Stories that connect us- from Bohemia and Moravia to Puerto Rico, Virginia, New Mexico and London
MST Quarterly Newsletter Summer 2017
Friends, welcome to the sixth edition of the Memorial Scrolls Trust Newsletter
I am sure that most of us will have enjoyed the summer. However our thoughts and prayers are with those in Texas, Florida and the Carribean who are continuing to suffer the devastation caused by hurricanes.
Our Czech Torah webpage project continues to progress and we have now made 243 reciprocal links which may be seen on our webpage:
However in order to meet our target of linking over 1000 scroll-holders around the world, we do need everyone to take part.
2018 marks the Centenary of the Czech Republic. The Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews is planning a special commemoration in December 2018. This will include a gathering of our Czech Scrolls, and with nearly 400 in the New York Tri-State area alone, are hoping for a very good turnout. We shall be sending out “save the date” info next month.
Please remember this is YOUR newsletter and we ask you to send us articles and photos for publication.
Wishing you all
שנה טובה ומתוקה
The Survival of a Torah
By David Lewin, Sydney
In November 2001, I had the privilege of reading from a Sefer Torah which is known in Sydney as the “Balmain Torah.” This was a very special moment for me, as this particular Torah has a family history extending back over more than five generations, and maybe there is more than co-incidence in this story…
History of the Jews in Kojetin The story of the Balmain Torah starts with its original location in the Moravian town of Kojetin, which has a centuries-old history of Jewish residence.
Kojetin is a little town located in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), lying on the right bank of the Moravia River, about 200 kilometres south-east of Prague.
Jews have been living in Kojetin for many centuries. The oldest records showing definite information of a Jewish community in Kojetin are found in a chronicle in the local seigniorial archives. It is stated that in 1566, there were 52 Jewish families living in the “Judengasse” (the Street of the Jews). These records clearly indicate that at that time the Jewish community was fairly large and it had been in existence for a long time. The chronicle also indicates that the cemetery was being expanded at this time.
After the sixteenth century the community diminished considerably. The major factor of this decrease was the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), although it affected the Christians more than the Jews. Evidence indicates that by 1657 there were only 16 inhabited Jewish houses.
However, during the second half of the seventeenth century the Jewish community experienced strong growth due to Chmielnicki raids in Poland. Some of the refugees fleeing the terrible massacre found a welcome haven in Kojetin. In exchange for refuge, they shared their knowledge of the Torah and Talmud, and introduced the Polish prayer Minhag, which was still used until the community was destroyed in the Holocaust.
There was also further immigration from Vienna in the late seventeenth century as a result of the Turkish invasion of Austro-Hungary.
The historical records reveal that in 1727, there were 470 Jews living in Kojetin in 40 dwellings, proof that the population and the number of occupied dwellings had returned to their previous levels. The Jewish community had however become poorer, and its principal business activity was local trade.
According to the 1829 census, there were 76 established families in Kojetin. The period between 1849-1890 was the golden age of the Jewish community of Kojetin. In many families education, sociability, and genuine Judaism were there major values and they were not afraid to show it.
The Kojetin synagogue was built of stone and brick, and was initially designed to hold about 300 people. Evidence indicates that it was renovated in 1614, but it dates from a much earlier period. Before the Holocaust, the community believed the synagogue was over 600 years old.
Still to be found in the synagogue, and in an amazingly good state of preservation, is an extremely valuable brocaded Parochet (Ark curtain) with gold embroidery. The inscription indicates that it dates from the Jewish Year 5442 (secular years 1681-2), and that it was donated during a time of great distress in the community.
Shortly after the arrival of the settlers from Poland, the Judengasse was devastated by an overpowering fire, during which the synagogue lost its roof. Since the community was unable to collect sufficient funds for its restoration, the synagogue remained unroofed for 50 years.
A petition was filed with the Chancellery of the Prague Archdiocese for the restoration of the synagogue on its former location. At the same time proposals were submitted for the selection of a Rabbi and a Chazan, along with other proposals to help the Jewish community. The approval was given and the synagogue was restored. The community, greatly diminished and impoverished by the fire, was now fully reorganized, and despite its small size it became the headquarters of important rabbis.
The synagogue was used until the Nazi invasion of Moravia in March 1939. The building suffered some structural damage during World War II. After the war, it was used as a warehouse and, as there are no known current Jewish residents, it is still used as such.
