The Memorial Scrolls Trust’s travelling exhibition visted North West Surrey Synagogue (NWSS) in October. A special Shabbat service remembering the Czech community of Klatovy was held on Saturday 17 October, as Jean Cohen explains.
What a wonderful service to remember and celebrate the Jewish community of Klatovy and the marvellous work of the Memorial Scrolls Trust! And what a mitzvah to have hosted the Czech Memorial Scrolls exhibition, with added information about Klatovy, the small town in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) where one of our scrolls came from and also from where NWSS member Tom Barth’s family hail.
After WWII, the Czech Jewish Museum gathered some nearly 1600 Torah scrolls which had been saved from the Nazis. In the 1960s these scrolls were sold to a private donor and brought to Westminster Synagogue, where they were examined, catalogued and repaired as necessary. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was set up to manage this project and to distribute kosher scrolls on loan to communities that needed them; NWSS received a scroll from the town of Třebíč. In return, our obligation was to “dedicate one Shabbat each year to the Jews of our Memorial Scroll Congregation.”
Ten years ago NWSS was able to exchange that scroll with one from Klatovy because of the Barth family connection with that town. Coincidentally, the congregation who had been loaned that scroll was that of Rabbi Larry Tabick, so the switch was easy. We received a scroll from Klatovy, where several generations of Barths had lived and helped to establish the Jewish community there. Tom had visited Klatovy to explore his heritage, and his son Richard celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the town in 2006, reading from our Klatovy scroll with members of the family and a number of NWSS members present. Two other Klatovy scrolls were part of that service, one from the United States and the other from Thanet.
As Thanet Reform Synagogue had also received a Klatovy scroll, some of their members joined us on 17 October , bringing their scroll with them. Their rabbi, Rabbi Clifford Cohen, read the Noah story from their scroll, introducing it with a drash pointing out how full of incident Bereishit (Genesis) was, and how the Noah story of the gathering and survival of all living beings relates to the gathering of these Czech scrolls. Tom Barth, himself a keen sailor, then read the second part of the reading from ‘our’ Klatovy scroll including in his drash reference to Noah the boat builder and sailor.
The Czech Scrolls exhibition was on display at NWSS for about 10 days, supplemented by a display about Klatovy, comprising pre-war and contemporary photos, pictures and maps. The exhibition was open to the public for two days, so in addition to our own members and Cheder children, it was seen by around 60 visitors, some from local churches, others who were alerted to it by items in the local media, including Radio Surrey.
Ian Smiler, Chairman of Thanet & District Reform Synagogue, said that the Shabbat service had been one of the most moving he had attended. Which says it all.
Pictured above: Rabbi David J. Zucker from North West Surrey Synagogue and Rabbi Clifford Cohen from Thanet & District Reform Synagogue after the service and NWSS members Tom Barth and Sarah Harris displaying the synagogue’s Klatovy scroll during the open day for the Memorial Scrolls Trust traveling exhibition.