Terezín: Banality, Bureaucracy, Gross Demented Brutality and Bucolic tree-lined streets

The title about sums it up for me. The 6 hours I spent today touring The Terezín Concentration Camp were very different from the only other time I was there in 1998. That was my first concentration camp visit and the temperature on that date was hovering somewhere around 9 degrees F. (That’s COLD by anyone’s definition!) I had every piece of warm clothing I owned on me and I could not help wondering how a beaten, half-starved and tortured inmate wearing pajamas and wooden shoes could survive when I was barely coping in my Polar Fleece. I recall glancing at my watch while contemplating this in the punishment cell of the Small Fortress where the Nazis meted out endless batches of brutality. 1 PM…where was I 24 hours later at 1 PM? Standing in the middle of Kikar Zion in Jerusalem, eating a felafel, on a gorgeous, sunny, warm Fall afternoon. Context, right?

This trip seemed different almost from the word go. I was on a private guided tour (and not with 200 UJA mission participants). My two traveling companions were from Miami, FL. The temperature this day was about 60 F. So warm, I was stripping off layers.

I’ve said repeatedly that it was difficult for me to put parts of this trip in context and this part of the journey was no exception. What struck me this time was the banality and bureaucracy of the place and the stark beauty of the tree-lined streets with Fall Foliage.

Walking through the Small Fortress with absolutely no context and you’d think you were in a spa or a weekend retreat summer camp. Maybe that’s what the Nazis who live there told themselves which made their crimes all the more incomprehensible. If you were in a barren shit hole death factory like Auschwitz/Birkenau or Treblinka, I’m guessing it was more business. This looked like summer camp!

Our first stop on the journey was the railroad station at Praha-Bubny. It’s a rather decrepit, seldom used station on the main Prague to Berlin line just over the river and outside the Jewish Quarter.

Praha-Bubny was the mustering station for the vast number of deportations of Jews from Prague and where most began their journey to death at Terezín. Startlingly few people survived Terezín, either from the abuse they suffered or because they were transported along to Auschwitz or other death camps. The Nazis would march prisoners late at night or early in the morning past non-descript apartment buildings to the station. One can only wonder what those residents thought at the daily marches past their windows. Maybe they averted their eyes? What could they do after all? Our guide gave an even sadder take that the vast majority of Czechs did practically nothing to oppose the Nazis. There were some small acts of civil disobedience but nothing to really affect what was going on. Made it all the more sad for me because this is such a beautiful country. One, for example, that was tremendously supportive to the fledgling State of Israel in 1948. But why nothing in 1942 when it counted…puzzling?!

The Memorial with the rail tracks was constructed recently and represents many things, the journey to infinity/oblivion; or perhaps, Jacob’s Ladder (angels going up and down); or one other explanation was the 36 rail ties, to represent the “Lamed Vavnicks” the thirty-six righteous people in every generation upon whose merit the world is kept from entire destruction. Based in part on the story of Abraham and his conversation with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18, the Lamed Vavniks are those who, by virtue of their compassion for others and the prayers they offer, cause the Lord to answer, “I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:26).

Whatever reason, this was step 1 in the journey toward death for most.

45 minutes of so later we were at the Small Fortress. Terezín was built originally as a military garrison by the Emperor Joseph II of Amadeus fame (Too Many Notes ). I coudn’t really bring myself to take any photos in the Small Fortress. I wanted to be a witness and not a tourist, at least for this part of the journey. The first thing that struck me was the utter banality of the prisoner processing. First stop was a clerk who registered the prisoners details, then the assignment of “clothing” which consisted of old WW1 German army uniforms. That and with a shaved head made the prisoners stand out even more than a sore thumb so escapes from Terezín were almost unheard of.

We also saw the cell there of Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Archduke Ferdinand which set in motion WWI. From 1914 until 1918, Gavrilo Princip was imprisoned here, Princip died in Cell Number 1 from tuberculosis on April 28, 1918.

Adjacent to the bureaucratic processing was the Gestapo torture cells and the offices of the camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Siegfried Seidl who served as the first camp commandant, beginning in 1941. Small wooden desks where you could almost see some bespectacled clerk processing paperwork in an office. Weird…

Walking under the recently repainted “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign (I think it is not an original, it might have been painted years later) did not have the same stunning impact it had on me in 1998. Maybe I was in a different head space. We marched past the execution grounds where 57 were murdered on practically the last day of the war. Extermination took no holiday even when all hope was lost for the Nazis.

Later we visited the Main Plaza across the river in the Large Fortress. Many might recall the infamous Red Cross visits in 1943 and 1944 where the world assured itself that the Nazis were not mistreating prisoners. Sickening in today’s context but with all the genocide and mistreatment we have become numb to today, is it really?

Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted representatives from the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax.

What struck me about the plaza was its beauty particularly with the Fall foliage.

Inside the Jewish Museum were huge long lists of deportations to Tereizin and transports out to places like Riga and Auschwitz, including one on April 18, 1942 from Ceske Budejovice Torah and a place I hope to be able to visit later in the week and one particularly striking final deportation to Tereizin on April 15, 1945…less than 4 weeks before the end of the war.

There was also a stunning visit to the recently discovered “Hidden Synagogue” in Tereizin. Not but for a highly secular community, it was stunning to see how people seemed to want to engage with religious tradition when faced with their tragic fates.

I almost cannot bring myself to show pictures of the crematorium built very late in the war after the Nazis became overwhelmed with bodies of dead inmates they could not bury (the sheer numbers and a very high water table). One thing to notice was the bureaucratic nature of theirs even in death. Ashes placed in paper bags with the names of prisoners. These were stored in the morgue where prisoners were assured that they could return after the war was over to claim their family members’ remains. Prisoners given day passes to attend the rites for their lost family members. At some point, in an effort to cover the traces of their crimes, the Nazis took large numbers of these bags and dumped the ashes in the nearby river.

One last point to mention, something that adds an even more bizarre layer to this place is the fact that people still live in and around this place. In some cases it’s developmentally disabled adults. In other cases it’s workers at the nearby Ford Parts factory. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MINDS WOULD CHOOSE TO LIVE NEAR THIS PLACE? (\soapbox).

All in all a deeply disturbing visit but also one I am glad I was able to describe here, both to help me process the experience and also to bear witness to the thousands that passed through here on the way to their final fate. Some, like the 87-year old Terezín survivor Linda and I interviewed in Olomouc last Sunday kept popping into mind.

For a nice factual history of Terezín including some of prominent people imprisoned or murdered there, see:

Terezín History

יהי זיכרם ברוך

A small postscript, after spending the entire day in Terezín, I felt in need of something to change my mood. It was certainly a tough, heavy day! I needed a sunshine/beauty break and boy, did Prague comply, beautifully, on the Vltava Promenade near the Intercontinental Hotel.


September 2019

Just read this story about a young girl’s Tereizin diary. Haunting

My Tereizin Diary–New Yorker Magazine, September, 2019

Press mentions of the Olomouc Torah Story

Our story is starting to see a lot of traction in the media in various forms, so I thought I would use this space to capture some of the press mentions. If you find others, please let me know!