My Family’s Historical Association with Kojetin
My great-great-grandfather Leopold Weisskopf was an active and prominent member of the Kojetin Jewish community. He was the vice-president of the Chevra Kadishah and an esteemed senior member of the Kojetin Synagogue. The community honoured him for his hard work and devotion to them.
Of particular significance to this history is my grandmother’s recollection of Festival services conducted in his home, using one of the Kojetin Synagogue Torahs. I have recorded her recollection of this below.
My great-great grandparents Leopold and Miriam Weisskopf lived and worked in Kojetin. They moved there after they were married.
The Weisskopf’s house occupied a large block of land on the Judengasse. On this land were two shops, one with ready-made clothes and the other with materials. Leopold’s other brothers also owned shops nearby; my grandmother remembers that Leopold’s brother Ernst owned a successful shoe shop.
Leopold and Miriam Weisskopf’s living quarters were situated on the top level, where they lived comfortably. In the back of the house was a large lounge room extending to a backyard, where all of the Shabbat and Festival Lunches were held. They also grew a large range of vegetables so they would never have to go to the shops. Their grandchildren had a tree house built for them in the yard, where they would play together.
They had four children, one of whom was a daughter called Frida.
Frida grew up in her parents’ home and was educated there until her adolescence. When she was a teenager she was sent to school in a neighbouring town to study bookkeeping, commerce and writing shorthand, as her father wanted her to work in his shops.
When Frida was 23 she married Rudolf Strassman in the Kojetin Synagogue.
Rudolf was born in Vizovice, Moravia. He had worked as a judge for the military services during the First World War. After their marriage in 1919, Rudolf and Frida Strassman moved to the town of Silperg in Moravia, which was not far from Kojetin. There, Rudolf worked as a Chamber Notary (which was a legal professional) and a solicitor.
In 1921 they had a son who was called Felix. Two and a half years later (June 15, 1923) their daughter Kitty, my grandmother, was born. As Rudolf was a very successful lawyer, he was promoted in 1930 to a position in Lipnik, a larger provincial regional city. Fortunately for keeping family connections, Lipnik was only three train stops from Kojetin.
Kitty attended Primary School in Lipnik. She was a good student and so Rudolf and Frida sent her to a Boarding Gymasium (academically selective streamed high school) in Brno, the Moravian capital city, to learn languages, as that was her scholastic strength.
At every available opportunity, Kitty went to visit her grandparents in Kojetin. When possible she went during school holidays and all the Jewish Festivals. On all of the Festivals, the whole family came to Kojetin. As the house was large Kitty and her family stayed there in one of the bedrooms. Kitty’s grandfather, Leopold Weisskopf, conducted the Seders, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in his home for the big family. He borrowed a Torah from the Kojetin Synagogue and all the family participated. They had an open house and many other friends participated and came for meals. All of the meals and service were conducted in the big yard and lounge room. These were some of the fondest memories Kitty had of her childhood as she spent time with her uncles, aunts and cousins whom she was never to see again after the Holocaust.
In 1933 Leopold Weisskopf passed away. The funeral procession started from his house and he was carried through the streets of Kojetin in a horse-drawn carriage.
After Leopold’s death, Miriam Weisskopf was unable to manage the shops by herself so she gave them over one of her sons, Ernst. Miriam caught the train to my grandmother and her family in Lipnik almost every week. Kitty and Felix were always excited to greet her as she bought them presents; most often these were homemade sweets. My grandmother has never forgot the taste of them, as they tasted so special to her!
In 1936 Miriam passed away after a short illness and was buried next to Leopold in Kojetin Cemetery. With their demise having fortunately preceded the Holocaust, Kojetin faded from the immediate family history. Visits there now only occurred to visit the graves at Yahrzeits, and for rare visits to the extended family,
Most of Leopold and Miriam’s descendants were mostly taken to Terezin and other concentration camps, and my grandmother was the sole survivor of the Holocaust. Miriam Weisskopf’s other brothers and sisters were able to leave to Palestine well before the Germans invaded. When my grandmother went to Israel in 1992 she serendipitously met one of her long-lost second cousins, who organised for her to meet her Israeli relatives. There are over seventy-five members of the family living in Kibbutzim in Israel.
To briefly document my family members who were present last November, I continue my grandmother’s biography.
After the war, Kitty moved to Prague and married Bedrich Fest, another Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. They were married in the Altneuschul in Prague, and had a son whom they named Rudolf (Rudy) after his grandfather Rudolf Strassman. When the Communists overtook Czechoslovakia they emigrated to Australia, and my mother Julie was born here in Sydney.
