Story Of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia
Two - Ralph C Yablon and London's Westminister Synagogue
While Abramsky was still in Prague, Estorick discussed the problem
of the Czech scrolls with one of his clients, Ralph C. Yablon, a
well-to-do, public-spirited member of London's Westminister Synagogue.
Yablon in turn contacted his rabbi, Harold F. Reinhart, who had
been contemplating the idea of setting up a Holocaust memorial museum
in his synagogue. Perhaps, the rabbi said, some of the Czech Torah
scrolls could be brought to London as a nucleus for such an exhibit.
Yablon's answer was to acquire all the 1,564 scrolls from Czechoslovakia
for the equivalent of #30,000, and in December 1963 the Westminister
Synagogue became the official trustee for the entire collection
until such time as it could be distributed elsewhere. In addition
to purchasing the scrolls for the Westminister Synagogue, Yablon
supplied the funds for their packing and their transportation from
Prague to London.
The sacred Torah binder
Meanwhile, the Westminister Synagogue had organized a Memorial
Scrolls Committee, of which Frank R. Waley became chairman and Mrs.
G.R. (Ruth) Shaffer, Honorary Secretary. When the scrolls, covered
with transparent polyethylene plastic, began to arrive at the synagogue
on February 5, 1964, their quarters were ready to receive them.
Three rooms had been set aside for the scrolls on the second floor
of Kent House, the synagogue annex. Special racks had been constructed,
and each scroll, or scroll fragment, was numbered and placed into
a compartment marked with the corresponding number. This process
of sorting and registration alone consumed several months. The day-to-day
care of the scrolls became a community-wide project, involving not
only Rabbi Reinhart, his wife, and Mrs. Shaffer, but also representatives
of other segments of London Jewry, including Chief Rabbi Israel
Brodie (later Sir Israel Brodie); Dr. Solomon Gaon, the haham (chief
rabbi) of the Sephardic community; Rabbi Pinhas Toledano, minister
of the Wembley Sephardic congregation; and Richard D. Barnett, a
prominent member of London's Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and
"Keeper" in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities
in the British Museum.
Of The Scrolls Continues
By the Summer of 1964, the Memorial Scrolls Committee could begin
the second step in the rehabilitation of the scrolls. With the cooperation
of Dr. Gaon and others, scribes were engaged to subject each scroll
to careful scrutiny from beginning to end and to record their findings
for each scroll---its history, place and ate of origin, distinguishing
features and, most important, the condition of the rollers, the
parchment, and the writing. On the basis of their condition, the
scrolls were classified into five categories. In the top category
were the Torahs in the "Best" condition, or those that
were fit for use at synagogue services without needing, or virtually
without needing, refurbishment. The bottom category they termed
as "Unusable". All the other Torah scrolls fit into the
The last category included scrolls that had been torn through more
than three lines of writing or where the Name of God had been erased
or torn. All scrolls beyond salvage were earmarked for display as
Holocaust memorials in England and elsewhere. One such scroll was
lent to Westminister Abbey in 1966 as part of a special Judaic exhibit
arranged by the Council of Christians and Jews to honor the Abbey's
nine hundredth anniversary. Afterwards, this particular scroll was
installed permanently in the library of the Council of Christians
and Jews in London. Other Torah scrolls have gone on to such institutions
as Leeds University, the University of York and York Cathedral in
England, and to Brandeis University, Northwestern University, and
the University of Rochester, New York, in the United States.
"I shall never forget the look of astonishment and awe
on his (David Brand's) face when he saw those three rooms stacked
to the ceiling with sifre Torah (Torah scrolls)."
Scrolls graded in between "Best" to "Unusable"
required various minor and major repairs before they could be used
for reading at synagogue services. It soon became clear that temporary,
part-time scribes would not be sufficient for this work. A full-time
scribe would be required, but the Westminister Synagogue had difficulty
in finding a competent individual willing to devote all his time
to examining and repairing the Czech scrolls. In May 1967 such a
person was unexpectedly found at the very doorsteps of Kent House.
He was David Brand, newly arrived from Jerusalem, who told Mrs.
Shaffer that he had been traveling to many parts of the world repairing
scrolls in synagogues and wondered whether the Westminister Synagogue
happened to have any scrolls in need of repair. "I shall never
forget the look of astonishment and awe on his face when he saw
those three rooms stacked to the ceiling with sifre Torah (Torah
scrolls), Mrs. Shaffer recalled.
Initially, David worked for the Westminister Synagogue on a temporary
basis only, but after his wife and family came over from Israel
to join him in London, he agreed to give all his time to the Torah
scrolls from Czechoslovakia.
Go To Chapter Three: www.czechtorah.org/thestory3.php