A Radio interview in Czech featuring our friend from Olomouc Petr Papousek


In Czech…IDNES is the largest online/hard copy circulation Czech paper


The rare Torah from the burned synagogue returned to Olomouc after 78 years

October 24, 2017

Seventy-eight years later, the sacred Torah scroll from the end of the 19th century has returned to Olomouc. The local Jewish community used it until the burning of the Olomouc synagogue at the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1939. After the war, the Communists sold the scroll with hundreds of others abroad.

More about our friend Peter Briess, an Olomouc survivor


Some cool photos at the bottom of the page of the Olomouc Exhibition opening. I’m in a few of them in the crowd, front row left (purple shirt) 😉


A nice history of the Olomouc synagogue building on the Kehilah web site.

The Synagogue and Prayer Rooms

How 1,564 Torah Scrolls Miraculously Survived the Nazis and the Communists

This article has a nice mention of our Olomouc story at the end.


Featuring Peter Breiss.


We made the big time in the Israeli Press. I wonder if we got picked up in any other publications? On Su day there was a JTA Reporter from Warsaw present, I was told.

Without getting into all the details, the story was well written and got most of the facts and color right though they did misidentify PSC sort of. The reporter identified us as “Hatzi-Ha-ee Sinai” which is technically correct because “Hatzi-Ha-ee” does mean “Peninsula” in Hebrew but there were also other transliterations like for “United Airlines“. I don’t get it!

In a related posting, the Masorati (Conservative Movement in Israel) posted the following to their FB Page

מרגש! בבית הכנסת קונסרבטיבי בסן פרנסיסקו שמרו במשך שנים על ספר תורה עתיק מהכפר אוֹלוֹמוּץ שבצ׳כיה, אחרי שהוברח ממנה במהלך השואה. לאחרונה גדלה הקהילה בכפר הצ’כי, ואלו ביקשו מהקהילה האמריקאית את ספר התורה. קהילת “חצי האי סיני” שם נשמר ספר התורה תיקנה אותו ורב הקהילה המסורתית, נסע להשיב את ספר התורה למשכנו המקורי. חברת “יונייטד” סייעה בהעברת ספר התורה, והושיבה את ספר התורה במושב משלו- עם כרטיס עליה למטוס משלו “Torah”.
Peninsula Sinai Congregation

Translated it reads:

A Conservative Synagogue on San Francisco took care of an ancient Torah Scroll from the town of Olomouc. in the Czech Republic after it was smuggled out during the Holocaust. Soon the Czech Congregation grew and asked the American Conservative Torah Scroll (back). Congregation “Half an Island Sinai” (yeah I know that sounds weird but they took the Hebrew idiom for “Peninsula” and used that rather than transliterating “Peninsula”) that watched over the scroll and repaired it and the Rabbi of the COnservative Congregation traveled to return the scroll to it’s original home. United assisted in the transfer of the Torah, placed the scroll in its own seat and with a boarding pass that read Torah/Torah.


This one appeared a few days before the trip and gave some color as to what to expect in Olomouc before we got there.

From the Czech News Agency from a few weeks ago (Thanks Jeff Blutinger and Weslaw)

10/9/17 Czech News Agency 00:00:00
Czech News Agency
Copyright (c) 2017 CZECH News Agency
October 9, 2017

California synagogue returning Torah scroll to Czech Olomouc
A parchment scroll of Torah dating from 1880 will be returned to Olomouc’s prayer room as a permanent loan from the Jewish community in Foster City, California, at the end of October, Petr Papousek, chairman of Olomouc’s Jewish community, has told CTK.
It will be the first Torah returned out of the 1,500 Bohemian and Moravian scrolls that are stored outside the Czech Republic nowadays, Papousek said.
The scroll will be festively installed in the Jewish prayer room on the occasion of the Jewish Culture Days in Olomouc on October 22.
“The return of the Torah to Olomouc is a historic event not only for Olomouc’s Jewish community, but also for the town,” Papousek said.
The scroll had to be restored and the writing had to be repaired professionally. The last letters will be finished just before the scroll’s festive delivery into the prayer room, he added.
After Olomouc’s synagogue was set ablaze at night on March 15, 1939, it was pulled down. The scrolls were gathered in the emerging Central Jewish Museum in Prague at first.
During the turbulent post-WWII period, the museum was nationalised and the scrolls were moved to a former synagogue in Prague’s Michle neighbourhood.
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 to the USA.
The Jewish Culture Days are to take place on October 19-29 and will include an exhibition on the vanished Olomouc synagogue, an international conference on changes in the life of Jews, a theatre performance and a lecture by Israeli photographer Yosaif Cohain among other events.
This year, the Jewish Culture Days are dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the consecration of the Olomouc synagogue and the 150th anniversary of the birth of Berthol Oppenheim, the town’s rabbi who was murdered in the Treblinka wartime extermination camp.


More from IDNES The Czech Republic’s largest daily online and print circulation newspaper.


Of course most everyone saw Vic Lee on the ABC 7 Local News the day we took off from SFO. My friend Greg Cecil said he saw a version of this story on his local newscast in Columbia, MO but not sure if it got picked up nationally on ABC or other TV outlets? Any sightings people?


Random sighting in the UK Press makes me famous on two continents! 😉


Nice picture of all of us on the plane to Frankfurt. United really rolled out the red carpet for us. Thanks Michael Hayat, and Andrea Hiller from United PR!


How’s your Czech? This is from The Czech Republic’s largest circulation daily. I tried to find a hard copy in Prague and in Olomouc but I struck out. Apparently this is partly online and partly print copy. This appeared in the Olomouc version of IDNES.

Just gotta throw this one in as a ROTFL moment from one of our Flight Tracker groupies, Michael Hayat (we had several, to be fair but this was the best and nearly gave Doron and I a spit-take at 37K feet over Manitoba! Good one Michael! 😁


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our PSC Go Fund Me campaign that helped to make the Torah repairs possible in the first place. Thank you Donors!

A little back to the future action from 1970 when the scrolls were originally brought to PSC from from London and the Scrolls Trust.

From the “Burlingame Advance-Star” (anyone remember that paper?) from April 7, 1970 featuring founding PSC Member Mel Bloom Z’L (Jayne Bloom and his widow who sent me copies of these stories.) Jayne and Mel carried both Czech scrolls to California from the Westminster Synagogue in London in 1970. Our synagogue was just 2 years old at the time and meeting in San Mateo. This helps fill in a couple of holes in the story!


Our own J weekly got the ball rolling on the coverage and I’m told they were very excited to cover it! Thanks Dan Pine, News Editor of the J!


About the Olomouc Museum Exhibit we viewed last week in Olomouc.


Another random mention.


French site.


Rabbi Corey gets a shout out in his hometown Kansas City newspaper. Mazel Tov!


Another follow on story from IDNES, the largest online daily in the Czech Republic. Plug in to Google Translate to get a serviceable translation. Mostly focusing on Sunday’s dedication ceremonies.