My family present at the Torah reading was my grandmother, my mother, father and sisters, and my Uncle Rudy’s family.
The Journey of the Torah
The “Balmain Torah” currently in the possession of the “Inner Western Chavurah Balmain” community is one of twelve Sifrei Torah from Kojetin and one of the 1564 from Czechoslovakia which survived the Holocaust.
These Torahs were perversely saved by the Nazis and warehoused in Prague, where they were to be preserved in the “Museum of a Dead Race.” This was intended to be a museum to show future generations what the Jews whom Hitler had destroyed were like. The Germans had kept meticulous records of the items collected, and so the provenance of this Torah is well documented.
After the war the Torahs were collected and restored by curators of Westminster synagogue in England. The scrolls had been found burnt and damaged and there David Brant, a Sofer, repaired them to the best of his ability. He used remnants of old Torahs to patch up the damaged sections and replaced one of the Atzei Chaim (poles) of the Balmain Torah. Even so, the Torah is incompletely restored and is Pasul, so it cannot be used for Orthodox religious services.
Balmain resident Helen Zigmond, whose father was an official of the Westminster Torah Restoration Project put the Chavurah into contact with the organizers. The community had grown, and wanted to acquire a Sefer Torah to use in its services. To qualify for one of the Kojetin Torahs, the Chavurah had to prove itself as a suitable community. This is harder than it sounds, as the community doesn’t have a formal institution, synagogue or rabbi. However after a year’s correspondence, they finally proved themselves qualified to get the Torah provided that they met out insurance and export costs.
In 1989 one of the Chavurah members travelled to England to get the Torah and flew it to Sydney. Even this was an adventure, as a Sefer Torah must travel as hand luggage, and the Torah bearer had difficulties with airline security: the guards thought he was a terrorist with a double-barrelled gun!
The Inner Western Chavurah use the Torah regularly, and numbers of members’ children read from it for their Bar- and Bat-Mitzvahs. They are considered to be the guardians of the Torah, in perpetual trust.
In 1998, the Sydney Powerhouse Museum staged an exhibition entitled “Precious Legacy: Treasures from the Jewish Museum in Prague” and the Balmain Torah was displayed there on loan, as the principal “local” exhibit. When I saw this exhibition with my family, my grandmother speculated that it was noteworthy that there was a Czech Torah surviving in a Jewishly obscure part of Sydney, but the story still has a little way to go.
Sydney film-maker and member of the Inner Western Chavurah Balmain Rodney Freeman was making a documentary on the Holocaust for the Sydney Jewish Museum, and had previously been in contact with Avi Steiner in Jerusalem. Avi had researched the Kojetin Jewish community, from which he was descended and was aware of the Balmain Torah’s history through Rod.
Rod interviewed my grandmother as part of the oral history for his documentary, and when the subject of her roots in Kojetin came up, he put her into contact with Avi Steiner in Jerusalem. Apparently, she is the sole survivor of this once thriving Jewish community
Avi and my grandmother had correspondence, and as she was able to tell him of the community, he told her that the Balmain Torah was originally one of the Kojetin Torahs.
And so… a meeting of the Inner Western Chavurah was set up at Rod Freeman’s where my grandmother was to be the guest of honour to tell her story of Kojetin.
On Sunday 11th November 2001 at Rod Freeman’s house in Balmain, my family and I went to meet the Chavurah and to see the Torah. It was an unexpectedly emotional meeting. We were all prepared for my mother and uncle to give a little of my family’s history coming to and growing up in Australia, and for Grandma to give the highlight speech, recounting her childhood memories of Kojetin.
The Torah was then brought out and carefully unwrapped and opened on the dining room table. It was packed in the same box, as it was when it was given to them. It was a fairly large Torah and had a big red cover with the words “From the people of Kojetin to the Inner West Chavurah” embroidered on it. It was rolled to where one of the children was to read for a Bat-Mitzvah in a couple of weeks, and not far from my Bar-Mitzvah Sedra, Vayechi.
I was asked if I could read a little as the community aren’t greatly exposed to people reading from the Torah. We rolled the Torah to the beginning of the Parashah and I began to recite it. The Torah relates here of the completion of Jacob’s life, after all his troubles, surrounded by his children and descendants.
