Czech Scrolls 60th anniversary celebration at Westminster Synagogue

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Czech Scrolls 60th anniversary celebration at Westminster Synagogue

275 dignitaries from around the world gather to commemorate the historic arrival of 1,564 Torah and other scrolls rescued from Prague

Pic: Louise Morris Photography
Pic: Louise Morris Photography

Westminster Synagogue hosted a momentous celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the arrival of 1,564 Torah and other scrolls from Prague, known as the Czech Scrolls.

The event on 4th February brought together 56 Scrolls and 275 individuals representing communities worldwide, including Netherlands, Czech Republic, Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom, America, and more.

Notable attendees included the Czech and Slovak ambassadors, representatives from the Israeli and American Embassies as well as the Lord Mayor of Westminster, nearby councillors, and rabbis from communities around the United Kingdom and the world.

In 1964, Ralph Yablon, in collaboration with Rabbi Harold Reinhart, orchestrated the acquisition of the Czech Scrolls, rescuing them from a damp former synagogue in Prague where they had endured the Nazi era and years of communism. These scrolls, which miraculously survived adversity, were generously donated to the Westminster Synagogue, where they have been a central element of weekly Torah readings.

Rabbi Benji Stanley and Rabbi Dr Kamila Kopřivová leading the service from the Bima. Pic: Louise Morris Photography

The weekend of events – which included a film screening of ‘Commandment 613’ by Miriam Lewis, a Shabbat evening dinner, a video of communities from around the world, and a service and reception on the day itself- was arranged by the Westminster Synagogue 60th Anniversary team, led by Monica Lanyado Rodin and Jon Zecharia.

The main event was the service, curated and led by Rabbi Benji Stanley, which featured pieces by the Morello Quartet, singing by Yoav Oved, speeches from Philippa Bernard, Jeffrey Ohrenstein and Rabbi Dr Kamila Kopřivová, and an incredibly moving procession of the Scrolls, held by those communities that care for them today.

Pic: Louise Morris Photography

Rabbi Benji Stanley, senior rabbi of Westminster Synagogue said: “The service moved me tremendously. People had come from across the world: visitors from the Czech Town of Kolín were moved to tears, wonderful communal leaders came from the States with their scrolls, many UK rabbis, cantors, and machers took time from their too-busy schedules to remember where these scrolls have come from and to celebrate the hard work that has brought this survival of hope, love and life.

He added that the greatest privilege of his role “is serving in the home of Czech Scrolls.”

Pic: Louise Morris photography

Rabbi Dr Kamila Kopřivová, Rabbi of Westminster Synagogue said: “Being able to take part in the 60th anniversary of the Czech Scrolls to the Westminster Synagogue was one of the most moving and meaningful moments I have ever experienced. The history of the scrolls – the shared and the individual journeys of each of them and the presence of so many guests who care deeply and lovingly for the scrolls and the personal stories and connections of all these people to the scrolls – created a special type of atmosphere at the Westminster Synagogue.

“I don’t think many other Czech people were ever allowed to witness such an event. Bringing all those Czech Scrolls back under one roof was remarkable.”

She added that she felt “deeply touched by how revered our Czech Scrolls are all over the world and how prominent roles they play in the lives of so many Jewish communities, synagogues, and individuals.”

Debra Hauer, Chair of Westminster Synagogue said: “The Czech Scrolls 60th anniversary service was an unforgettable event in the life of our synagogue. Witnessing the procession of Torah scrolls into our sanctuary, each one so unique and being carried by such a diverse representation of Jewish men and women from far and wide, was an experience to be cherished.”

She added that “the honouring of our painful history was beautifully balanced with the celebration of our survival and of our lives as Jews today.”

The Memorial Scrolls Trust Museum displays 150 scrolls, most of which cannot be restored, as well as a unique collection of 500 binders and wimpels.

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