A “Hakafah” to end all Hakafot–A “Second” Simchat Torah 5778

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When we march around with a Torah Scroll in a Synagogue, we call the procession a “Hakafah” (Hakafot (הקפות plural); Hakafah (הקפה singular)—meaning “[to] circle” or “going around” in Hebrew) and there was something rather profound about a 9000+ KM Hakafah with this scroll now nearly completed as we have arrived back in its ancestral home in Olomouc.

PSC has been proud to call this scroll home for 47 years and now we’ve nearly completed the task of returning it home.  Consider for a second how it got to us (the first 200 year Hakafah, if you will?) From the holy hands of some unknown Sofer (ritual scribe) nearly 200 years ago…just let that sink in for a second…200 years means the early 19th Century?… to it’s home in the Olomouc Synagogue.

A short digression here for some history.

  • The Jewish settlement in Olomouc is one of the most ancient in this part or Moravia (the Czech Republic).
  • July 22, 1454, King Ladislaus the Posthumous issued an edict banning Jews from this region (maybe a good thing he’s “posthumous”?)
  • This banishment lasted until the 16th century when Ferdinand 1 allowed the Jews to attend markets but only after paying a special tax.
  • 1745 Empress Maria Theresa allowed the Jews to enter Olomouc again.  Since that time there has been Jewish settlement in this area.
  • Regular Jewish services began here in 1860 and on April 11, 1897 the synagogue was inaugurated. (I am guessing the crowd was huge!)

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  • March 15, 1939 the Nazi occupation of Olomouc began and their first attention was drawn to this beautiful building which they set ablaze and refused to allow firefighters to fight the fire.

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  • Today the site is a car park.

So now back to the Hakafah.  From Olomouc in 1939 to the Jewish Museum in Prague

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to a dank storage warehouse outside of Prague to London and the Memorial Scrolls Trust to a Lufthansa first class seat with Mel (Z’L) and Jayne Bloom

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to 47 years of use and an honored place in PSC’s Aron Kodesh where I and dozerns of others were honored to read from it.

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to Miami in the talented hands of our Sofer Rabbi Druin (surviving Hurricane Irma in September 2017) to Irene’s Car to SFO

to PSC Member Michael Hayat’s hands in a joyous procession through SFO

 

 

I should note here that a Muslim, Feraz Zahid, United Customer Service Supervisor had the honor or carrying it on the plane where our Christian pilot and members of her crew joined us in a joyous rendition of “Etz Hayim” on the plane

 

 

To a long flight to Frankfurt with some laughs along the way

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To Cantor Doron taking his first steps on German soil with a Torah Scroll in his hands to Prague and now to Olomouc once again, after nearly 77 years where the scroll will be completely repaired and hopefully used here for another 200 years!  That’s one heck of Simchat Torah Hakafah!  In fact I would say this is really a Second Simchat Torah, if you ask me!

 

 

 

 

 

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Darsheni! Know Your Place!

Up early but I slept very well last night.  As we were walking across the Charles Bridge yesterday, we ran across a famous statue on the Bridge which called out “Darsheni” (“Explain Me!” in Talmudic parlance).

I don’t really expect to understand the full scope, history and beauty of Prague after 20 years since my last visit, but I would say in Day 1, this was a highlight.

Walking across the Charles Bridge, one is struck by the beautiful statues that line both side of the walkway.  Thousands of tourists cross the bridge daily and the site is one for photographers, lovers to kiss, buskers to play and tchotchke vendors to sell, and the like.

To me it sums up the beauty, history and chaos that characterizes today’s Prague.

The Charles Bridge dates to the Late 13th/Early 14th century.

 

But one statue in particular jumped out at me and demanded an explanation.

Prague’s Jewish history is dotted with glorious good times of wealth and power and influence ( The “Maharal” (Judah Loew ben Bezalel, alt. Löw, Loewe, Löwe, or Levai, (between 1512 and 1526? – 17 September 1609) widely known to scholars as the Maharal of Prague, or simply The MaHaRaL, the acrnym “Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew” (“Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew”), was an important Talmudic scholar, mystic and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading Rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia. He had out-sized influence in this beautiful city and was among other things the founder of the legend of the famous “Golem of Prague.”