And here was my grandmother listening to the same story in real life: her grandson reading the story of blessings and reconciliation from probably the very same Torah that she had heard read, as a small child in her grandfather’s house in Kojetin so long ago.
On The Antiquity of the Czech Torah Scroll MST-501
Paul Aharon, PhD, Professor in Geochemistry at University of Alabama
Torah Scrolls have a life of their own
In the late spring of 2015 Temple Emanu-El of Tuscaloosa, Alabama took delivery of Torah Scroll MST-501 shipped from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, UK. The Trust serves as repository of Torah Scrolls looted by Nazi Germany in the former Czechoslovakia during WWII. At the time of delivery the only known record of Torah Scroll MST-501 was its provenance. Hence, unlike many other Torah Scrolls in the repository whose pedigree is known, Torah Scroll MST-501 was an “orphan” in the sense that no information was available with respect to its previous ownership and antiquity.
n order to gain insight on the antiquity of Torah Scroll MST-501, this author submitted a proposal to the Temple Emanu-El Board of Trustees to acquire the age of the Torah Scroll by applying the radiocarbon (i.e., 14C) dating method. The request to date the scroll was also submitted in a letter to the Memorial Scrolls Trust and permission was granted by both organizations. The results of the radiocarbon dating investigation are narrated below.
Fundamentals of the Radiocarbon Dating Technique
All living things on Earth (i.e., plants, animals and humans) contain a tiny amount of the radioisotope 14C (radiocarbon) whose abundance is less than one thousandth (1/1000) of a percent and is inherited from the Earth’ atmosphere. Once a living thing dies, the exchange with the atmosphere is discontinued and the 14C decays with a half-life of 5,730 years. By measuring the time-dependent depletion of radiocarbon in a dead object, assuming a constant level of radiocarbon in the Earth atmosphere and with the prior knowledge of the radiocarbon half-life, one can conveniently calculate the age of a carbon-rich object.
By tradition and strict regulations Torah Scrolls are commonly written on parchments typically made of goat/sheep-skin whose chemistry isdominated by carbon. Hence parchments are ideal material for application of the radiocarbon dating method as demonstrated by the successful dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Khirbet Qumran, Israel that yielded ages as old as 2400 years (~400 BCE).
The antiquity of Torah Scroll MST-501
Traditional equipment used to determine radiocarbon concentrations requires large amounts of material (in the order of several grams) thus making its application to rare parchments prohibitive given the very low level of 14C. With the recent advent of high sensitivity accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) equipment, determination of 14C in samples 1/1000th smaller than traditional amounts became feasible.
Two small rectangles of ~0.015 grams each were removed from inconspicuous places on the parchment of Torah Scroll MST-501 using sterile gloves. The slivers were subsequently ultra-sonicated in alcohol and distilled water baths to remove any contaminant, and dried overnight at room temperature.
Radiocarbon concentrations in the duplicate parchment samples were determined pro bono at the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (NOSAMS) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the USA. The two parchment samples yielded identical radiocarbon concentrations within the analytical error. Radiocarbon measurements were calibrated in calendar years using the Oxford University calibration software OXCAL v. 4.2.4. 2013. The calibration yielded an age centered at 1270 ±45 AD calendar years with a range from 1223-1315 AD at 95.4% probability. Hence the parchment, and by extension Torah Scroll MST-501, is 745 ±45 years old and is dated in the late 13th to the early 14th centuries AD.
A brief paleographic examination by Rabbi Dr. Bernard Honan of Huntsville, Alabama, one of only a handful of Torah scribes in the USA, indicated that Torah Scroll MST-501 follows scribal standards established at the turn of the 13th century by Maimonides (also known as the RAMBAM, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon), the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. Additionally, the hand-lettered columns and script style suggest an Ashkenazi (middle Europe) origin.
In Pursuit of the Oldest Complete Torah Scroll
A few years ago scientists at the University of Bologna in Italy, rediscovered a misplaced Torah Scroll in the University library. Using a radiocarbon technique similar to the one used to date MST-501, the Italian scholars concluded that the Bologna Torah Scroll was written between 1155-1225 AD in the 12th to 13th centuries. The discovery at the University of Bologna hit the news around the world as being the oldest known (~800 years old) complete Torah Scroll in existence today. More recently a Torah Scroll believed to come from Yemen and written in the 14th century was discovered in the archives of Cambridge University in the UK. Another Torah Scroll, brought recently to Israel by the last remaining Jews in Yemen, is believed to have been written in the early 16th century and being ~500 years old.
