Our Chai Czech Scroll

Introduction 

In the early 1960s, 1564 Torah scrolls from the Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, destroyed by the Nazis, were uncovered in a disused building in Prague. Hearing about this, Rabbi Harold Reinhardt arranged for them to be brought to the Westminster Synagogue, where they arrived in February of 1964. The scrolls were systematically catalogued and evaluated, and sorted by condition. A Scribe set out on the enormous task of restoring the scrolls. The scrolls that were beyond repair were kept to form part of a new museum, based at the synagogue. The remainder were distributed on permanent loan to Jewish communities and organisations around the world.

Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue is the proud guardian of scroll number 1278, which originally belonged to the Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek [see Frydek Mistek below]. We call it our ‘Chai’ Scroll because sum of the numbers 1+2+7+8 = ‘18’, which in Hebrew is represented by the consonants, Chet (8) and Yud (10), which spell the word, Chai, ‘Life’.

We commemorate our Chai Czech scroll at different times of the year:  in particular, on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, because the Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek was deported by the Nazis in 1942 at that sacred season, and during the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer, which commence on the second day of the Festival of Pesach. During the Omer period, we read from our Czech scroll each Shabbat.

Prayer before reading from our Chai Czech scroll on Shabbat Shuvah

Today on Shabbat Shuvah, we recall the Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek that was destroyed by the Nazis, and in particular, remember the last remnant that was deported between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur in 1942.

As we read from this scroll that was once read by the Jews of Frydek-Mistek, we pledge ourselves to honour their memory by re-dedicating ourselves to the sacred tasks of developing the life of this congregation and contributing to the renewal of the Jewish people.

Kein y’hi ratzon – May this be our will.  And let us say:  Amen.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

Prayer for reading from our Chai Czech scroll during the Omer period

As we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot, between spring and the early summer harvest, between Egypt and Sinai, a time of uncertainty and danger throughout our people’s history, we recall the Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek that was destroyed by the Nazis.

As we read from this scroll that was once read by the Jews of Frydek-Mistek, we pledge ourselves to honour their memory by re-dedicating ourselves to the sacred tasks of developing the life of this congregation and contributing to the renewal of the Jewish people.

Kein y’hi ratzon – May this be our will.  And let us say:  Amen.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

The Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek

The twin town, Frydek-Mistek, straddles the Ostravice River, with Frydek on the northern, Silesian bank, and Mistek, on the southern, Moravian bank. The first Jews lived in a Frydek at the beginning of the 18th century. A Jewish entrepreneur called, Moses Lieberman, is first mentioned on October 30, 1708 in a document written by the owner of the Frydek estate, Frantisek Vilem Count Prazma. Moses Lieberman had requested permission for him and his family to live permanently in Frydek. His request was approved on condition that the house he purchased was not sold to another Jew.  On February 19th, 1711 Moses Lieberman bought for 100 silesian tolars a pub on the square in Frydek.

The beginnings of a larger Jewish community date back to the 19th century. Before 1848 Jews were not allowed to buy property in Mistek and to settle there. Several Jewish families settled in Frydek and Mistek after 1850. In September 1861, the Jews from Mistek started negotiations with the Jews from Frydek to build a permanent house of prayer. Because each community wanted the building to be situated in their town, a vote was taken. And Mistek lost out to Frydek. The construction of the synagogue began in 1864. The Jewish cemetery was established in 1882.

The Jewish communities of Frydek and Mistek were consolidated on March 21st 1890. At that time, the older synagogue was no longer sufficient, and so they began to build a new one, which was finished in 1896. The first independent Jewish school was established at the same time as the synagogue.

429 Jews were counted in the Frydek district in 1921, and only 307, seven years later. Similarly, in Mistek district, the number of Jews declined from 303 to 242 during the same period. During their highest numbers, Jews accounted 2% of the total population. By 1930 the Jewish population of both towns was 432.

Frydek synagogue was attacked by Nazis on the night of 13 to 14th of June 1939. From September 1st 1941, The Jews of Frydek-Mistek were ordered to wear a yellow star with the label, ‘Jude’. Between September 18th and 30th 1942, that is, between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish community of Frydek-Mistek was deported by the Nazis – for the most part, to Treblinka.

Today, only the Cemetery and the synagogue, now used by Seventh-day Adventists, remain as visible signs of an eradicated Jewish community. One of the Frydek-Mistek scrolls is now on permanent loan to BHPS. Another is with Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Material taken from: ‘In the Shadow of Frydek Synagogue’ by Jaromir Polasek and ‘The Re-consecration of Holocaust Memorial scroll Number 12, sermon by Rabbi Daniel Alexander of Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Memorial Scrolls Trust

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