It’s started!

If you’ve been in the vicinity of Pacov synagogue recently, you will have noticed the busy renovation works that are happening right now! As reported earlier this year, we foresaw the complete reconstruction of the roof, in case it proved necessary. And indeed, according to a recent structural survey, the rafters were infested with woodworm, the roof was leaking and collapse was imminent. While reconstructing the roof, we will also remove a non-original extension to the southern wall, where an industrial lift was annexed to the synagogue in its warehouse days. 

Synagogue roof seen from the west (Photo by Marie Orlando)
Synagogue roof seen from the west (Photo by Marie Orlando)

The reconstruction works are made possible thanks to the financial support of the Czech-German Future Fund, the Vysočina (Bohemian-Moravian Highlands) Fund, the City of Pacov, the British Friends of Czech Heritage foundation, and donations by private individuals, including a generous contribution by Julian J. Hradecky, a Canadian of Pacov ancestry.

The reconstruction works are in the hands of Mr Jaroslav Nekovář of the Stavneko company, who has experience of similar renovations. If everything goes according to plan with no complications, this part of the renovation should be completed by the end of the summer. If you visit us in August, you can witness the reconstruction first hand. 

The synagogue and also the nearby house of the former rabbi will be open to the public on Czech Jewish Heritage Day, Sunday 8 August, 1pm – 4pm.

Synagogue ceiling vault seen from above (Photo by Marie Orlando)
Synagogue ceiling vault seen from above (Photo by Marie Orlando)

In case you are interested in the next steps, an architectural study has been drawn up, and we have a building permit for the entire renovation of the exterior and part of the interior. How quickly this proceeds depends entirely on securing additional funding. Hopefully it will not take too long for this important Pacov monument to regain its original appearance and open to Pacov residents and all those interested in the culture and history of the Czech Jews. 

Finally, I would like to mention two important anniversaries: 

November 2022 marks 80 years since the tragic event of the transport of the Pacov Jews to the Terezin ghetto, and from there to the Nazi extermination camps. Together with our colleagues and friends from the Jewish Memorial in Cernovice, we are preparing a programme of events to mark this anniversary, which we will share with you nearer the time. 

The second date is more joyful: the year 2023 marks the 200th anniversary of the completion of the (modern reconstruction of the) synagogue in 1823. We very much hope the synagogue will be in decent shape by this anniversary, so that we can take pride in our collective efforts.

Pavel Tychtl

President of Tikkun Pacov 

Synagogue roof seen from the east (Photo by Marie Orlando)
Synagogue roof seen from the east (Photo by Marie Orlando)

New book on Czech Torah scrolls featuring Pacov

“Light Beyond the Shadows: The Legacy of the Czech Torah Scrolls and the Renewal of Jewish Life in Czechia,” by Sheila Pallay and Julius Müller

The book weaves a beautiful pictorial history with stories of Jewish heritage in Bohemia and Moravia, connecting the reader with places that once had vibrant Jewish communities. It details a thirteen-week tour through the Czech Republic by Sheila Pallay, photographer, and Julius Müller, genealogist and guide, documenting current and mainly former synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and memorials commemorating their lost Jewish citizens.

In 1942, the Central Jewish Museum in Prague contacted every Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia, asking that they send all of their remaining possessions to Prague. As a result, a treasure of 212,822 liturgical items survived the Holocaust, including 1,800 Torah scrolls. In 1964, the scrolls, many terribly damaged because of inadequate storage conditions, were offered for sale by the Czech communist government.  1,564 of them were delivered to the Westminster Synagogue in London, purchased by a philanthropic British lawyer. 

Shortly thereafter, Westminster Synagogue established the Memorial Scroll Trust, MST that has since cared for the scrolls. Over the following 30 years about 12 soferim, Torah scroll scribes, evaluated and repaired over 1,200 scrolls. These were then sent on permanent loan to caring congregations and communities in North and South America, Europe, Israel and South Africa.

