular the Torah Scrolls, their ornaments and also books and textiles that were gathered in the Prague Jewish Museum.

The Jewish Museum workers were forced to catalog these objects until their deportation. 40 warehouses had to be expanded about another 14!

In 1950 the Czechoslovak State took over the Jewish museum including  2000 scrolls into the 18th century synagogue in Prague Michle.

Hard currency and saving scrolls
Due to its need for hard (western) currency, there was a sale of Czechoslovak scrolls by the State to Artia. In 1963, Artia contacted a Prague American art dealer, Eric Estoric, who lived in London, to find the buyer. He found a member The London Reform Synagogue, Philanthropist, Ralph Yablon who provided experts of Judaic and Hebrew Manuscripts who came to the storehouse in the Michel Synagogue.  For twelve days he examined about 500 Torah scrolls there and then a purchase agreement was concluded.  Consequently, 1564 Czech and Moravian scrolls we sent by two trucks to the Great

In the following years thanks to the care of a new owner in Westminster Synagogue in London, most of the scrolls were repaired and rehabilitated. David Brand, Orthodox Sofer came to Westminster Synagogue in London in search of a job. For more than 30 years he worked on the restoration of the Torahs from the Czech Republic and so saved them for the next generation.

It was agreed that scrolls from Czechoslovakia would be distributed as long-term loans
to Jewish communities around the world.

To date, there have been 1400 scrolls sent from the Czech Republic to the Jewish
communities, and other organizations all over the world from Australia, New Zealand,
South Africa, South America, and Israel.  More than a thousand are in the US.

Although London’s Westminster Synagogue is not an Orthodox community, it gives preferred status to communities that Kasher their Torah scrolls and use them for religious purposes, and so were the Torahs are lent to the USA.

At the Westminster Synagogue a foundation was established (The Memorial Scrolls Trust) ,MST, which “manages”, long-term loans of the scrolls.

If the Jewish community (loaned the scroll) ceases to operate (a few cases a year) they must be returned. The MST created a museum in Westminster Synagogue to display  130 scrolls. The Torahs, includes over 400 covers is one of the largest collections in the world.

As far as silver vestments are concerned, some are borrowed from the Jewish Museum in Prague by the in cooperation with the Westminster synagogue. Thanks to US sponsors
now all materials are digitized, to capture the over fifty years of these loans.  There is also another is an attempt to map the history of the MST Scrolls and establish a closer connection between the MST and the borrowers.
The Torah scroll is not only understood as a religious object, but it is also seen as a witness surviving the Shoah. These scrolls link the past and the present and are links the the communities (that have the scrolls) and the Czech communities that were destroyed in the Shoah.

The Olomouc Torah’s return home

It was by impulse that I decided to find out whether there is a possibility to have at least one of these scrolls returned to Olomouc. On December 21, 2015, I had partial success. Rabbi Thomas Salomon of the Westminster Synagogue and Jeffrey
Ohrenstein, Chief of the MST returned my email.  I already knew one scroll was in New Jersey and the other in California. That’s what started my intense written contact that culminated by agreeing a personal meeting in London in March, 2016. After negotiations in London I visited with the President of Prague Jewish community, Petr Papoušk, to update him, and an official correspondence between ŽOO (The Olomouc Jewish Community) and MST. Because I was traveling regularly to London, I stayed in touch with Jeffrey and made a written and personal contact. I met him again in November,  2016, in New York, on the observance of the anniversary of Krystalnacht on November 9, 1938, at the Calvary Hospital in the Bronx.

They have Torah No. 515, written in 1880 from Domazlice and is
from 1880. MST loaned it to them in November, 1987 at the request of the cantor of Naobut Grosse. In November, 2015, they undertook a costly repair of this scroll by Rabbi and Levi Selwyn, thanks to the financial support of Charles R. and Wini-
fred R. Weber Foundation. In this case, I arranged a personal meeting.

Jeffrey Ohrenstein and a member of our ZOO Paul Rausnitz, who was at that time
also in NYC and later significantly contributed financial support for the repair of the Olomouc Torah.