From Olomouc’s Jewish Paper Chayenu

Sorry for the truncated, rough English. Blame Google Translate 😁

This is our life – HEM CHAJEJNU 18 Review Bulletin 22 23 Our Life Volume 9 / Number X. List of the Jewish Communities Olomouc November 2017 On Sunday, 2nd day of the month of the Cheshvan of 5778, corresponding on 22 October 2017, with We will be blessed, we, the Jewish community of Olomouc, hereby accept our Torah, registered by the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, England under number # 740. In cooperation with this organization, the Peninsula Sinai community, Foster City, California, and Sofer on site, Miami, Florida, we celebrate this historic moment of returning our Torah back to its place of origin. Let this moment consecrate memories of the members of the Jewish community in Olomouc who are no longer among us, those who built this community and all those who died in Shoah. Let the light of this Torah, inspired by our ancestors’ links, shine ever brighter and may make our community elevated and show us the way to the future. By accepting this Torah scroll, we, the Jewish community in Olomouc, we accept the commandments and traditions embodied in our Torah. We and all of our community will strive to continue in Jewish life as those who profess: Šema Jisrael Ado-Elo-hejno Ado-nej Echad! By completing this Torah scroll, we connect to the traditional exclamation: Chazak, chazak, venitchazek! Let the glory of the legacy of our past strengthen our present efforts so that we can bravely walk towards the future
Very personal – very personal! Impossible to become a Reality Impossible to become a reality, I would briefly describe the return of the Olomouc scroll of the Torah to the Motherhood. When I began to correspond with the Westminster Synagogue and the Memorial Scrolls Trust more than two years ago, I only hoped that my intention would succeed. But I thought it would be a pity to strike back the return of our “Torah” scroll when I found out where it was. This, which only a few members of our ZOO believed, turned out to be a tangible act. It was a series of emails, phone calls and personal meetings with Jeffrey Ohrenstein in London and New York, regardless of my costs. When I did everything “pre-cooked”, I joined Petra Papouška as the boss of our ZOO who made this difficult task to the winning end. I believe that not only we, but also our descendants and followers, will use this scroll of the Torah and will never leave Olo-mouk again. I can be proud of the fact that the scroll of the Torah, which has seen my grandparents, father and other relatives on a regular basis in today’s magnificent synagogue today, will continue to radiate the importance of the past with today and the tomorrow of our village. Roman Gronsky I was perhaps the only one who went to the former synagogue … … Peter Briesse said, who had come to welcome the Olomouc scroll of the Torah from the United States. “It was very, very moving. After all, I went to the synagogue even when the scroll was used in it … I was when, in 1938/39, the Rabbi Oppenheim read this Torah. I was a seven-year-old boy. For me, it is especially important that this Torah returns to Olomouc. I welcome her at home and I wish this commune many years of happiness, safety and success. “Amen. Let us add that in the Olomouc synagogue they had the wedding of Peter Briesse’s parents. Their wedding ceremony was held in the Olomouc Synagogue on June 29, 1929. In 1931, his parents, Hans Briess and Else Schulhof, the son of Peter (see photograph here) and in 1936 Hana’s daughter. On the occasion of their wedding, Berlold Oppenheim, a former rabbi from Olomouc, wrote a letter to the bride Else, who has Peter Briess in his archive. And since these days we are commemorating both the Anniversary of the dedication of the Olomouc Synagogue and the anniversary of the birth of Rabbi Oppenheim, let us introduce here the second part of Oppenheim’s letter (the whole text of the letter with further information can be found in Chajejn 2012/11), the bride, this time in translation Mrs. Hany Mayer: Letter to the Bride “As a rabbi, I give you a prayer book, as a memorial to this festive moment, for the 90th birthday of my dear mother, and for the special recognition of the charitable action of your highly respected and honorable father whose life in the field of genuine Jewish love for neighbors and charity in favor of those affected by poverty and oppression, be also a pre-order for your house. Let your house be the source of Jewish faith, Jewish spirit and Jewish love for your neighbor. Let your father’s merit be God’s blessing for your path of life and the foundation of your continual happiness. Let the prayers of this book in which you turn to the Almighty always be prayers of praise and thanksgiving for the nothingness-disturbed happiness that you will experience with the man of your choice. This is my wish and my prayer. Dr. B. Openheimer Rabbi Rabbi Moshe Druin, the driver who corrected the olo-moss scroll on the occasion of the Torah’s deposition in Aaron ha-kodesh, said this: I am very honored to have repaired this Torah and that I may be the messenger of the Jewish people. But we all know that the Torah without people does not mean anything. But the Jewish nation without the Torah … does not even know anything. B-h, the Jews and the Torah are single. Jeffrey Ohrenstein Memorial Scroll Trust London “In 1964, 1564 Torah sculptures were bought from the Czech Communist Government and transported to London, where our Memorial Scroll Trust was founded to care for them. Until then, these scrolls lay in an inappropriate, damp synagogue where their condition has continued to deteriorate. And no doubt if you do
Very personal – very personal! were not saved at that time, many of them would be lost. It is an incredible honor and joy that we can bring this Torah back to Olomouc. “Page 5 I do not often happen to you … I wish you long luck and joy with this Torah that came to you. My lady had tears in my eyes … said Daniel Meron, Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Czech Republic. His wife’s family, Mrs. Jill, has its roots in Olomouc. “As an Ambassador of the State of Israel, I consider my duty to participate in similar events of Jewish life here. Rabbi Moshe Druin finished the Torah scroll on Sunday morning, and I, along with others, had the honor to take part in it. “The second Simchat Tora Steve Lipman, a member of the American congregation of Peninsula Sinai who accompanied the Torah to Olomouc, noted this festive moment on his blog: “The Torah came to the synagogue from the back in the hands of Rabbi Helfanda. Our Torah, Torah Memorial Scroll Trust and now: The Olomouc Torah. Her hands were stretched to touch her, she was carried several times around the womb (Olomouc practice is orthodox). Then she was placed in the vault, where she would wait until Sunday, for the last corrections of the last letters from the driver Mosheo Druin. Torah scroll written in 1880, a scroll that survived the Nazi persecution, which nearly destroyed the Jewish communities in this country. A scroll that has survived Communist persecution. Svitek, who had been honored in our Aaron Ha-Kodesh for 47 years, and from whom I had the honor to read before he became righteously unfit and needed repair. The Svitk, which was transported by 9,000 km by plane, by train, by car … was now returned to his original home to remain there for good. Let’s think about it … and realize: It has never happened before! “When the Torah was finished I was crying. And this is not happening to me often, “said Petr Papoušek, chairman of the Jewish community in Olomouc. “I hope that the return of this Torah scroll will bring new energy and enthusiasm for our village.” Peter Briess, on the left, on completing the letter of the Olomouc scroll together with rabbi Moshe Druin, who has returned our kosher status to his Torah by his work. Upon completing the correction of individual letters, he had a story about the meaning of the letter and the word that was repaired for everyone. This only deepened the intimacy and personal dimension that the Torah-rite had in our village. Thank you! At the top you can see a certificate that was nominally received by anyone who attended this ceremony. There is a box for the name, but also for a letter that has been fixed.
Very personal – very personal! Mrs. Dreiseitl (second from left) when writing the Torah. From left K. Jurečková from Prague, from Mrs. Sidon’s right My experiences of the Torah Torah – how simple the word for uninitiated. But for us who know what this word means, it is something extraordinary. In our village, after eighty years, the Torah returned from California … It was a long journey, but thanks to Mr Gronsky and our President, Mr. Papoušek, he managed to get the Torah back. It started for me on Friday Sabbath worship and a common sitting at a gala dinner. The premises of our Municipality have already been pervaded by something strange – expectation, tension. At the end of the liturgy, our Torah was brought to the chapel for the singing and applause of all those present. On Sunday after the morning worship, the preparations for Torah correspondence began. Of all the present I felt some internal tension. I myself felt something indescribable … it was luck and joy of something unrepeatable. I have to admit that I kept thinking of all those who could not be present, but trust me, I tried to feel the special atmosphere of their souls as well. In my imagination, I saw that my grandfather, who was involved in the preparation of refreshments for so many people, touched this scroll. Perhaps they had to sleep there. It’s all your big thanks to you. You did not make it easy, but you knew how to deal with it and you managed it to one. Once again, I thank you all, and if the amazing atmosphere you have created remains in the memories of most of you present, then believe that your efforts are worth the effort. Hana Dreiseitlová Alois Wellner 1898 – 1966, Coming from seven children, grew up in a religion-based family. In Olomouc he married Anna Schubrt, and in 1926 the only daughter of Alice, my mother, was born to them. In the war years he was imprisoned and finished in Terezin. After the war he was redeemed for the reconstruction of the Jewish community in Olomouc. From my mother I know he taught both religion and Hebrew and also taught R. Daniel Mayer in the Torah Hachnasat sefer Tor in Olomouc On Sunday, October 22, at the invitation of the Chairman of the Olomouc Philosophical Orthodox Church, Mr. Petr Papoušek, attended an exceptional festival of the Torah scroll aron hakodeše in ŽOO prayer. Of course, everyone present at this unique festivities among members of the Olomouc or other Jewish communities in the Czech Republic, as well as precious guests from the USA, Israel and Switzerland, all rejoiced at the reality bordering on the miracle that the scroll of the Torah, which had been deposited since 1880 in the aron ha-codes of the Olomouc Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1939 and subsequently demolished, returned to its home village after a long and adventurous journey. For me, Alois Wellner, the great-grandson of the chairman of the FBI in Olomouc in 1913-18, Friedrich Fischer and his wife Bertha, born Briess. When writing these lines I still have a strange feeling. This experience will remain in my memory for a lifetime. The very moment that I, the inordinate member of the Oracle, had a letter to the Torah, was happy for me. However, behind this act was the enormous efforts of Mr Gronsky and Mr Papoušek, which I have already appointed, but also efforts at home. I have the most beautiful memories. When he lived here, I was looking forward to learning when I came to school … Later he worked in Olomouc as a cantor. He died on September 23, 1966, on the eve of Jom Kipur when he worshiped his heart when he was singing – it was a heavy heart attack. Although he was immediately assisted by two doctors present, one of them was Mr. Gronsky’s father, they were unable to revive their grandfather. He was a very good man, and I will never forget him. From the memories of Hana Dreiseitlová’s granddaughter The owner of the malted house in Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich Fischel managed the affairs of the Olomouc village from 1913 to 1918, and from 1908 to 1918 he also worked in the city council

