Our Torah Scroll from Přeštice spends most of its ‘second life’ in the ark belonging to our children’s classes, in Or Shabbat. Once a year it comes upstairs to the main sanctuary to join our other scrolls for a special service of remembrance for the lives of those to whom it used to belong.
It is a relatively small scroll: the parchment measures 14 inches in height, and it was written around 1920. It was one of the two thousand scrolls that were sent to the Jewish Museum of Prague in 1942. In 1964, with the help of a generous benefactor, 1,564 Torah Scrolls were brought to the Westminster Synagogue who subsequently created the Memorial Scrolls Trust
to care for them. This Sefer Torah, numbered MST 178, was issued on permanent loan to Westminster Synagogue very shortly after its arrival, and underwent further repairs in 2010. The mantle is relatively new.
We cannot be sure whether all of its ‘first life’ was spent in the small town of Přeštice itself or whether it may have been used in one of the surrounding villages that looked to Přeštice for support, such as Doní Lukavice, Dnesice, Lužany, Malinec or Merklín. Not one of these Jewish communities still exists. However, since 2011 we have been in contact with the town of Přeštice. A group visit enabled us to meet the Mayor, the Archivist, the pastor of the Czech Brotherhood Church and other leading members of the community. We were warmly welcomed and our visit included the site of the former Synagogue, the town square with its memorial, the Archivist’s office with its colourful hand-written Chronicle, and the Jewish cemetery.
Our most recent research, by Dan Smith, has revealed an interesting degree of connection between our two scroll towns, Horažd’ovice and Přeštice . Some families had connections with both locations. For example, the Strickers: grandmother Jana Strickerova (1876-1943) was born in Horažd’ovice to the Adler family. She married Josef Stricker, who was born in 1860, and they set up home in the small town of Nepomuk, half way between Horažd’ovice and Přeštice . Although they still had strong family connections with Horažd’ovice, it was from Přeštice that Josef was deported, together with their two adult children Oskar and Helena and Oskar’s wife Zdenka. Jana died in Terezín, though we do not have details of how she got there. Oskar’s wife Zdeňka is commemorated on the Přeštice town memorial, perhaps because she was born there.
Piecing together the details of Jewish community life is a fascinating task, and there is still room for further research.
Former synagogue of Přeštice