We now know that Torah Scroll MST-501 was written about half a century after the Bologna Torah Scroll, thus making it the second oldest known complete Torah Scroll in the world. Henceforth,d Torah Scroll MST- 501, recovered from the ashes of Europe, is not an unknown “orphan” anymore. It is housed in perpetuity at Temple Emanu-El in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and will always be treated with utmost care, love and respect.
Shavuot in Kolín
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Since I first gave a sermon to Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue about our Czech Memorial Scroll from Kolín I must have visited the town over 25 times. Group tours have marked several anniversaries: e.g. 1992 the 50th anniversary of the Deportations, 1996 the 400th of the dedication of the synagogue, 2015 remembering the return of the few survivors. In June 2017 we decided to make the visit one of celebration of the achievements of the lost Jewish community and also of the great efforts made by the town itself to remember the Jews murdered in the Shoah.
On Erev Shavuot the party gathered in Kolín (which is about 35 miles east of Prague): from America, Israel as well as from Leicester, LJS, Westminster and Brighton to join the members of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
First excursion was to the Old Jewish cemetery (founded in early 15th century) and considered the second most important in Bohemia after the famous one in Prague. Then a half hour walk over the river Labe to the New Cemetery to visit more recent graves and then the memorial established soon after the Shoah by the last rabbi of Kolín, Dr Richard Feder. It contains the names of 480 members of his community who lost heir lives in Holocaust. A few lucky members of the group got a lift back to the town centre in cars sent by the Mayor, but others had to walk and were soon engulfed in a torrential downpour! And so 24 people started the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot in the Synagogue in dry clothes and 24 in soggy attire.
We read the evening service, sang the songs, had a cheese and wine meal and studied paragraphs of the writings of Rabbi Feder. It was after ten o'clock when the group trudged back to our hotel, some dry, some damp but all happy.
Shavuot morning service was as moving as ever. A packed shul, with well over 50 students and teachers from the Grammar school joining us as well as many townsfolk. Our dedicated group of members of NPLS choir led the singing and soon the synagogue was filled with joyful sound : the first Shavuot service since 1953 when the congregation of survivors folded. We read the Ten Commandments from the Kolín scroll kept in the town Museum, with one of the students reading the translation in Czech. We taught them the chorus to Adon Olam for a rousing finale. Then one of the students introduced an exhibition they had researched telling the stories of their former pupils who had been murdered in the Shoah. The students then stood by the display board of "their child" and answered our questions as we went round the exhibition. The most moving moment was when we introduced to the student who had researched the story of Julius Hubsch...his grandson, who Michael Heppner, just a few weeks previously discovered in Bristol. It was emotional for both the Kolín students and for Laurence Hybs! Out of the blue he had discovered his lost Jewish identity and he and his wife found themselves in the birthplace of his father.
As on previous visits, Mayor Vit Rakušan then provided a most splendid Kiddush/lunch in the synagogue courtyard. It was a memorable Shavuot morning.
In the afternoon we all went by coach to Panenské Brezany to a recently opened museum housed in a chateau once owned by the Bauer family...the wife had been the subject of Gustav Klimt's "Woman In Gold" painting. But when the Nazis came it was taken over by Gen. Frank who became the ruler of Nazi Protectorate after assassination of Heydrich. The latter had lived in a nearby chateau on the same estate. As well as telling about the history of the chateau, the museum told the story of Czech resistance in the War. We then went on to Brandys nad Labem where we toured the beautiful synagogue. We were welcomed by the Mayor, who had been the Czech Minister of Defence and visited Israel frequently. No wonder that there was an impressive exhibition upstairs telling of the positive relations between the Czech and Israeli military in the era before and after Communism.
The day ended at the Brandys castle for dinner and then we were given a special treat with a private tour of the castle. It has an impressive history, and once was the home of Empress Maria Theresia.
Thursday was another very hot day, but the group showed koyach with a two hour walk around the Kolin Stolpersteine trail...the unique project organised by Michael Heppner, to which so many of NPLS members had contributed. We started with the Stolperstein dedicated to Julias and Marie Huebsch...and their grandson read a moving prayer of dedication at that point. We watched as the Stolpersteine was actually inserted in the pavement. We visited over 50 points on the trail, stopping longest at the stones dedicated by members of NPLS. In the afternoon a few of us gathered at the Grammar school for the Dedication of a memorial to the pupils who had been murdered in the Shoah.
