The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism is proud to be a caretaker of one of the 1,564 Czech Memorial Torahs collected from community synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia in the 1940s and safeguarded in Prague during the Nazi occupation. After the war, the scrolls were purchased from the Czech government by a British man named Ralph Yablon, who asked the Westminster Synagogue in London to repair them.
Our scroll was created in the late 1800s and belonged to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. There is archaeological evidence of Jewish worship in the area of the synagogue dating from the late 15th century, and Aaron Meshullam Horowitz provided funds for the construction of the synagogue in 1535. Over the years, there were many additions as well as renovations due to repeated flood damage. Unlike many of the synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia, the Pinkas Synagogue survived the war and was renovated in the 1950s in order to become a memorial to victims of the Shoah.
CHJ received the Torah, MST#577, on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, in 1975. (Visit the MST website for links to hundreds of other congregations’ stories about their Torahs.) In addition to helping pay for the restoration, many CHJ congregants worked to protect and honor our Torah. David Dietz made the ark and Gary Frohnhoefer later added handles, which Kurt Zeppetello replaced in 2018. Libby Miller spun wool and wove it into the fabric from which the Torah covering was made. Jane Swergold designed the needlepoint breastplate and the piece was passed around at different Congregation meetings so that all congregants who wished could contribute to the stitching.
Today, the Torah is used in important rituals including High Holidays and B’nai Mitzvot.