Very personal – very personal! February 2011: I am introduced to a woman who is a granddaughter of the Jewish woman from Olomouc. We married a year and a half. And during the next four years we became the parents of four children, the next generation of descendants of the Jewish community from Olomouc. August 2015: I received an email from the synagogue, in which I got a question about the Torah scroll from Olomouc. From Olomouc?!? From the city that my wife visited and about which she so much told me? I immediately sent an email to a woman in which I wrote to her that the Torah, from which I read in the synagogue for more than twenty years, is the Torah to which our children’s grandfather and other ancestors were called. I wondered how meaningful and beautiful it would be for our children to have an aliy (invocation) to the same Torah in our own synagogue. We immediately shared this news with our cousin Olo-mouci, Mr. Roman Gronsky. I later found out that he was the first to address the Memorial Scroll Trust in the Lon-Pump on the possible return of the Torah to Olomouc. But for a long time neither of us knew he was his distant cousin, whose synagogue is holding this scroll. October 2017: I am honored to be part of an unforeseen and unexpected event of returning this scroll to his rightful home. I am honored to have added the script to this scroll … to lead the way for so many new friends … and that I can witness the birth of the brotherly relationship between the rightful owner of this scroll and the community that years adopto-vala: Congregation Peninsula Sinai. And if all this can not be characterized as “basser”, what else? Siman tov u’mazel tov! Doron Shapira, Cantor Doron Shapira’s wife, Mrs. Jocelyn, also wrote several personal lines about our Jewish community, Hachnasat Sefer Tora and her Olomouc baths: When I grew up, I always had my grandmother Lisa Karpfen very close relationship. Her grandmother worked hard, she was successful, she was also warm and liked to laugh – more than most others. But when I, or anyone else in our family, asked her about her life in Europe, she said almost nothing. It was quite obvious that in her past there was immense pain and sadness. But she decided to live every day with joy and kindness. In 2007, I traveled to Olomouc with the hope of learning more about my grandmother’s journey and about our family history. This journey was very meaningful. A few years later, I decided to make my Bat Micva as an adult. Since then I have been running a kip and talit in the synagogue. Wearing chips and waist is a source of reassurance and pride for me, combining a traditional tradition with a modern act. As a Jew and as a mother I want my children to know the story of their family and where they come from, sorrow and joy. I try to be a good example for my children, and I hope they will know the story of their grandmother Lisa, her hometown, and that it will inspire them to live a proud Jewish life. And one more thing: Our daughter Jael is named after Lise Karpfen. Her full name is Jael Aliza Shapira – Aliza in honor of Lisa Karpfen Gruner. Lisa is no longer between us – she died when she was waiting for Jael in the winter of 2014. She was 100 years old. Jocelyn Shapira has a great personal emotional meaning. It is very probable that just before this developed Torah scroll, my father celebrated his bar micva in 1936 in a magnificent olo-mouk synagogue. By casting the scroll of the holy Torah into the aron of the horseshoe in the prayer church of Olomouc, Kora-glory returned to its original dignified place: הנשויל הרטע הרזח All those who have earned it, thank me and my whole family. Rabbi Daniel Mayer This is basher! (It is bashert!) The congressman of Peninsula Sinai from the USA, Mr. Doron Shapira, sent us the following lines. Na-depsal is “This is Basher”, creating a difficult-to-translate word game, closely related to the content of his text. The word “bashert” comes from Yiddish and originally known as much fate, a higher power that determines the course of human life. But then it began to be used to designate “allied souls,” most often in the search for a life partner, when the search to find a baser means so much to find a precursor ideal partner:
Peninsula Sinai on the way to Olomouc I. As Chajjn reads, the Olomouc scroll of the Torah for decades has been used by the US Conservative Congregation Peninsula Sinai of Forster City, USA. This Jewish community willingly agreed to return the coil and, in addition, funded its repair. Finally, she sent a group of its members headed by Rabbi Corey Helfand and Cantor Doron Shapiri, who had escorted them so intimately. There was a bond of friendship and fellowship between the two Jewish communities based on the shared joy of the Torah. That’s why we want to bring this community closer to the readers. Rabbi C. Helfand has sent us some basic information about the history and life of his community: Our Congregation (Jewish Community) was founded in December 1967 and we built our synagogue in 1979. We are a conservative (masorti) community and therefore egalitarian that is, they practice the so-called egalitarian minian, which also includes women, note editors). Our community center was built in three stages. The educational part, consisting of four classrooms, a kitchen and a library, was put into operation in 1979. In the second phase, a prayer hall, a common room and an office were built. It was in 1984. In May 2000, a major rebuilding was completed, which today includes a prayer room, other classrooms and social spaces and new offices, a library and a professional kitchen. At present, our congregation is made up of 325 families, and every week we meet regularly to celebrate Shabbat (worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning). Besides, I have a mini-drink a week in the morning and a week in the evening. Rabbi Corey Helfand came to the Sinai Peninsula in August 2011. He also includes clergymen of the Congregation, Doron Shapira, who also serves as a senior community worker. She is also rabbi Rebecca Schatz (rabbi assistant and educator). Emeritus rabbi is then Marvin Goodman. LECH LECHA! Rabbi C. Helfand, after his return from the Czech Republic, spoke to Lech Lech on the sabbath of Lech Lech, in which he connected the message of this section of the Torah with reflection and also a report on the journey to Olomouc. That is why we bring you the most important of his remarkable text. The words of Lech lecha are translated as “Exit!” Rabbi Sidon chooses the other translation: “Go away!” But the meaning is still the same, it is the call of Avram to quit Heaven, the first Jew. “Rabbi David Peter says this is a three-fold exit: to leave his city, his house and ultimately his father (family), and three levels of path to each other, three basic” abandonment “or” “Without which one can not become himself. As you can see, there are many different meanings behind these words and hence we will leave them in their Hebrew text: LECH LECHA! It was a real “Lecha lecha” experience. I felt a little like Abraham, who was called to do the job, and he did not know what it was going to take. I wonder what Abraham’s head went to when B-h wanted to leave his country, his birthplace and his family. He set out for a trip whose unknown destination was unknown. Would he go on a journey if he knew what to expect? Would he be able to become the first Lord to enter the sacred relationship with the Lord? I think there is no way we can prepare for Lech Lecha for the moment. Honestly, I really did not know what to expect from this trip to Olomouc. In part, I wanted to put together all the “Lech lecha” moments that made it possible for this journey to take place. And the first moment came in January 2016 when I received an email from J. Ohrenstein from the Memorial Scroll Trust (MST) that revived the history of the two Torah scrolls in our Congregation:
Dear Sir, I hope you do not mind turning to the unusual situation that has arisen. After visiting our museum of Czech scrolls Tór by a visitor from Olomouc, Roman Gronský, I received a letter from the chairman of this village who examined the possibility of borrowing this Torah in the Olomouc village … Shortly thereafter, the President of MST received a letter from Petr Papoušek, Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities and President of Olomouc Municipality, in which he wrote: … Now we are working on obtaining a new or usable (kosher) Torah, because we own only one and that is in an unsatisfactory condition. It would be very satisfactory for us to receive one of the scrolls from which our ancestors read in Olomouc … our community has 164 members, we hold shabba celebrations regularly, we keep the kosher worship kitchen attended by 30 – 45 participants … Unbelievable! In Olomouc there are still Jews who keep the Sabbath, kosher and read from the Torah? Abraham’s journey began because he could freely choose to leave one place to another. But the Nazis had only one way for us: the way of death without return. The realization of this trip to Olomouc meant that the Nazis eventually failed! Our journey with the Olomouc scroll thus began with the new “Lech lecha”, which should never have happened: to connect our congregation, the Olomouc village, MST, Petra Papouška and Roman Gronsky. It was as if the B-h and the Jewish people once again found one another and we could hear each other: “Lech lecha!” Continuation in the December issue of Chajejn Redactively curtailed, a translation from English by J.A.K. Web: http://www.peninsulasinai.org
The Olomouc Torah and the Days of Jewish Culture in Olomouc On Sunday, October 22, Olomouc returned the Torah scroll, which was used for the last time in church service almost 80 years ago. It was the first time one of more than 1500 Torus returned to its place of origin. The return of the Torah to Olomouc has become a historic event not only for our communities and not only for the city of Olomouc. This information was reported by both domestic and foreign media. This Torah presentation was framed by the Days of the Jewish Olomouc dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the dedication of the Olomouc Synagogue and the 150th anniversary of the birth of rabbi Berthold Oppenheim. In addition, several academics from Israel who had lectured at CJS or at other Palacky University Departments met in Olomouc these days. They were prof. Zvi Zohar, Eli Lederhendler and Yosaif Cohain. Last but not least, Mr. Ephraim Karol Sidon and his lady were present. It is no wonder, therefore, that not all and everything came to this issue. So, let us take a leniency and try to bring at least the most important ones on the following pages. THE DAYS OF JEWISH CULTURE DAYS The days of Jewish culture in Olomouc were commenced on Thursday 19th October in the Archdiocesan Museum with the opening ceremony of the Olomouc Synagogue from 1897 to 1939. The photo below is a completely filled hall where MUO Director Michal Soukup welcomes the participants. The exhibition itself has two parts. The first is the architecture of the synagogue itself and the work of architect Jakob Gartner, and the second opening ceremony of the exhibition culminated in the show of Cantor’s Songs. Prague Cantor Michael Duschinsky sang Sabbath and festive prayers. He accompanied the musical performance with a basic interpretation. Transformations of Jewish Life: Moravian Jews at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries On Friday, October 20th, an international conference was organized by the UPOL Judicial Studies Center. It offered a wider view of the Jewish history of Olomouc and Moravia since the second half of the 19th century. Her individual contributions did not avoid conflicts, conflict of tradition and secular culture, or intellectual exchange between Moravia and Galicia. The theme was also focused on both commemorated anniversaries: both the initiation of the synagogue and the birth of Rabbi Oppenheim. There were contributions such as “Jewish Family History in Olomouc of the 19th Century” (Luise Hecht), “The Jewish Associations in Olomouc and the Breakthrough of their Membership at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries” or “The Jewish Wedding in Premiere Olomouc / Margin of the Wedding Sermon Rabbi Abraham Neuda “(Daniel Soukup). The outcome of the conference will be a professional collection, but we will try to bring to Chaijn’s readers the most interesting information on the pages of the magazine. The photo below is dr. Marie Crhová, main conference organizer, Dieter and Luise Hecht, lecturer. On the following days, we continued another rich program of Džko, which we brought to you in the special issue of Chajina dedicated to our Torah. The members of Tomáš and David Hrbka and Daniel Soukup also actively participated in this program. One of the program’s points was a lecture by an Israeli photographer and
Olomouc’s Torah and the Days of Jewish Culture in Olomouc Letting the Letter in the Torah scroll is not just an honor, it’s a lot more: “Those who hold the pen with the helper have the honor to take part in the Torah repair and filing. He fulfills one of the commandments, which in the Jewish tradition impose on everyone the obligation to write or write the Torah. “It is no wonder, therefore, that the candidates were many. This ceremony, which lasted for over two hours, was intertwined by those who participated in it and had something to say. Part of these projections can be found on pages 4-7. Finally, chairman of the Memorial Scroll Trust from England, Jeffrey Ohrenstein, handed the Torah scroll to the chairman of the Jewish community of Olomouc, Petr Papoušek. Then, the Olomouc Torah was carried into the synagogue for a polyphonic singing in a ceremonial procession. The melody was alternating there, and the Torah was passed between the men who rode in her ceremonial carriage in a procession that had traversed the interior of the synagogue. Everyone wanted to touch at least the scroll and our prayer pulled back like no longer. The completely filled synagogue thus surrendered the honor of the Torah, who, thanks to the efforts of many, returned home. This moment of belonging was also picked up by Moshe Druin in his bold speech, when he invited the singer to sing the song Hine ma tov (see the bottom left). The Torah Shroud, which started on a 9,000-kilometer-long trip to Olomouc, was “home”, in Aron Ha-Kodeš Olomouc. Hopefully, we will often pull it out to read it. Cha-zak, chazak, venitchazek! דַחַי םַּּ םיִחָא תֶבֶשׁ םיִעָנּ הַמוּ בוֹט הַמ הֵנִּה Hine ma tov u-ma na’im ševet achim gam achad What good is the goodness of where the brethren dwell in a hurry



