One of the treasures in our synagogue is a Torah scroll from the Czech Jewish community of Bzenec. Jews lived in that small town for centuries; however, some fled and many more were deported and killed as the Nazis spread across Europe. Whole communities were gone, but their religious artefacts, including Torah scrolls, were left behind. Many of these items were collected and stored in Prague during the war, and eventually came into the custody of Westminster Synagogue about 50 years ago. Westminster Synagogue in turn loaned out approximately 1,500 of these Torah scrolls to other synagogues around the world. Bromley Reform Synagogue has two of these scrolls, including the one from Bzenec.
Recently, Rabbi Harvey Winokur of Temple Kehillat Chaim in suburban Atlanta, Georgia contacted me. His synagogue, like ours, has a Torah scroll from Bzenec. Including our two synagogues, there are a total of nine synagogues currently in possession of a scroll from Bzenec (all but Bromley are located in the United States). Last year, Rabbi Winokur travelled to London to take part in the 50 year anniversary ceremony of the Czech scrolls arriving at Westminster Synagogue. The anniversary ceremony was very moving for him. When he returned home, he did more research on Bzenec and decided to help organise a trip for his synagogue members to Eastern Europe, to learn more about the history of the Jewish community. This trip is now planned, and Rabbi Winokur has graciously invited the members of our synagogue, along with the members of the other synagogues with Torah scrolls from Bzenec to come along. The trip goes from July 13-20, 2015 and begins and ends in Prague. In addition to Prague, the trip will go to Budapest, Vienna, and, of course, Bzenec. Highlights of the trip include:
- Explore the Story of Jewish Budapest over the past 150 Years, including visits to:
- The Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe.
- The Jewish Museum, housed on the site of Theodor Herzl’s birth.
- The Community Holocaust Memorial.
- Visit the Vienna Temple (Stadtempel), the only surviving synagogue from pre-WWII days, located near the Judenplatz, the main square of the Jewish community for nearly 500 years.
- A tour of Bzenec, where one of our Torah scrolls originated, including a visit to the Jewish cemetery.
- An Inside Look into the Czech Republic- Politics, Economics & Society Dialogue with Mr Peter Brod, former BBC Bureau Chief and Radio Free Europe activist.
- Guided visit through Jewish Prague, including the Old Ghetto, the Precious Legacy Exhibit at the Jewish Museum and the Jewish Cemetery, as well as:
- The Altneu Shul, the longest continually used synagogue in Europe and site of the first use of the Magen David.
- The Maisel Synagogue, named after a Jewish mayor of Prague, exemplifies the Golden Age of Jewish Prague.
- The Pincus Synagogue, a memorial to the Jews of Prague who died in the Holocaust.
- The Old Cemetery, with the graves of such Jewish luminaries as Judah Loew, the Maharal, and Mordechai Maisels, and the ceremonial hall with the well-known Hevra Kadisha paintings.
- The Spanish Synagogue built in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer (“the Old Shul”) and designed in a Moorish style by Vojtech Ignátz Ullmann.
To find out more information, please visit:
This is a custom tour, run by ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) World meant specifically to guide our synagogues around Eastern Europe. Because it is a custom tour, run by a Reform Jewish affiliated travel organisation, this will be a unique, one of a kind experience. I hope that many of you will be able to participate on this exciting trip to learn more about this history of Eastern European Jewish communities as well as the history of one of our very own Torah scrolls.
L’shalom, to peace,
Rabbi Jason Holtz