Since then, the whole affair has progressed slowly but surely ahead. When I get back with Jeffrey and personally met in his London office on May 26, 2017, he had already spoken to the Californian Jewish community, Peninsula Sinai in Foster City which had agreed to return Olomouc Torah No. 740 from (written in 1880 and loaned to the Congregation in 1970) to Olomouc.  It was agreed that the Scroll with be returned Kosher and that part of the cost of its repair would be shared together with the MST. At the same time it was agreeded that a solemn return would take place within the Days of Jewish Culture in October, 2017, in the presence of members of this community.
The good thing happened after two years negotiations, and an 8000 km airplane journey from San Francisco, across the Atlantic Ocean to Prague. The Peninsula Sinai delegation came to Olomouc on October 19 on the train from Prague where I met them at the Train Station. First came Rabbi Corey Helfand with the Torah scroll and then with the other members of the delegation.

All we knew about the scroll was (two-dimensional?).  We did not know what it really looked like. Few knew that is needed to be transported in a golf bag. This scroll had its own ticket (on United Airlines) and had its own airplane his seat, and was transported in Economy Plus class.


Finally, the festive day …

On Sunday, October 22, after more than two hours of festivities, we completed the scroll with Sofer Rabbi Moshe Druin, who had worked on this Torah scroll for months).  We all had the opportunity to write a letter in the Torah scroll. Then it was handed over from Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chief Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, to of the chairman of the Jewish Community of Olomouc, Petr Papoušk. Additionally, members of our community and the Ambassador to the Czech Republic from Israel, Daniel Meron, and Rabbi Efraim Sidon, (chief Rabbi of the Czech Republic) members of the United States congregation of Foster City headed by Rabbi Corey Helfand, Cantor Doron Shapira and Steve Lipman and (and Ron and Liz Mester, Andrea and Andy Hawksley and Dr, Linda Oberstein also were in attendance) but also representatives Moravian Jewish communities.

From London also came Peter Briess, who was the only one who still remembered this this scroll from the the original synagogue in 1938, when he was 7 years old.

It is also interesting that the Olomouc Scroll was not completely detached from the Olomouc Jewish Community.  Cantor Doron Shapira’s wife is Jocelyn Pascoe-Shapiro, daughter of Otty Karpfen, whose grandmother Lisl (nee) Grüner, was an important Jewish Jew in Olomouc. She was a sportswoman, an excellent tennis player, and one
of the first Czechoslovak pilots and member pre-war Olomouc Hanácký aero club, She managed in good time before the war to emigrate to the US).

This restoration of Olomouc Torah scroll to kosher status is historically the first time that a Torah scroll from the collection sold by Czechoslovakia in 1964 had returned to its original community.  I am very glad that from my efforts have contributed to the continuation of traditions from the legacy of our ancestors and that it is not only Olomouc, but also the whole Czech Jewish community that has benefited from this.

text / photo by R. Gronský (additional photos by Steve Lipman)



United Airlines “Hemispheres” Magazine, December, 2017 issue: “Sacred Passenger”


I could not let it pass that my picture appears on page 14 of the December 2017 issue of the United Airlines “Hemispheres” magazine. Thanks to my friend Michael Hayat for all the hard work getting us the red carpet treatment last month! If you happen to be flying “The Friendly Skies” this month, see if you can snag me a copy, will you? Ping me and I will get you my snail mail address! 🙂

Now on to the main topic of this blog post:

From the November edition of “Chajejnu” the Olomouc Jewish Community Magazine

This was the best I could do with Google Translate from the Czech!

From Rabbi Corey Helfand, Peninsula Sinai Congregation

Continuing from the November issue: Lech Lecha!

When we later were in Prague, Cantor Doron, Steve Lipman, Linda Oberstein and I, we went through a Jewish Neighborhood, we visited the local Synagogues, the Chevre Kadisha and Old Jewish cemetery. There was a monument To the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, who was a great scholar Torah of the sixteenth century. The Kli Yakar in his commentary on Parshat Lech Lecha expresses one interesting idea: the phrase לך לך — means go ,we have to go לעצמותך, for yourself, as part of exploring the Our עצם, our essence, the core of our identities. What makes Abraham’s journey so strange is that it wasn’t only about physical movement and territorial change. He left everything behind. It was a spiritual journey.

This moment “Lech” The physical identity was also about the reinforcing the hidden part of our souls. I perceive it as if our journey with the Torah was just about the physical Transport for for 6000 miles, the search of financial resources and telling a story, as well as the spiritual and emotional dimension.