From this week’s J Weekly.


Sofer On-site links to my blog and the, JWeekly Story on SOS’s home page.


Taube Philanthropies established a matching grant to help us repair the Olomouc Torah Scroll.


Another article in Czech.


Someone posted the Twitter feed of the Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

We made the big time in United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine in the December issue. Check out page 14!


And there was this heartwarming story from Jenny and Corey’s hometown Dallas Newspaper.


Doron and Jocelyn were initially interviewed in September before the trip and it includes recollections by Peter Breiss, a pre-war resident of Olomouc who came back specially for the event from London.

Good memories from our friends in Olomouc. Idnes is the largest daily circulation online (and print) publication in the Czech Republic.



Some more pre-trip coverage:

“The Czech Republic will obtain from the Jewish congregation Peninsula Sinai Congregation from the California city Foster City, which lies near San Francisco.
It’s a historical milestone. It will be the first time that one of the Czech scrolls returns permanently back to the Czech Republic.”


IDNES is the largest online circulation paper in the Czech Republic

A rare Torah from the late 19th century will return to Olomouc after decades. In March 1939, the local synagogue burned down, which Nazis served as a pretext for its demolition. In the past 78 years, the sacred scroll was wandering around the world, from Prague to London and California after the communist sale…

The sacred scroll ended first in Prague as well as another thousand parchments from Czech and Moravian Jewish communities. The Nazis are sváželi here with other sacral objects to the just-emerging central Jewish Museum.

Apparently after the war, however, Olomouc Torah lost. The museum liturgical needs continued disperse renewed Jewish communities, but things have not often returned to their original places…

It is probably the first permanent return of the Disappeared Torah to the Czech Republic
He is convinced that this is a historical event not only for the Jewish community, but also for the whole of Olomouc. In addition, it is the first Torah in the Czech Republic, which returns from abroad to its original place after the war.

“Several times different foreign communities arrived in the Czech Republic for a few days with their Torah, which had a similar destiny as the Olomouc. But, according to my information, this is the first time that such Torah is coming back permanently and will be used by the same community as before the war, which is symbolic, “he stresses.

The ceremonial return of Torah to the seat of the Olomouc Jewish community is scheduled for Sunday, 22. October.

“It had to be restored her background and a professional scribe-soferem-professionally repaired font. The last letters will be written immediately before the ceremonial by Torah to prayer rooms,

At last! Mission Accomplished!

One morning after the newly Kosher scroll was returned to the Aron Kodesh in Olomouc and I think we’re all still processing what this historic occasion meant. At least I know I am. I was honored to play some small part in this joyous simcha. Most of us have scattered to the four corners of the globe from this holy gathering but Sunday, October 22 was a day I don’t think I will ever forget. (Here’s one article in the Czech Press)

It seemed like there were hundreds of people in that “room where it happens” all waiting their turn to have a few precious moments with the Sofer Moshe Druin. They ranged from infants, to young children to other Czech community members to an 87 year-old Holocaust survivor and her mother to a distinguished gentleman who remembered Rabbi Oppenheim (Z”L), the last rabbi of the Olomouc Synagogue, to us visitors from California. This was clearly an amazing  occasion and you could realize it from the moment you walked in the room.

If you want to see the whole morning, it’s really fascinating to see some of the commentary and the goings on:






First person up was the Chief Rabbi of the Czech Republic, Karol Efraim Sidon, followed by other Rabbis and dignitaries from across the Czech Republic.






Then each of us got our turn. (Linda Oberstein and I got a “Yud” from the word “Ashira” from the Song of the Sea (Ex: 15:2) and Rabbi Druin talked about how the Yud makes a difference in us all from differentiating between men and women and also adding a holy spark of fire. I think we all could feel those sparks viscerally yesterday.

Lastly came Roman Gronsky’s turn. He was given the Kavod (honor) of completing the last word in this this Torah and his was “Ga’oh Ga’ah” which has to do with many things, among them “pride.”

It’s not just a matter of personal pride and it’s certainly not arrogance but for him (he was the one that drove this process forward over the last 2 years leading to its completion today) it exemplified the pride (and humility) felt by everyone in that room. This Torah CAME HOME. Be Proud! You could not help but feel the joy and honor we all felt.

This followed a wild, joyous Hakafah where we returned the Torah to the Ark.











Maybe this signifies a transition from PSC to Olomouc best? From our vestments to those used by the community of Olomouc.

It’s really home now.






I also want to recognize something that Linda and I won’t ever forget.

Nearly lost in all the hubbub was an 87 year-old Holocaust Survivor Helga Smekalova from Olomouc, and her daughter, Radka Smith from Australia.

Helga had spent the entire war as a dental assistant to a Jewish dentist in Tereizin. Believe it or not, she said she actually loved the work and wanted to work in the field after the war but never realized that dream. She had such a radiant smile on her face it was hard not to get lost in her joy (and pride?) in that moment.

We spent over an hour with her listening to her stories in a quiet corner of the shul with her daughter acting as translator. She showed us a Magen David necklace she was wearing made from shrapnel of bombs and rockets sent over the border by terrorists in Gaza and turned into pieces of art. Roses into Rockets . Hows that for affirming life over death?

Goose bumps, yet?






Simchat Torah 5758, part Deux: Shabbat in Olomouc


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

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

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

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

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


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

But wait, there’s more!

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

Doron doing Hallel in Olomouc

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

But wait, there’s STILL more!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But wait, there’s still STILL more.

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

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

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

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

Lostice Update:  August, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





A “Hakafah” to end all “Hakafot”: A Second Simchat Torah (5778)


When we march around with a Torah Scroll in a Synagogue, we call the procession a “Hakafah” (Hakafot (הקפות plural); Hakafah (הקפה singular)—meaning “[to] circle” or “going around” in Hebrew) and there was something rather profound about a 9000+ KM Hakafah with this scroll now nearly completed as we have arrived back in its ancestral home in Olomouc.

PSC has been proud to call this scroll home for 47 years and now we’ve nearly completed the task of escorting it home. Consider for a second how it got to us (the first 200 year Hakafah, if you will?) From the holy hands of some unknown Sofer (ritual scribe) nearly 200 years ago…just let that sink in for a second…200 years means the early 19th Century?… to its home in the Olomouc Synagogue.

