18/19 June 2021, 8/9 Tammuz 5781

The town of Austerlitz had one of the oldest Jewish populations in Moravia dating back to the twelfth century. Relatively peaceful for several centuries Jews paid tribute to local nobles but by 1757, Empress Maria Theresa issued an edict restricting the number of Jewish families in Moravia to 5000. Austerlitz was allowed to shelter 72 of them. This is where one of our Czech scrolls are from. A community that was decimated by the Shoah, deported on 4 April 1942 to Terezin on transport Ah. (Those in neighbouring Kolodeje were deported on 18 April of the same year.)

Torah scrolls were gathered from all over Czechoslovakia and Moravia and left in the Michle synagogue, many rotting in damp and neglected conditions. The extraordinary story of their rescue by Ralph Yablon, a British Jew who brought 1,564 to Westminster synagogue in February 1964 is the stuff of legends. As is the Sofer (scribe) David Brand knocking on the synagogue’s door looking for scrolls to mend and staying 25 years.

We as a community are fortunate to have three of these precious scrolls on loan including one of their binders, our Emeritus Rabbi Frank Hellner brought one back from the Knightsbridge synagogue on the tube, carrying his precious cargo with care.

Our Bnei Mitzvah read from these scrolls and learn of their provenance.

This shabbat we rededicate them in our shabbat service. Torah is still the heart of our Jewish lives, the rhythm of the scroll read every shabbat, the stories and insights in its columns still speak to us.

We are blessed to have this connection to our past and be the guardians of these and the history they hold.

Join us this shabbat as we bring out our three scrolls, one known as an orphan scroll and so tiny it has been used as a children’s Torah. We will read from one and recite the names of those lost in the community that owned them once upon a time. It’s a profoundly important moment for us a congregation.

Do join us.

Shabbat Shalom to all.