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The LJS Scrolls

The LJS owns six scrolls, and has two on permanent loan, one from the Memorial Scrolls Trust, and one from our member Harriett Goldenberg.

The Czech Scrolls

In February 1964, 1564 Torah scrolls arrived in London from what was then Czechoslovakia, under the auspices of the Westminster Synagogue. They had been stored under very poor conditions in the Michle Synagogue in Prague for about 20 years and were in urgent need of care and attention. Over the years, the majority have been restored and sent out to congregations all over the world who needed scrolls to encourage development and to serve as a memorial to the members of the lost Czech communities who had once used them.

The rescue of the Scrolls was made possible by the generosity and commitment of Westminster Synagogue's Ralph Yablon. In recognition, a small scroll was presented to him. In due course, it passed to his son Anthony, a member of the LJS, who in turn arranged to have it transferred to us. It was received and entrusted to the care of our Rimon Religion School at the Shabbat Service in Chanukkah 1999, in the presence of the then Czech ambassador, Karel Seifter, himself once a Czech Jewish refugee. It now resides in the Children’s Ark donated to the school by Barbara and Malcolm Godfrey in memory of their daughter Claire.

The scroll is recorded as having belonged to the Jewish community in Moravske Budejovice (as the name implies, in Moravia, about 50 miles west of Brno) and according to the Memorial Scrolls Trust is one of nine from that community. This is unlikely as there were never more than about 100 Jews resident there. It is probable that scrolls from a number of dissolved congregations in the area were collected and dispatched to Prague from there. In September 2006, a plaque commemorating the community was affixed to the wall of a house which now occupies the site of the synagogue and Ann and Bob Kirk visited in November of that year. Most importantly, we also have a list of names of the 88 Jewish inhabitants of Moravske Budejovice deported to Terezin between April and September 1942, together with a note of their final destination.

The scroll suffered considerable damage, presumably through storage in the damp surroundings of the Michle Synagogue. It is in excess of 200 years old, written with copper sulphate ink, which has turned brown and has faded considerably over the years. The finials are decorated and do not require rimmonim.

History of the Czech Scrolls

We are privileged to have two of these scrolls, which have a very special history. After the infamous Munich Agreement of September 1938, the Germans occupied the German-speaking Czech border region of the Sudetenland whereupon the sixty or so synagogues in the territory would be destroyed.

In March 1939, Germany took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. The following year, all Jewish congregations were closed down, and their members deported. Those who remained were given the job of liquidating the communal and private possessions left behind in the empty synagogues and homes. Everything – Torah scrolls, gold, silver, ritual objects, manuscripts – were sent to Prague, where other Jews catalogued and stored these treasures. They occupied forty warehouses, many of them deserted synagogues, and when the task was accomplished, those who had carried it out were sent to Terezin and from there on to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Few survived.

In February 1948, after less than three years of post-war freedom, Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Soviet Union and the Jewish Museum with all its treasures came under government control. That included the hundreds of Torah scrolls, from Prague as well as the communities of Bohemia and Moravia, which were stored in the 18
th Century Michle Synagogue, in damp and highly unsuitable conditions. 

They stayed there until 1963, when a London-based American art dealer, Eric Estorick, was asked by the Czech authorities whether he knew of anyone who could advise what to do with the scrolls. He passed this information on to Ralph Yablon, who in turn mentioned it to Rabbi Harold Reinhart, founding rabbi of Westminster Synagogue. Despite many obstacles, the purchase of the scrolls, funded by Ralph Yablon, was arranged, and on 7th February 1964, two large lorries arrived at Westminster with their precious cargo. 

Ever since then, the Scrolls have been cared for by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. They were recorded, classified and repaired where possible, though some were beyond repair. From Westminster, they have been distributed to congregations all over the world on permanent loan, making connections between them and the lost congregations of Bohemia and Moravia.

The full story of the Czech scrolls can be found in Philippa Bernard's 'Out of the midst of the fire', a copy of which is available for hire from our library.


The LJS Sanctuary Scrolls

Four scrolls are housed permanently in the Ark in the sanctuary. A Sephardi Scroll, of uncertain age (The format points to an origin pre-1880). Possibly written in Iraq, it is thought to have been taken to Morocco before being brought to the UK. It is written on leather rather than parchment and is therefore heavy and prone to tear. The leather is 23” high. The scroll  appears originally to have been kept in a scroll case, and was adapted at some time before the Second World War to the two-stave format it now has.

A second Sephardi Scroll with parchment 22.75” high, the writing is extremely faded and no longer suitable for use. These two scrolls are used only for hakkafot (processions).