But I digress…It’s very easy to do here! 🙂

But, there were also times of utter depravity suffering and misery. And this statue summed that up for me.

DARSHENI! Explain me!

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So what do you notice? A rather common cross with the Christ figure.  But in gold lettering over INRI, you notice the Hebrew words “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” which many might recognize as the central theme of the daily “Kedushah” in the liturgy.  So what does, “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” and a Christ figure on  the cross have to do with one and other?

DARSHENI!

When you unpack the history you get a sense of the complex dynamic of the Jews of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia which we will be traipsing across for the next few days on our way to the great simchah in Olomouc.

BTW, we are still not sure how to pronounce the name of the town.  Is it “Ol-MOOTZ” “Ol-MUTZ?” “Ol-o-MUTZ?” We are told that in Czech, each letter has a sound but the actual  way you pronounce the name of the town is a mystery we’ll start to solve today when we arrive, I guess?

Anyway, back to the statue.  The significance is as follows. (Thank you Mark Talisman, our former UJA Scholar in Residence from my last trip here in 1998 for the explanation). How’s this for IN YOUR FACE?

“An old Jew was walking across the Bridge and spit at the Christ figure on the cross , and so had to pay for that statue with gold lettering added as penitence!”

So, just when you think you have it made.  Or, just when someone arbitrarily decides to alter your fate, you are put in your place.  Don’t think that you have power over your own destiny.

Jews were both celebrated in Prague with the Maharal and screwed at the same time!  Watch your step, someone is watching! How’s that for a powerful indictment for living in a state of power and powerlessness?  Perhaps something we as American Jews need to be watchful for in today’s present circumstance?

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And Awwwwway We Go! The Journey Begins

The Olomouc Scroll (MST #740) is now in its way back home. Our synagogue, Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, has been honored to host this scroll and its companion scroll from the town of Cheske Budovice in the Czech Republic for 47 years. Now, we’re closing this part of the circle and returning the Olomouc Scroll home.

Where do you start to tell a story like this?  At every step of the journey this morning from the minute we left the Rabbi’s house with the scroll, to the incredible gold-glove treatment and red carpet welcome United Airlines, the TSA and the cabin crew rolled out to us, the plane has not even left the ground and we’re already jazzed about the journey.

Location San Francisco International Airport
Latitude 37.62 Longitude 122.38
KM to Olomouc 9532

 

 

 

People showed incredible interest at just about every place we went from the “Hakafah” procession through the SFO International Terminal at SFO led by MIchael Hayat

to the interview by ABC7 News legend Vic Lee of both Doron and the Rabbi.

 

 

The final cut that made it on the air was here:

VIC Lee ABC 7 Local News

The Torah even got its own boarding pass and seat!

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One of the highlights for me was an impromptu singing of “Etz Hayim” in the aisle of the plane as the cabin crew surrounded us.

 

One of the Pilots, Captain Patti stopped by later and was full of so many questions and genuine concern for the story and the history of the scroll. She gave everyone a big hug before she went back to the cockpit to prepare our 777 for the flight to Frankfurt this morning.

 

 

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Soon we were underway.

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We even had time for some ROTFL moments on our flight 

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And some fans keeping track of our progress in-flight

 

 

Our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds (as well as this blog) has been blowing up as we fly over Canada.  Thanks everyone for the likes and forwards! We are truly grateful

for all the comments and likes

We’re now over Quebec about 4924 KM and 5 1/2 hours from Frankfurt.  I’ll keep updating as we go!

None of us got much sleep last night as our FB profiles were blowing up but there were some pretty sites below.  Doron and I exchanged knowing glances when we passed over Limerick and though of hundreds of Rabbi Marv’s B’nai Mitzvah limericks! 🙂

 

 

Location Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany
Latitude 50.03 Longitude 8.57
KM to Olomouc 792

Captain Patti got us in right on time with a resounding THUD as the plane seemed to hit the runway at the very second that the plane emerged from the fog.  Wilkomen to Frankfurt! After what seemed like a 10 mile hike with a 40 lb. Torah Scroll we settled in for a long wait for our connecting flight.  We had a chance to grab a snack and also to chat with some of our fellow travelers about the story of the scroll.  The response was universal amazement and I’d even say awe!