As many of you have seen in the photos, traveling with Torah we felt like VIPs. In San Francisco, we were on escorted on board the aircraft 30 min. early, before the other passengers, we posed for photographers with On-board staff, while we sang “Etz Haim”, The Tree of Life is Torah.
The flight crew was touched to hear our story, including one flight attendant who has a Jewish friend and was with him at Yom Kippur. Also, our Pilot, a pious and spiritual woman who was so struck that she came out before the flight to see and touch the scroll.

Random bystanders at airports as in the United States and Frankfurt, included one woman in Frankfurt who was originally upset that our “golf clubs” (the Torah Scroll was transported in a “glof club bag”) as were sitting on the seat in the boarding area to Prague. After we told her the story of the scroll, she confided that Her family comes from Olomouc.

After we arrived in Prague, we spent the evening and the following morning touring the Jewish Quarter and then we then boarded the RegioJet Train to Olomouc. There we were warmly welcomed Roman Gronský, Jocelyn and Doron’s cousin, the man who was probably responsible for this whole action

After a quick stay in our hotel we went to the museum, where we saw a festive opening of the Exhibitions Olomouc Synagogue 1897-1939. Although we did not understand most of the ceremony because it was in Czech, we were clearly feeling warm and acknowledged that the Torah was coming home.

From Peter Briess (who was present as a young boy in Olomouc and remembers the Rabbi Oppenheim, reading from the scroll before the Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis at the start of the occupation in March 1939. Rabbi Oppenheim was deported and killed in Auschwitz by the Nazis.)

… I can describe the return of the coil Torah to Olomouc as a very special event. I think it was The first time one of the Czech scrolls had been returned. How sad it is that the original splendor of the synagogue from which it originated was burned. This senseless destruction for me symbolizes indescribable brutality.

I can ‘t forget the life the enterprising Jewish community. With 2200 members who once lived here. I visited with our relatives and friends. I put myself back home. It should be noted that during the thirty years when the community existed (1897-1939) the municipality of Olomouc was very successful and built a spectacular Synagogue.

I think the exhibition that is this synagogue was beautiful and illustrates this fact. Was
I am struck by the fact that it is located at the Archdiocesan Museum. Unfortunately, I could not attend the festive opening of this exhibition. But I joined the beautiful synagogue services led by American rabbis at Shabbat and, of course, also excellent organised and prepared events on Sunday October 22nd.

I was learned with Rabbi Moshe Druin the Sofer who repaired our Torah) and was very emotional. I had the great joy that I was asked to do a Hakafah with the newly Kosher scroll by Petr Papuusek. I knew his grandfather Milos and I have the greatest admiration for Petr for what he has achieved in conducting this community for the last few years.

I hope the newly repaired Torah will, for many years, be safe and kept by the community for many years and be used regularly.

The souls of our ancestors would certainly be pleased. I would also like to express my pleasure from well prepared snacks and also the opportunity and great honor to meet Jeffrey Ohresteina, Roman Gronsky and other important guests.

Thank you all involved for the absolutely wonderful day for which I will never forget.

With the desire of all good…

(Photo caption: Last taken photo P. Briess and his sisters together with their grandparents Shul just before their departure from Czechoslovakia.)

Then there is a piece that I blogged about in the last issue of this blog on Kurt the Hairdresser.”

See November 10th: Kurt the Hairdresser: Another amazing layer to the Olomouc Story

Kurt the Hairdresser: Another amazing layer to the Olomouc Story

Are you ready for another incredible layer to the Olomouc Torah story?

On our walks to-and-from the Hotel Arigone to the Jewish Community building in Olomouc we always passed by the Olomouc Art Museum (Denisova 47, 771 11 Olomouc, Czech Republic [tel.: +420 585 514 111; e-mail: ].


~1939, The Olomouc Art Museum

The Art Museum hosted the historical exhibition of the old Jewish Synagogue building that was destroyed by the Nazis on the first day of their occupation of Olomouc in 1939. They hosted a gala opening ceremony during our visit, on October 19th at the Archbishop’s Palace to a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of people.

Part One of the Gala Opening Ceremony

Part Two of the Gala Opening Ceremony

The Olomouc Art Museum was the place where us tourists, with some degree of bemusement, watched the “hanging guy” (as we called him) traverse his way along the ledge every hour on the hour, grunting and yelling and squirming as he went. It is actually the work of artist David Černý and is a mechanical moving sculpture, that dangles from the museum facade, slowly creeping along its ledge. I’m told it is supposed to represent an “art thief” making his escape. Even if it wasn’t supposed to be funny, we all laughed!