To give you an idea of what was lost when the Nazis burned the synagogue to the ground on the first day of the occupation on Olomouc in March, 1939, consider this short video which I just uncovered today (July, 2018)

A short digression here for some history.

  • The Jewish settlement in Olomouc is one of the most ancient in this part or Moravia (the Czech Republic).
  • July 22, 1454, King Ladislaus the Posthumous issued an edict banning Jews from this region (maybe a good thing he’s “posthumous”?)
  • This banishment lasted until the 16th century when Ferdinand 1 allowed the Jews to attend markets but only after paying a special tax.
  • 1745 Empress Maria Theresa allowed the Jews to enter Olomouc again. Since that time there has been Jewish settlement in this area.
  • Regular Jewish services began here in 1860 and on April 11, 1897 the synagogue was inaugurated. (I am guessing the crowd was huge!)



  • March 15, 1939 the Nazi occupation of Olomouc began and their first attention was drawn to this beautiful building which they set ablaze and refused to allow firefighters to fight the fire.


  • Today the site is a car park.

So now back to the Hakafah. From Olomouc in 1939 to the Jewish Museum in Prague


to a dank storage warehouse outside of Prague to the Westminster Synagogue in London and the establishment of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, to a Lufthansa first class seat with Mel (Z’L) and Jayne Bloom


to 47 years of use and an honored place in PSC’s Aron Kodesh where I and dozens of other Ba’alei Kriyah (Torah Readers) were honored to read from it.

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to Miami in the talented hands of our Sofer Rabbi Druin (surviving Hurricane Irma in September 2017), to Irene’s car, to SFO, carried in


to PSC Member Michael Hayat’s hands in a joyous procession through SFO

I should note here that a Muslim, Feraz Zahid, United Customer Service Supervisor had the honor or carrying it on the plane where our Christian pilot and members of her crew joined us in a joyous rendition of “Etz Hayim” on the plane

To a long flight to Frankfurt with some laughs along the way


To Cantor Doron taking his first steps on German soil with a Torah Scroll in his hands to Prague and now to Olomouc once again, after nearly 78 years where the scroll will be completely repaired and hopefully used here for another 200 years! That’s one heck of Simchat Torah Hakafah! In fact I would say this is really a Second Simchat Torah, if you ask me!

Some live broadcasts from the Olomouc Train Station, aka “The Steve and Doron Show”

Olomouc Train Station: Doron and Steve Show, part One

and, part two:

Darsheni! Know Your Place

Up early but I slept very well last night. As we were walking across the Charles Bridge yesterday, we ran across a famous statue on the Bridge which called out “Darsheni” (“Explain Me!” in Talmudic parlance).

I don’t really expect to understand the full scope, history and beauty of Prague after 20 years since my last visit, but I would say in Day 1, this was a highlight.

Walking across the Charles Bridge, one is struck by the beautiful statues that line both side of the walkway. Thousands of tourists cross the bridge daily and the site is one for photographers, lovers to kiss, buskers to play and tchotchke vendors to sell, and the like.

To me it sums up the beauty, history and chaos that characterizes today’s Prague.

The Charles Bridge dates to the Late 13th/Early 14th century.

But one statue in particular jumped out at me and demanded an explanation.

Prague’s Jewish history is dotted with glorious good times of wealth and power and influence. The “Maharal” (Judah Loew ben Bezalel, or simply, The MaHaRaL, the acrnym “Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew” (“Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew”), was an important Talmudic scholar, mystic and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading Rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia. He had outsized influence in this beautiful city and was among other things the founder of the legend of the famous “Golem of Prague.”

But I digress…It’s very easy to do here! 🙂

But, there were also times of utter depravity suffering and misery. And this statue summed that up for me.


Explain me!


So what do you notice? A rather common cross with the Christ figure. But in gold lettering over INRI, you notice the Hebrew words “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” which many might recognize as the central theme of the daily “Kedushah” in the liturgy. So what does, “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” and a Christ figure on the cross have to do with one and other?


When you unpack the history you get a sense of the complex dynamic of the Jews of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia which we will be traipsing across for the next few days on our way to the great simchah in Olomouc.

The significance is as follows. (Thank you Mark Talisman, our former UJA Scholar in Residence from my last trip here in 1998 for the explanation). How’s this for IN YOUR FACE?

“An old Jew was walking across the Bridge and spit at the Christ figure on the cross , and so had to pay for that statue with gold lettering added as penitence!”

So, just when you think you have it made. Or, just when someone arbitrarily decides to alter your fate, you are put in your place. Don’t think that you have power over your own destiny.

Jews were both celebrated in Prague with the Maharal and screwed at the same time! Watch your step, someone is watching! How’s that for a powerful indictment for living in a state of power and powerlessness? Perhaps something we as American Jews need to be watchful for in today’s present circumstance?

And Awwwwway We Go! The Journey Begins

The Olomouc Scroll (MST #740) is now on its way back home. Our synagogue, Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, has been honored to host this scroll and its companion scroll from the town of Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic for 47 years. Now, we’re closing this part of the circle and under the auspices of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, helping to return the the Olomouc Scroll to its ancestral home.

Where do you start to tell a story like this? At every step of the journey this morning from the minute we left the Rabbi’s house with the scroll, to the incredible gold-glove treatment and red carpet welcome United Airlines, the TSA and the cabin crew rolled out to us, the plane has not even left the ground and we’re already jazzed about the journey.

Location San Francisco International Airport
Latitude 37.62 Longitude 122.38
KM to Olomouc 9532

People showed incredible interest at just about every place we went from the “Hakafah” procession through the SFO International Terminal at SFO led by Michael Hayat

to the interview by ABC7 News legend Vic Lee of both Doron and the Rabbi.

The final cut that made it on the air was here:

ABC7 Local News Story with Vic Lee

The Torah even got its own boarding pass and seat!


One of the highlights for me was an impromptu singing of “Etz Hayim” in the aisle of the plane as the cabin crew surrounded us.

One of the Pilots, Captain Patti, stopped by later and was full of so many questions and genuine concern for the story and the history of the scroll. She gave everyone a big hug before she went back to the cockpit to prepare our 777 for the flight to Frankfurt this morning.


Soon we were underway.


We even had time for some ROTFL moments on our flight


And some fans keeping track of our progress in-flight

Our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds (as well as this blog) has been blowing up as we fly over Canada. Thanks everyone for the likes and forwards! We are truly grateful for all the comments and likes

We’re now over Quebec about 4924 KM and 5 1/2 hours from Frankfurt. I’ll keep updating as we go!

None of us got much sleep last night as our FB profiles were blowing up but there were some pretty sites below. Doron and I exchanged knowing glances when we passed over Limerick and thought of hundreds of Rabbi Marv’s B’nai Mitzvah limericks!

Location Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany
Latitude 50.03 Longitude 8.57
KM to Olomouc 792

Captain Patti got us in right on time with a resounding THUD as the plane seemed to hit the runway at the very second that the plane emerged from the fog. “Willkommen in Frankfurt!”

After what seemed like a 10 mile hike with a 40 lb. Torah Scroll we settled in for a long wait for our connecting flight. We had a chance to grab a snack and also to chat with some of our fellow travelers about the story of the scroll. The response was universal amazement and I’d even say awe!