 

 

Location Prague International Airport, Prague, Czech Republic
Latitude 50.10 Longitude 14.27
KM to Olomouc 277

A one hour flight and 40 minutes of circling resulted in another THUD landing as we came in to Prague. We found our shuttle driver (Adam) who shared some interesting insights on Prague and also some pointed observations of our current administration.  We’re now settled at the lovely Hotel Maximilian right in the heart of Josefov, the Old Prague Jewish Quarter.  After a quick rest we think we will take a quick walk around the city before dinner.  Linda should be arriving late tonight.

Tomorrow…Olomouc! The Torah’s final stop!

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From Roman Gronsky, Olomouc Community Leader

So this is pretty cool. An email that Doron, our Hazzan received from his wife Jocelyn’s cousin Roman, a communal leader in Olomouc that references Scroll 740 (PSC’s Olomouc Scroll). I did not know there was also an Olomouc Scroll in New Jersey (#515 from Domažlice to Calvary hospital in Bronx, NYC).

Here’s what Roman wrote:


“Once a day I have received an announcement from the USA in 2015 there are two scrolls from Olomouc in the USA – one in New Jersey and 2nd one in California. Afterwards I have contacted the Westminster synagogue´s Rabbi Thomas Salomon as well as Jeffrey Ohrenstein of the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) just on my personal way. I was in email contact with them and met them personally in London in March 2016. After this London visit I have asked Peter Papousek, head of the Olomouc kehila to start the official negotiations with MST and with the aim – return of the Torah scroll Nr. 740 – as this „Californian one“ is possible to get. I made a next personal contact with Jeffrey in November 2016 in NYC on the occasion of the loan of other Czech Torah scroll (Nr. 515 from Domažlice) to Calvary hospital in Bronx, NYC. – I have also introduced him the member of our community Paul Rausnitz who used to live in NYC and is able to help. My next personal talks with Jeffrey were on 26th May 2017 again in London.

This day was finally decided that the Peninsula Sinai in Foster City, Calif. gave consent to transfer the Torah Scroll Nr. 740 back to Olomouc. The Sinai Congragation started also to collect money for making this Torah scroll kosher before it will be back in Olomouc . This work took over 5 months! But finally everything was arranged on the best way and it will be for the FIRST TIME ever to bring back the original Torah scroll (from 1880) which was sold to the UK in 1964!

Finally I have to tell you (but you always know it) that the Torah Scroll 740 was used in Sinai Congragation where the cantor is a husband of Jocelyn the great-granddaughter of Karpfen family of Olomouc e.g. my grandparents and other members of the family have seen this Torah scroll every week in the synagogue before WWII!”

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A taste of the history of the PSC scrolls

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Most of my loyal correspondents are aware by now that I will be taking a trip to the Czech Republic later this month as part of a delegation from Peninsula Sinai Congregation to return one of our two Czech Torahs to its ancestral home in Olomouc (pronounced “Ol-Metz”). a town about 250 KM SE of Prague.

I spoke at Yom Kippur (to a group of about 75 PSC folks) talking about the “miraculous” nature of this experience for me.  I don’t throw around the term “miracle” that freely so for me to use that term must really means something. This whole story has really inspired me and I hope to share my excitement with you as I take this journey. I’d say miraculous for several key reasons:

  1. The fact that the scrolls even exist today is a truly amazing story.  I’ve seen lots of retellings of the story but this is a pretty good one.
  2. It’s a miracle that the community of Olomouc has managed to reconstitute itself at all.  Olomouc’s Jewish community has existed since the 13th century. When the Nazis swept through Eastern and Central Europe, and particularly the Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia (today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia) they decimated most of the communities in their path. Add to that, decades of Communist rule from the 1950’s to the 1990’s where the government was not terribly friendly (a real understatement) to religious communities in general, it’s a miracle that there are any organized Jewish communities in the Czech Republic at all.
  3. The fact that PSC has two scrolls on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, one from the town of Olomouc (Scroll #740) and one from the town of Cheske Budovice. about 125 KM south of Prague.  As far as I know, the community of Cheske Budovice, settled in the 14th Century and pretty much ceasing to exist by about 1970.  Just this week, I received a copy of the story of the scrolls and how they ended up at Peninsula Sinai from Jayne Bloom (widow of Mel Bloom, one of the founding members of PSC) from the April 1970 edition of one of the local newspapers.  Goose Bumps, I’m telling you! I hope to do a side day-trip to Cheske Budovice on the back-end of my trip to Olomouc.12
  4. And if that weren’t enough, just before the Sofer arrived in Foster City to bring the scroll to us for some of the final repairs, there was the little matter of Irma. Hurricane Irma. Yeah that Irma! The Sofer, Rabbi Druin, lives in Miami Beach. As Irma was churning away over Florida, Rabbi Druin (and the scroll) are in his home in Miami behind hurricane shutters riding out the storm. A day or so later, he’s on a plane, with the scroll headed to Foster City. His family is housed at an evacuation shelter at the same time.

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Somone once said to me, I wish I could hear the scroll’s stories. From the sofer in Olomouc to surviving the Nazis and the Communist Czech government, to living in a dank warehouse in Prague, to London, to a first class seat on Lufthansa, to 47 years in our Aron Kodesh (a nice respite), to Miami, through a hurricane, back to Foster City and now back on a plane to Frankfurt, Prague, another train and finally back home to Olomouc in 2 weeks. How’s THAT for a story? If that parchment could only talk!

It’s a miracle that PSC had Olomouc’s scroll for the last 47 years and we were able to repair it back to Kosher Status and now it’s about ready to “phone home,” to use an ET-ish analogy.  Here’s a story in a recent edition of the J Weekly that describes the effort.

So, as I wrote on my Facebook Page a while back, ” I’m humbled and honored to be helping to close this circle on this part of the scroll’s journey through history.”

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כתיבת ספר תורה

Check out this YouTube Video (fixing the Olomouc Scroll) of me sitting with the Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Druin, who will be accompanying us to Olomouc to complete the repairs on this Sefer Torah and will also be helping us write a new one over the next year.

What an honor this was. Our synagogue in Foster City has been housing in safekeeping this ~250-year-old scroll from the Czech town of Olomouc. The scroll was looted by the Nazis 75 years ago, one of 1564 scrolls that they took to display as in part as an exhibit to an extinct people (my Jewish Brethren).

The Westminster Synagogue Scrolls Trust acquired the scrolls and parceled them out to Jewish Communities all over the world. Our synagogue has 2, one from Oloumec and one from another town called Cheske Budovice.

A couple of years ago, the Trust was contacted by the reconstituted community of Oloumec asking for their scroll back. Let that sink in for a moment. A community destroyed by the Nazis, looted of its treasures, and that somehow survived the Nazis and Communism, comes alive again and tracks down part of its precious legacy. And our shul is part of this.

Add to this another strange coincidence that our Cantor’s wife has ancestors from Oloumec!

I hope to be privileged to go in October as a shaliach from our community to escort this scroll home to Oloumec.

Got goose bumps yet? Wow! What a story!

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I’m a Grandchild of Immigramts

Check out my latest LinkedIn Blog Post

Hello Friends:

My latest blog post on LinkedIn.  I hope you like it.  If you do and if you are so inclined please “like” and “comment” over on LinkedIn.  This raises the visibility of my LinkedIn profile which is great, especially for a job seeker like me. It would be great to catch up, if we have not talked in a while.

Generally I am looking to leverage my skills in Mobile and Enterprise in a Customer Success role or a Support/Training Manager.  I have loads of experience in support and training settings as well, re-designing the new-hire support engineer process for Marketo and designing all of the Customer care technical resources at T-Mobile for the first mass-marketed Smartphone before the iPhone.  Remember the T-Mobile Sidekick?

If you are free, I’d love to catch up! In person?  On the phone? Skype? You name it!

Steve

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