The Kolin part of the tour ended in triumph with our nine person choir filled the synagogue with sound, before a packed audience. And when our singers were joined by the 30 strong students choir from the Grammar school, the effect was magic. As the two choirs joined for Adon Olam at the end, tears flowed in the audience, it was such a rousing experience. We were graced by the Czech Minister of Social Affairs, Micha Ella Marksová and many other dignitaries. Before the concert Jeffery Ohrenstein, Chair of Memorial Scrolls Trust and Zuzana Pavlovská, Head of Education and Culture at the Jewish Museum Prague, presented Mayor Rakušan with the certificate of appreciation for the devotion of the town to researching and restoring the Jewish heritage of Kolín. The certificate had already been presented in Northwood a month earlier when the congregation sponsored a visit by Mayor Rakušan and his wife for our annual Czech Memorial Scroll Shabbat. It was a satisfying end to yet another visit to Kolín and the town is looking forward to a visit by Rabbi Aaron Goldstein and the next Kabbalat Torah class in November 2017. (We aim to take a class of teenagers every year to explore the town and celebrate Shabbat in the synagogue)
Friday morning 30 people boarded a coach heading for Brno and Shabbat. A few weeks previously a member, had discovered she had an ancestor in a place called Polna which was half way to Brno. It was a fortuitous discovery as Polna has (like Brandys) one of the ten historic synagogues restored in the last decade. Not just a synagogue (founded in 1683) but the attached rabbi’s house and school with a working mikveh. There was a well defined ghetto and the town was set in the most beautiful wooded countryside. The added bonus was that, Anna Wagner, a Jewish woman from Prague had retired to a beautiful little house next door and she befriended us all and joined us on the rest of the tour.
And so on to Brno, for a quick tour round the historic centre of the city and then to the community centre for Kabbalat Shabbat. For us, a little curious as it consisted only of the Orthodox rabbi leading the singing of Shalom Aleychem, L’cha Dodi, Adon Olam and straight into Kiddush! The shortest service ever. But the community welcomed us for a fine Shabbat meal and it was refreshing to see an active Jewish community thriving in the Czech Republic..
Shabbat morning we were on the coach early for our own NPLS style Liberal service…..but in another of the Ten Stars…in Boskovice, about 45 miles from Brno. Again a beautifully restored synagogue in an extensive former ghetto. It had been built originally in 1636 (60 years before “our” shul in Kolín!). My opening words were: we didn’t need to bring prayerbooks…as many of the prayers were painted on the ceiling and walls! But we used the creative service composed for our recent Czech Memorial service and the two poems composed by our students Lydia Boffey and Sam Finkelstein were incredibly moving as we read them along with poems written by youth in Terezín. Of course we sang “The Butterfly” and there was hardly a dry eye in the place. We had been joined in Brno by Rabbi Misha Kapustin, now Progressive rabbi in Bratislava, and he and I led the service and read from a small Kolín Torah scroll carried lovingly from Arizona by one of our groupies…Lee Shedroff.
Back in Brno twenty of us were lucky enough to get a private guided tour round Villa Tugenhat…the UNESCO listed modernist house that is so incredibly beautiful is defies description. Every room or area we moved onto demanded from everybody…”Wow!”. Seeing the house made sense of the functionalist Brno synagogue we visited next morning. Beautifully restored (and still in use) with modern textiles (ark curtain, Torah covers, etc) by the famous American artist Mark Podwal (who will give the opening lecture at the EUPJ Conference in Prague in April 2018). From there we went to the Brno cemetery, with a magnificent dignified prayer hall. And so on to say kaddish at the grave of Rabbi Dr Richard Feder who died in Brno in 1970. And then a curiosity…to visit a tree Sharon & I had planted in 2003 to mark the death of Ilan Ramon the Israeli astronaut who had died in the Columbia shuttle disaster.
Monday, Sharon and I travelled on alone (by train of course) to Bratislava where I gave a lecture that night at one of the Catholic seminaries…a programme organised jointly with the Jewish community. It was 5th June, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Six Day War, and I spoke on “If I forget thee….Jerusalem in Jewish thought”. We were graced by the presence of the Israeli Ambassador, Zvi Aviner Wapni, and the talk seemed well appreciated by the large audience. We were then wined and dined for the next 24 hours by three couples we had married and all three had recently had babies. It was a great way to end our busy tour, after all the magnificent synagogues without Jews, to celebrate with young Jewish couple and their babies.