On 7 February 1964, 1,564 scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue, following a generous donation of one its members to purchase them from the communist government in Czechoslovakia and the synagogue’s agreement to house them on the top floor of its premises in Knightsbridge. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed to care for these scrolls and loan them to synagogues and other organisations.
The 1,564 sacred Scrolls which came to Westminster Synagogue in 1964 had been gathered together in Prague, from the desolated synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia, by the Nazi official in charge of the Czech “Protectorate.” The Scrolls themselves lay piled in the disused Michle Synagogue for more than 20 years.
At the end of the war the surviving remnant of the Prague Jewish community lacked the resources to maintain the museum, and it came under the control of the Czech state authorities. It was maintained conscientiously as a memorial to the vanished communities.
In 1963, a prominent British art dealer was able to arrange for the scrolls to be acquired by Ralph Yablon, a London businessman and philanthropist, on the understanding that they would be entrusted to a responsible noncommercial body; the honorary officers of Westminster Synagogue, an independent London congregation, accepted Yablon’s invitation to undertake this responsibility. After a preliminary examination in Prague, the scrolls were carefully packed and shipped to London.
Remarkably, a Chasidic rabbi and sofer visiting London noticed the synagogue and enquired on the off-chance whether it had a scroll in need of repair. He was shown to the top floor and given the answer ‘yes – 1,564 of them!’ He spent the next 30 years personally repairing them.
60th Anniversary Service
On Sunday 4th February 2024, in advance of the 60th anniversary, 50 of these scrolls were brought back to Westminster Synagogue for a celebratory service which included a particular moving procession. KLS member Linda Stone held one of the scrolls loaned to us, which came from Tabor.
In celebration of how the scrolls are being used to support Jewish life today, the names of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah who had read each Torah portion were read out. For KLS, it was Noah Horne, who had read the Pinchas portion in 2021.
The MST’s museum (in which the photo below was taken) is open to visitors by appointment.
You can watch the full service here:
*taken from The Jewish Virtual Library