The so called “Hanging Guy” from the Olomouc Art Museum.

Well, it turns out there is another connection to our trip! It starts with the story of Kurt the Hairdresser. What’s that you say?

All of the women in my Mom’s family have, for decades, been going to a hair dresser in Los Angeles named Kurt Ralston. My Bubbie Ruth Sternhill (Z’L) started going to him in the 1950s and she was followed at various times by my Mom, Sherri, her sisters Fritzi, Leslie and Maryl and their children Becky and Erin.

To hear Bubbie talk about him, Kurt was almost an honorary member of the family!

My Bubbie, Ruth Sternhill (Z’L). Kurt did her hair for years at his salon in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Literally as my plane touched down in SFO from Prague, My Aunt Leslie emailed me to tell me that Kurt is from Olomouc! And, according to Kurt’s wife, Judy,

Kurt lived in the building that today houses the Olomouc Art Museum!

“Kurt (Harry) Reichenbaum, and all his relatives (The Donaths) on his mothers side, were all born in the house that today houses the Olomouc Art Museum!”

How’s that for an incredibly small world?

As I wrote in blog posts before, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!”

Kurt’s “coming to America” story is amazing, in and of itself.

Kurt was a 9 year-old boy in 1938-39. Just days before his family left Olomouc, with the Nazis fast on their heels, Kurt contracted Scarlet Fever . Having no choice, Kurt’s family made the difficult choice to leave him behind, in the care of others.

When Kurt recovered, he made his was to New York City alone on a boat that he was told would be waiting for him in Italy. When the boat arrived in New York, no one came to meet him. Why? When a distant relative heard he was on the boat and came to find him, he told Kurt “We didn’t come to meet you because we thought you had died.”


But survive Kurt did, and he made his way to Chicago and then to Los Angeles where he attended Hollywood High.

Famous Hollywood High alumni include: Valerie Bertinelli, Vincent Bugliosi, Carol Burnett, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., Warren Christopher, Laurence Fishburne, John Huston, Alan Ladd, Carole Lombard, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Ritter, Jason Robards, Mickey Rooney, and Joseph Wapner, just to name a few.

At Hollywood High, Kurt was a star football player, and a self-proclaimed ‘jock.’ Kurt needed a job after graduating high school, so a friend with a hair salon in Beverly Hills convinced Kurt to attend cosmetology school. Kurt has been a hair dresser ever since. He reports that as a young man, “it was a great way to meet beautiful women!

Kurt, and his wife Judy, live in Sherman Oaks. At 87, Kurt is still styling hair for the “beautiful women” of the San Fernando Valley. I’d like to think that list list of clients includes, my Aunts, their children and grandchildren, and occasionally my Mom.

Bubbie, if you’re reading this, I hope you are smiling down from heaven!

Bubbe’s Yartzeit dates through 2035

If you are ever in LA and need to have your hair cut/styled, check out Kurt’s salon at 13632 Moorpark St., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Tell him Ruth Sternhill sent you. Kurt will get a kick out of it! 🙂

The road to to Ceske Budejovice: Silent witnesses from our second Czech Sefer Torah

Saturday, September 30, 2017, Yom Kippur morning, I was sitting in my usual place in Shul, having just completed my Torah reading. The person honored with Hagbah (the lifting of the Torah) was sitting rather uncomfortably with some back spasms. Our Cantor motioned to me and asked if I could relieve him and sit with the Torah during the Rabbi’s sermon.

I knew that I was going to be taking a trip to Olomouc to return the Torah to its ancestral home in a few weeks. But this Torah was different. It was our second Czech scroll from Ceske Budejovice. As I sat with that scroll, I have to honestly admit I did not hear a word of what the Rabbi said. What I did hear were ghosts; the ghosts of the Jews of Ceske Budejovice talking to me. At that very moment on that holy day of the year, I could not help but imagine what the town and its people looked like. I honestly had no idea. So as I was sitting there, I hatched a plan to go and see for myself. I had no idea how or where I would do it but I was determined to bear witness and to represent my community in that Czech town.

All during this trip we’ve been talking about the Olomouc Scroll’s return to its ancestral home and rightfully so. Now it was time to switch focus, to our second Sefer Torah. The Ceske Scroll is the one on the left. The one on the right, is the Olomouc Scroll. At the time it had the blue band around the outside signifying that it was not yet Kosher. However both scrolls look especially beautiful in their High Holiday finery, don’t you think?