The ‘Sellar’ scroll was presented by Irvine Sellar on the occasion of our 75th Anniversary in memory of his mother, Esther Sellar, and was dedicated during the anniversary service on 8th February 1986. It is a vav amud’ scroll (with specific exceptions all columns begin with the letter vav). According to Vivian Solomons, who inspected it in 1997, it was written in Israel in the early 1920s, on 18” parchment, in a Polish (Ashkenazi) script. It has balanced staves, i.e. one handle is longer than the other, so that the atzey (staves or rollers) fit into each other. Extensive repair and restoration were carried out by Avielah Barclay in 2008, funded by Irvine Sellar. A panel inside the mantle commemorates Mrs Sellar.

The Devarim stave scroll is made up of four sections, as described by Dr Eric Ray when he inspected and repaired it in 1990. There is a note dating from 1984 when it was proposed to combine sections of two existing scrolls to produce one of acceptable standard, and it is probable that this is the result. By definition the parchment varies, on average at 15” in height. Section 1, Bereshit to Shirat Ha-Yam (Creation, to Song at the Sea) is in Polish script, dating from approx 1910. Section 2, Shirat Ha-Yam to Yitro (Song at the Sea, to just prior to the Ten Commandments) also dates from the early 1900s, in German script with apparently some Czech influence. Section 3, Yitro to Balak (the Commandments, in the first column of this section, to Balak) is in Russian script and dates from the 1860s. Finally, section 4, Balak (Mah Tovu) to the end is in Polish script written between 1780 and 1820. More restoration was carried out by Avielah Barclay in 2009, funded by Anthony Roe in memory of his wife Maureen. A panel inside the mantle commemorates Maureen, a much loved member of the community.

At the time of our move back into the rebuilt LJS in 1991, a new set of mantles was made for these four scrolls by Diana Springall, the design echoing that of the Ark doors. For Rosh Hashannah 2013 (5774), Christine Stevenson commissioned and donated a new set of  mantles for High Holy Day use, also made by Diana Springall.

Our latest acquisition is a lightweight scroll purchased to ensure that no member wishing to participate in a service would be debarred by reason of the weight of our standard scrolls. This scroll is on permanent loan from our member Harriett Goldenberg, who generously responded to our search. This is also the most travelled of our scrolls. It originated somewhere in the Pale of Settlement in the late 19th century, and is written in black ferrous sulphate ink on 15.5” high parchment.

Early in the 20th century it was taken  to Melfort, in rural Saskatchewan, Canada. When that community closed down the scroll, together with five others, was handed over to the community in Saskatoon where Harriett grew up who, however, did not need it. Meanwhile, Harriett had moved to England and was involved in the small Winchester Reform community, and through the good offices of her father the scroll was given to her and sent to Winchester. From there, it followed her successively to Southgate Reform, Beit K’lal Yisrael in Kensington (where a new mantle was made for it) and Ealing Liberal. It came to the LJS in time for the Bat Mitzvah of Olivia, Harriett and John’s daughter, in July 2015.


Our other scrolls

The Polish scroll housed in the Ark in the John D Rayner Room is so called because it is believed to originate in Poland. It is over 250 years old and made up of two sections; Section 1, Bereshit (Genesis) is in copper-sulphate ink which has turned brown. The script has Czech/Bohemian influence, and is written in 60 lines per column. Section 2, Shemot (Exodus) to Devarim (Deuteronomy) is in a ferrous sulphate ink which has remained black, shows Polish style, and has 48 lines per column.  Both scribes appear to have Chasidic background. The parchment is 18.5 “ high. Christine Stevenson made two mantles for this scroll, one red, and one white for the High Holy Days

For many years this was thought to be Czech scroll No 944, which we had acquired on loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in 1968 at the request of Rabbi Dr David Goldstein and facilitated by Mr E W (Teddy) Joseph, then Chairman of the Council. In 2010 we discovered that we were mistaken. This emerged when we agreed to lend another scroll to the Gloucestershire Liberal Community. A check before transfer showed that the latter was in fact the Czech scroll, and it was formally transferred to Gloucester with the agreement of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

A scroll donated by Adam Blitz in honour of the baby naming of his niece Romilly, daughter of Brad and Hayley Blitz, in November 2005. It is quite heavy, with carved staves including the finials, and therefore require no rimmonim. There is a rather unusual stop bar. It is understood to originate in Romania, and came to this country via Israel. Some restoration work has been carried out, but more is required. It is inscribed in Hebrew and English, 'In loving memory of David Winsor (Kurt Wang) 2 Dec 1924 - 9 Nov 2004'

Some more research is required. We know that the congregation’s first scroll was donated by Leonard Montefiore - the record states ‘with silver’, i.e rimmonim and yad. Another scroll is recorded as having been presented by the YMO (the Synagogue’s Younger Members’ Organisation) in 1935. Neither scroll has been identified.

Mon, 3 August 2020 13 Av 5780