There are 7 Torah scrolls, attributed to the Pacov synagogue on permanent loan to congregations in the US and the UK.

Jeffrey Ohrenstein, chairman of the MST wrote in the book’s Foreword that the MST is in communication with the congregations with scrolls, and “encourages their use in meaningful ways.” The hope is that the community will document the Jewish history of the place their scroll came from, along with the fate of their former Jewish residents, ensuring that their lives are never forgotten.

Rabbi Joseph Meszler, Spiritual Leader of Temple Sinai in Sharon, Massachusetts writes about Temple Sinai’s precious Torah scroll from Přeštice. The scroll is between 200 and 250 years old and he reflects on how the scroll was used throughout the years before the Shoah, and how it has continued to be in use 75 years afterwards. Another testimonial is from Rabbi Emeritus Norman Patz of Temple Sholom of West Essex Cedar Grove, New Jersey, writes a touching story about how the Dvůr Králové Torah came to their congregation.

Throughout the book we hear from others affilifated with the MST in the US, Lois Roman and Susan Boyer, as well as Rabbi Kevin Hale, torah scribe. and others with personal stories about their connection to former Bohemian and Moravian Jewish communities. 

Watch the panel discussion, LIGHT BEYOND THE SHADOWS with authors Sheila Pallay and Julius Müller and MST Trustee Lois Roman. Hosted by Rabbi Joseph Meszler, Temple Sinai, Sharon, Massachusetts.

YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzZQy3jD5Gk

The book preview is available at http://toledot.org/SZS3.pdf

You can purchase the book through the following vendors:

In the UK, the book is available in English through the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. 18 pounds, link through the MST Trust Shop. https://mstshop.org/collections/books/products/light-beyond-the-shadows

In the USA, the English edition is available through Temple Sinai in Sharon, Masssachusetts, on the Paypal link below. It is $25 plus shipping.

The Czech version is available in the Czech Republic, 540 Kč by contacting Julius Müller: jmuller@toledot.org

Pacov synagogue – overview of activities in the last year

Those of you who have been following the efforts to restore Pacov synagogue may be curious to know the latest news. 

First of all, we would like to send our sincere thanks to everyone who made a donation. Financial contributions of any size are crucial to our success. Even though we have applied for a number of grants, there are certain costs that cannot be covered by grants. Even when our grant applications are successful, we need to provide co-funding. Once again – many thanks! Your help is essential and always appreciated.

We would also like to express our gratitude to the city of Pacov, which has been supporting us over the years. With our joint efforts, we look forward to the renovation of an important component of Pacov’s cultural and historical heritage. 

As for many others, last year was a special one for us. The bad news is that we had to cancel some cultural activities, especially the “Restlicht/Remnant of Light” public installation by Czech-German sculptor Werner Mally, whose spouse Michaela Králová has family roots in Pacov. Similarly, we were not able to hold the open doors event on the occasion of Jewish Heritage Day in August last year. 

However, last year also brought some very good news representing a real turning point for Jewish heritage in Pacov and in particular the synagogue. At the beginning of the year, the synagogue was recognized as a cultural heritage site by the Czech Ministry of Culture. Future visitors to the synagogue will see an official plaque testifying this next to the entrance of the synagogue. During the course of the year we submitted all the necessary paperwork and received the building permit for the renovation of the synagogue. At the very end of year we heard that our grant application to the Czech-German Future Fund was successful. This grant application covers the renovation of the roof of the synagogue, and we will be able to commence this phase of renovation in the spring. We should also receive feedback on our grant application submitted to the Norway Fund at the beginning of the year.