Location Prague International Airport, Prague, Czech Republic
Latitude 50.10 Longitude 14.27
KM to Olomouc 277

A one hour flight and 40 minutes of circling resulted in another THUD landing as we came in to Prague. We found our shuttle driver (Adam) who shared some interesting insights on Prague and also some pointed observations of our current administration. We’re now settled at the lovely Hotel Maximilian right in the heart of Josefov, the Old Prague Jewish Quarter. After a quick rest we think we will take a quick walk around the city before dinner. Linda should be arriving late tonight.

Tomorrow…Olomouc! The Torah’s final stop!

From Roman Gronsky, Olomouc Community Leader

So this is pretty cool. An email that Doron, our Hazzan received from his wife Jocelyn’s cousin Roman, a communal leader in Olomouc that references Scroll 740 (PSC’s Olomouc Scroll). I did not know there was also an Olomouc Scroll in New Jersey (#515 from Domažlice to Calvary hospital in Bronx, NYC).

Here’s what Roman wrote:

“Once a day I have received an announcement from the USA in 2015 there are two scrolls from Olomouc in the USA – one in New Jersey and 2nd one in California. Afterwards I have contacted the Westminster synagogue´s Rabbi Thomas Salomon as well as Jeffrey Ohrenstein of the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) just on my personal way. I was in email contact with them and met them personally in London in March 2016. After this London visit I have asked Peter Papousek, head of the Olomouc kehila to start the official negotiations with MST and with the aim – return of the Torah scroll Nr. 740 – as this „Californian one“ is possible to get. I made a next personal contact with Jeffrey in November 2016 in NYC on the occasion of the loan of other Czech Torah scroll (Nr. 515 from Domažlice) to Calvary hospital in Bronx, NYC. – I have also introduced him the member of our community Paul Rausnitz who used to live in NYC and is able to help. My next personal talks with Jeffrey were on 26th May 2017 again in London.

This day was finally decided that the Peninsula Sinai in Foster City, Calif. gave consent to transfer the Torah Scroll Nr. 740 back to Olomouc. The Sinai Congragation started also to collect money for making this Torah scroll kosher before it will be back in Olomouc . This work took over 5 months! But finally everything was arranged on the best way and it will be for the FIRST TIME ever to bring back the original Torah scroll (from 1880) which was sold to the UK in 1964!

Finally I have to tell you (but you always know it) that the Torah Scroll 740 was used in Sinai Congragation where the cantor is a husband of Jocelyn the great-granddaughter of Karpfen family of Olomouc e.g. my grandparents and other members of the family have seen this Torah scroll every week in the synagogue before WWII!”

A taste of the history of the PSC scrolls

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Most of my loyal correspondents are aware by now that I will be taking a trip to the Czech Republic later this month as part of a delegation from Peninsula Sinai Congregation to facilitate the return one of our two Czech Torahs under the auspices of the Memorial Scrolls Trust to its ancestral home in Olomouc (pronounced “Ol-oh-motz”). a town about 250 KM SE of Prague.

I spoke at Yom Kippur (to a group of about 75 PSC folks) talking about the “miraculous” nature of this experience for me. I don’t throw around the term “miracle” that freely so for me to use that term must really means something. This whole story has really inspired me and I hope to share my excitement with you as I take this journey. I’d say miraculous for several key reasons:

  1. The fact that the scrolls even exist today is a truly amazing story. I’ve seen lots of retellings of the story but this is a pretty good one.
  2. It’s a miracle that the community of Olomouc has managed to reconstitute itself at all. Olomouc’s Jewish community has existed since the 13th century. When the Nazis swept through Eastern and Central Europe, and particularly the Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia (today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia) they decimated most of the communities in their path. Add to that, decades of Communist rule from the 1950’s to the 1990’s where the government was not terribly friendly (a real understatement) to religious communities in general, it’s a miracle that there are any organized Jewish communities in the Czech Republic at all.
  3. The fact that PSC has two scrolls on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, one from the town of Olomouc (Scroll #740) and one from the town of Cheske Budovice. about 125 KM south of Prague. As far as I know, the community of Cheske Budovice, settled in the 14th Century and pretty much ceasing to exist by about 1970. Just this week, I received a copy of the story of the scrolls and how they ended up at Peninsula Sinai from Jayne Bloom (widow of Mel Bloom, one of the founding members of PSC) from the April 1970 edition of one of the local newspapers. Goose Bumps, I’m telling you! I hope to do a side day-trip to Cheske Budovice on the back-end of my trip to Olomouc.12
  4. And if that weren’t enough, just before the Sofer arrived in Foster City to bring the scroll to us for some of the final repairs, there was the little matter of Irma. Hurricane Irma. Yeah that Irma! The Sofer, Rabbi Druin, lives in Miami Beach. As Irma was churning away over Florida, Rabbi Druin (and the scroll) are in his home in Miami behind hurricane shutters riding out the storm. A day or so later, he’s on a plane, with the scroll headed to Foster City. His family is housed at an evacuation shelter at the same time.


Somone once said to me, I wish I could hear the scroll’s stories. From the sofer in Olomouc to surviving the Nazis and the Communist Czech government, to living in a dank warehouse in Prague, to the Westminster Synagogue in London, to a first class seat on Lufthansa, to 47 years in our Aron Kodesh (a nice respite), to Miami, through a hurricane, back to Foster City and now back on a plane to Frankfurt, Prague, another train and finally back home to Olomouc in 2 weeks. How’s THAT for a story? If that parchment could only talk!

It’s a miracle that PSC had Olomouc’s scroll for the last 47 years and we were able to repair it back to Kosher Status and now it’s about ready to “phone home,” to use an ET-ish analogy. Here’s a story in a recent edition of the J Weekly that describes the effort.

So, as I wrote on my Facebook Page a while back, ” I’m humbled and honored to be helping to close this circle on this part of the scroll’s journey through history.”

לשם מצוות כתיבת ספר תורה: Repairing the Olomouc Torah Scroll

Check out this YouTube Video (fixing the Olomouc Scroll) of me sitting with the Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Druin, who will be accompanying us to Olomouc to complete the repairs on this Sefer Torah and will also be helping us write a new one over the next year.

What an honor this was. Our synagogue in Foster City has been housing in safekeeping this ~200-year-old scroll from the Czech town of Olomouc for 47 years. I’ve had the honor of reading from this scroll on Shabbat and chagim. The scroll was looted by the Nazis 78 years ago, one of 1564 scrolls from Jewish communities across Czechoslovakia.

The Westminster Synagogue Scrolls Trust acquired the scrolls in 1963 and parceled them out to Jewish Communities all over the world. Our synagogue has 2, one from Olomouc and one from another town called Ceske Budejovice.

A couple of years ago, the Trust was contacted by the reconstituted community of Olomouc asking for their scroll back. Let that sink in for a moment. A community destroyed by the Nazis, looted of its treasures, and that somehow survived the Nazis and Communism, comes alive again and tracks down part of its precious legacy. And our shul is part of this.

Add to this another strange coincidence that our Cantor’s wife has ancestors from Olomouc!

I hope to be privileged to go in October as a shaliach from our community to escort this scroll home to Olomouc.

Got goose bumps yet? Wow! What a story!