On Saturday 9th November 2019, we invited local Mayors, representatives of other faith communities, local school teachers to our annual civic service. Falling on Remembrance Day weekend, the service remembered the two world wars, the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of particular importance to our community, the memories of three Czech communities lost in the Holocaust were honoured.
The beginning of the end of a divided world
Opening the service, Rabbi René Pfertzel welcomed our guests and introduced the themes of the morning. Despite the tragic nature of many of the events of the recent past, he also wanted us to remember the positive – the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago which marked the beginning of the end of a divided world. Members of the congregation read testimonials from a number of witnesses of the building and collapse of the wall.
Standing in gratitude for decent lives: honouring our Czech Torah scrolls
The central point of the service was the blessing for our Torah scrolls. Three of our scrolls were originally from Czech Jewish communities living before World War Two. Following the Nazi invasion, the thriving Jewish communities were destroyed; almost 80,000 Czech Jews were murdered. The Prague Jewish community managed to save about 1800 Torah scrolls. In 1964 these scrolls were discovered and brought to Westminster Synagogue before being distributed among Jewish communities in the UK and around the world.
Kingston Liberal Synagogue is the proud trustee of scrolls from the communities of Tabor, Rychnov and Blatna. Each year we honour the memory of these lost communities through services and activities, as well as an exhibition which tells the story of the communities and the scrolls. In the blessing Rabbi René said:
“When we look at these scrolls, we mourn for all the memories that can no longer be told, all the goodness and wisdom offered by those who read them before us, which we can no longer hear, for all the genius and wit that dies, the learning and laughter that perished. We stand in gratitude for the simple, decent lives of those who were part of these communities. Their spiritual resistance remains as an enduring testimony to their congregations who insisted that light should remain within the darkness”.
A society that excels in freedom and justice
In his concluding sermon, Rabbi René reflected on the relationship between Jewish communities and the societies in which they live – and between political power and religion. He stressed the importance of Jewish communities contributing to the welfare of the wider society and reminded us that our community has a number of members who serve on local councils. In the words of our prayer book we should all strive for a society that “excels in freedom and justice, tolerance and compassion, so that it may be a force for righteousness in the life of humanity”.
Where are you going to next?
Concluding his sermon Rabbi René spoke of the week’s Torah Portion – “Lech Lecha” – in which Abraham is called by God to go towards himself, to discover the strength that will give him a purpose in life. He finished by encouraging the congregation to consider their own purpose:
“This call is for each of us. God is asking, what is your unique purpose in life? What are you doing to contribute to the creation of a better world? What is your particular mission? A life of meaning is a life where everyday brings an opportunity to grow. Where are you going to next?”
You can read the full sermon here.