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The Story Of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia

Chapter Four - The White House

One Czech scroll is now in the White House. Of great antiquity, it comes from Uherské Hradiste, one of the six royal cities of medieval Moravia, where Jews appear to have lived as far back as 1342. The scroll was given to President Jimmy Carter on November 2, 1977, after he had addressed a meeting called by the World Jewish Congress in Washington, D.C. The scroll was presented to him by Nahum Goldmann, the retiring president of the Congress, who expressed the hope that President Carter would install the scroll in the Executive Mansion "as a constant reminder of our prayers for justice and peace." President Carter replied, "I accept it for all those who share a common religious heritage and a common commitment to the future...I will observe it daily in the White House as I go about my duties and it will be a constant reminder to me of the spirit of human rights, decency, and love that is exemplified by those of you represented here tonight."

Several of the scrolls brought to the United States help poignant personal memories for members of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jewry. A scroll sent to Atlanta, Georgia, turned out to be from Mladá Boleslav, the hometown of Gertrude Hirschler, author of The Jews of Czechoslovakia, from which the text for this story was so gratefully borrowed. Its wimple is embroidered with the name of the woman who commissioned the writing of this particular sifre Torah in the year 1881, Rivka Eisencshimmel.

Rabbi Dr. Hugo Stransky had served his people for nearly half a century, first in Czechoslovakia, then in London, New Zealand, Australia, and finally at Congregation Beth Hillel of Washington Heights in New York City. He was about to retire. One of the last official functions he attended was the rededication of Torah Scroll No. 66, over two hundred years old, at Temple Israel of Staten Island, New York. Sharing the pulpit with the Temple's spiritual leader, Rabbi Milton Rosenfeld, Dr. Stransky looked more closely at the scroll. Tears came to his eyes. it was the the sifre Torah he had used in his first congregation in Czechoslovakia, the synagogue of Nachod, from 1930 to 1936.

"In what condition is it?," he whispered to his colleague, his voice choked with emotion as he peered intently at the scroll before him. "Ah!," he observed, "a bit faded, but it can be read."

And so, Rabbi Stransky's long career of service to his fellow Jews on three continents came to a close in America within sight of the Torah scroll he had held in his arms on his first Sabbath as a "rabbi, teacher, and preacher in Israel" in a Bohemian Jewish community that is no more.

Rabbi Stransky looked down upon the congregation gathered in the sanctuary of Temple Israel to receive the old Torah scroll from Czechoslovakia. Like the scroll, some of the men and women seated before him were remnants of ancient, vibrant communities that had fallen to Nazi terror and oppression. Now both the people and the Torah scroll were in a new land where Jews were free to nurture the heritage of their fathers and to pass it on to their children.

As of 1981 (the date of the most recent report issued by the Memorial Scrolls Committee), a total of 1,297 scrolls had been catalogued. Of these, a total of 692 had been sent to various synagogues and other Jewish institutions in England and other countries as follows:

The article taken from the book The Jews Of Czechoslovakia used on The Czech Torah Network Web site was written by Joseph Pick. The book The Jews Of Czechoslovakia was partially written and compiled by Gertrude Hirschler, Edited by Avigdor Dagan, and Associate Edited by Lewis Weiner. The book is published by The Jewish Publication Society Of America of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with help from The Society For The History Of Czechoslovak Jews of New York.

Editor's Note: The Story Of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia appeared in Volume III of the book The Jews Of Czechoslovakia Historical Studies and Surveys which was authored by Joseph C. Pick. It can be found on pages 584-610.

© 2003. The Society for the History of Czech Jews, of New Jersey. All Rights Reserved.




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