A symbol of the unbreakable, indestructible spirit of the Jewish people exists inside our Sanctuary Ark at Ohev Shalom. We are the keepers of one of the 1,500 Czech Torah Scrolls that were rescued from Nazi destruction during the Holocaust. Our 200-year old scroll, from the Moravian town of Loštice, survived a miraculous set of circumstances to eventually find a new home in Wallingford, PA.
In 1980, Rabbi Louis Kaplan brought one of the 1,600 Czech Torah scrolls that survived the Shoah to Congregation Ohev Shalom, where it was first placed in the Ark during a Yom HaShoah service. That the scrolls survived at all is remarkable. As Jews were fleeing the country or being deported to concentration camps after the German occupation in 1939, the scrolls had been collected for safekeeping, along with ritual objects, books, and archives, from synagogues throughout the country. The mission to rescue imperiled objects was undertaken on Jewish initiative but with approval given by the Germans for reasons of their own (for eventual display of the fossilized remnants of a destroyed people).
In 1963, an American art dealer came upon the scrolls in a dank storeroom in a Prague synagogue. They were purchased with funds collected for the purpose and transferred the following year to the Westminster Synagogue in London. The Memorials Scrolls Trust was established to oversee distribution of the scrolls to congregations around the world.
The scroll that came to Congregation Ohev Shalom was rescued from the town of Loštice (pronounced LOSH-tea-tseh), about 140 miles east of Prague, in Moravia, the eastern region of what is now the Czech Republic. (Seventy miles further one reaches Pribor, the birthplace of Moravia’s best-known Jewish native son, Sigmund Freud.) The town now has a population of 3,100, none of them Jews, though Jews have a history in Loštice that is documented back to the sixteenth century. The Jewish population rose and fell over the centuries, growing to 438 by the mid-19th century, but by 1930, well before the German occupation, only 55 Jews were left in the town. The list of Jews deported from Loštice to Terezin and the death camps includes 56 names from 22 families.
Megillat Loštice: A Scroll of Resilience
The Jewish Tradition urges us to study, internalize, and teach our history… and above all to learn from it. Ohev Shalom collaborated with the renowned artist Siona Benjamin to craft a four-chapter, hand-written, beautifully illuminated scroll to tell the story of how our Loštice Torah came to us. It is a modern-day Megillah that enshrines the tale of this unfathomable journey, and which is read annually at our Loštice Shabbat celebration.
Not only does Megillat Loštice teach about a lost Jewish community and the vibrant world surrounding it, but also inspires us today to think about our own need for resilience, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles. Though it also commemorates loss and destruction, our Megillah is ultimately a tale of hope, survival, and life, that will indeed serve as a witness for our community forever.
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