Ceske Budejovice is in the Sudethenland,


near the border with Austria and Germany, that infamous piece of real estate that Arthur Neville Chamberlain, British Conservative politician and prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940 came back from Munich in 1938, waving a white piece of paper and claiming to have made an agreement with Hitler for “peace in our time.” It was a pipe dream because no manner of appeasement would have stopped Hitler and his malign intentions. It’s actually a beautiful part of the Czech Republic and resembles the area around Lake Tahoe, I thought. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive south of Prague and the Fall Foliage was out in full force, as you can see.

Jews had lived in the area since the 14th Century, a modern community established in 1848 and a beautiful Gothic synagogue, built in 1868.

1138 Jews lived in Ceske Budejovice at the start of World War Two. In June 1939 the offices of the congregation were closed down. Jewish shops were attacked on July 21, and on August 16, 1940, the Jews had to relinquish their homes. On April 18, 1942, 909 were deported to the death camps. Another 386 who had previously left the area were also deported during the war. The Germans blew up the synagogue on June 5, 1942.Today, there are practically no Jews left in the area.

Today Ceske Budejovice (Budvar in German) is the home of Czech Budweiser which is actually pretty good beer. It is not the same Budweiser that we drink here in the US. That Budweiser is named in large part due to a disputed marketing arrangement with the Czech government.

All that is left of the Jewish community is a small stone monument in the middle of Ceske Budejovice where the building once stood in the middle of a nondescript town square.

I was on my way with my companions down to a town called Ceske Krumlov which has a beautiful medieval castle and town not unlike Hearst Castle. I asked out guide if she could make a quick stop in Ceske Budejovice and she happily agreed. The live stream video below shows what our brief visit looked like:

My visit to Ceske Budejovice

The visit was brief and so I decided to try and take as much of it in as I could so that I could report back to my friends from PSC what that area looks like. Since there is no community left, our Torah scroll is a silent witness to that community and we should honor it as we honor them.

May the memories of the Jews that perished in Ceske Budejovice be for a blessing and let’s think of them each time we use their Torah Scroll in our community in the future.

יהי זכרונותיהם לברכה

One small addition to this Blog Post from December 27, 2018:

I was put in touch with a gentleman named John Freund who grew up in Ceske Budejovice and this is what he wrote me:

“Hello Steve Lipman, what an amazing trip you had in the Czech Republic! Wonderful!

Yes, my family lived in Ceske Budejovice. CESKE means, Czech as there is another town in the Czech Republic, MORAVSKE (ie Moravian )Budejovice. Czech (cesky jazyk) means the Czech nation (cesky narod). The term Budejovice comes from Count Budejov (he ruled there five hundred years ago. The Czech language is the most western Slavic language.

My father was a pediatrician in town. His father (my grandfather, Alexander Freund) was a Magistrate, but he died before I was born. He is buried (as are my other grandparents) in the very large Prague Jewish Cemetery. On your next trip,you may wish to visit it.

You also visited Cesky Krumlov (an amazing little town) In the town (C.B.), there were about one thousand Jewish people, out of 50 thousand Gentiles. About 35 survived and I was the youngest (not yet 15). Despite the beautiful Synagogue, we were not very observant. Two Rabbis that I know about was a very beloved R. Thieberger, who moved to the USA) and my Rabbi Rudolf Ferda.

After Hitler occupied the land (March 15th 1939), we became more aware of Judaism and Israel, but I was only 12, when deported Terezin. The Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis in June 1942.

Olomouc is a nice town,, I visited there only in 1989. After the war, in 1945 till 1948, I lived in Prague. It is a lovely city. My last visit there was in July 2017, when I accompanied the Canadian Children Choir to perform a Children Opera composed by a Czech Jew.

My friend told me that all the Czech Jews are related and so, yes, Susan Fisher is also related.

John Freund

Later on that Spring, I had the distinct honor of meeting Mr. Freund and his wife and daughter in person in Sacramento and to speak about his remarkable story at PSC a few weeks later. John and his adolescent friends, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps to thumb their noses at the Nazis occupying their town, created a newsletter called “Klepy” which was essentially a gossip magazine that provided entertainment in those bleak days. Klepy was created in a single copy each edition and signed out from person to person as it was passed around the town. Original copies of Klepy can be found today in the Jewish Museum in Prague.