Blog  130-Year-Old Czech Torah Scroll from the URJ Kutz Camp Returns Home

130-Year-Old Czech Torah Scroll from the URJ Kutz Camp Returns Home

A one hundred-and-thirty-year-old Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust and spent most of the last half-century as a cherished source of learning in the United States, will make its way back to its country of origin this month, where it will be allocated to the Progressive Jewish Community of PragueThe ceremony will take place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which celebrates the conclusion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle. This transfer will be only the second time that one of the MST scrolls returns to a community in the land of its origin.

This Torah scroll is part of the historic collection of the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) and is known as Czech Torah Scroll MST#1052. It was written in Brno in 1890, about 130 miles from Prague. It served the local Jewish community in Brno until 1942, when the Nazi occupation authorities ordered all still-existing Jewish communities in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to send all their liturgical objects and books to Prague. The scrolls were supposed to be stored and catalogued by the Central Jewish Museum in Prague (now Jewish Museum).  More than 212,000 artifacts, including 1,800 Torah scrolls, were sent to Prague. As opposed to most people who had read from them, the scrolls managed to survive the war. They were stored in poor conditions in the ruined synagogue in Prague’s district Michle under the communist regime.

In the 1960s, the Communist authorities decided to sell most of the scrolls. Thanks to the generosity of a philanthropist, Ralph Yablon, 1,564 Torah scrolls were sent to the Westminster Synagogue London. Subsequently, the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) was established and allocated them on loan to communities and organizations around the world. The scrolls are never sold but are provided for the use of the scroll-holders for as long as they exist.

MST Chair Jeffrey Ohrenstein adds: “It is a great pleasure and honour to take part in this celebration. To see this 130-year-old Torah restored and know that it in use again by Ec Chajim as part of the Jewish life cycle in Prague fills me with joy and satisfaction. This scroll, and those allocated around the world, are memorials to and reminders of Jewish life destroyed in the Holocaust. The memory of those lost remains as strong as ever, even some 80 years after this Torah was sent to the Jewish Museum from Brno.”

In 1974, after efforts of faculty rabbis, Torah Scroll MST#1052 arrived at the Kutz Camp, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) summer camp for teen leadership in Warwick, NY. There it served for nearly half a century and accompanied multiple generations of Jewish youth until the camp closed in 2019. Among those was David Maxa, who taught the camp’s Torah Corps program in 2013 with this very scroll. When the URJ decided to close Kutz, camp leadership deliberated as to where the scroll could continue its journey. Ultimately, The MST agreed that after being returned to London and undergoing necessary repairs, the scroll would be allocated to Ec chajim. Expensive repairs would not have been possible without the generous support of the Union for Reform Judaism, an umbrella organization for more than 850 Reform Jewish communities in the USA and Canada, Members of the Kutz Camp Alumni Network, and supporters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the international umbrella organization of Reform, Progressive, Liberal, and Reconstructionist Jewish communities of which Ec Chajim is a member.

The approaching arrival of the Torah scroll to the community Ec chajim, which was established in 2019, symbolizes the renewal of Czech Progressive Judaism, which was the prevailing stream of Judaism in the Czech countries before World War Two. This is reinforced by the participation of delegates from Czechoslovakia in the establishment of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) in 1926. WUPJ is the international network of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive, and Reconstructionist communities, today serving 1.2 million members worldwide in more than 1,250 congregations in over 50 countries.

The transfer of Torah Scroll MST#1052 takes place under the auspices of the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST), Embassy of the State of Israel to the Czech Republic, the City of Prague, Charles University in Prague, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and the Kutz Camp Alumni Network.

The event will be livestreamed on September 27 at 12:00 EST at the following link: https://fb.me/e/3JznnQWdK