We are also very excited that following negotiations with the Prague Jewish Community we have just purchased the former rabbi’s house and Jewish school at Malovcova street, which was also used as a ‘winter synagogue’. This important Jewish heritage site will now receive appropriate attention, and we foresee its piecemeal renovation and conversion into a cultural and educational space. This was the home of the last surviving member of Pacov Jewish community from before the Second World War – Nelly Guttmann, whose visit to Pacov in 2017 some of you might remember. She was very moved to hear the news in Israel, and urged us to renovate the matzo oven, which we intend to do. As the daughter of the last rabbi, Nelly grew up in the rabbi’s house and this was where she started her journey to Theresienstadt Jewish ghetto and later to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. She was the only survivor from her family at the end of the war. This year she celebrates her wonderful 95th birthday.  

We have also made some changes to the composition of the board of Tikkun Pacov and welcomed some new members. We are very happy to see that this testifies to the fact that the synagogue continues to attract new audiences.

If the Covid-19 pandemic allows, we will open the rabbi’s house and the synagogue to the public on the Czech Day of Jewish Heritage in August. We plan to join forces with our colleagues from the Jewish Memorial Černovice, so that visitors in Pacov can learn more about the interesting history and activities in nearby Černovice. 

We look forward to seeing you in person this year if possible, and we look forward to accomplishing the first step in the renovation of Pacov synagogue, that of its historical roof.

Pavel Tychtl, Chair of Tikkun Pacov 

Tikkun Pacov joins in “Kosher podcast” by Slovak daily newspaper Dennik N

Slovak independent daily  Dennik N runs a regular Saturday podcast on Jewish history and culture under the name “Kosher podcast”.

The Saturday 3 October edition is dedicated to Jewish heritage in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands (Vysocina) region. Pacov is one of the places visited on a road trip made by Slovak journalist Mirek Toda and his Czech friend Filip Haza, who is a Tikkun member.

You can listen to the podcast here (in Czech only): https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-dnd7w-ee220b

And yet there will be Restlicht/Remains of Light!

As in many other cases the covid-19 crisis has brought changes to our plans for cultural events in Pacov this year. The highlight of which was supposed to be a temporary exhibition of an object of a canopy by the Czech-German sculptor Werner Mally.

The May launch had to be postponed and is now foreseen for May next year when it will be accompanied by a number of cultural events of which we will inform you in due course.

In the meantime we are publishing a short text explaining the concept of this original artistic object. We also include photographs of some places where Restlicht has already been exhibited including Mikulov in Moravia.

We are looking forward to welcoming you next year in May in Pacov for the launch of Restlicht!

“A baldachin, like the marriage canopy, the chuppah; a roof like the roof of a sukkah topped with branches and leaves through which the stars can be seen – these are the sacred, portable shelters that this commemorative sculpture suggests. The sky is also visible through this steel roof structure supported by four pillars. In this case not through foliage and not through fabric, but through small drilled holes. Perforated into the steel plate of the roof are the fateful years 1938 to 1945. But not just any old how, they are made to look like tattoos! Light falls through each of these holes onto the visitors standing below in the shade of the canopy. It is the way in which the light falls on the visitors like the prick of a tattoo needle that makes this place so special.”

(Excerpt from Joanne Wieland-Burston´s text entitled RESTLICHT (Zbytek svetla)

Werner Mally born in 1955 narozen in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia
1980 – 84 Studied sculpture at Munich Art Academy with SirEduard Paolozzi
1984 – 85 Studied sculpture at Vienna Academy with Bruno Gironcoli
Lives and works in Munich

www.wernermally.de

Dear Friends of Tikkun Pacov Synagogue Association,

Only three years ago in 2017, following two years of informal awareness raising to save Pacov Synagogue, Tikkun Pacov was established as a registered charity. A great deal has happened since then. First and foremost, Tikkun Pacov successfully raised the funds needed to purchase the synagogue from the previous private owner who used it for storage, and took ownership. This was followed by thorough archaeological research revealing several precious historic finds. Tikkun Pacov also had the synagogue building registered as a cultural heritage site. 

This essential chapter in the life of Pacov Synagogue could never have happened without the engagement and commitment of the Executive Board of Tikkun Pacov – Daniela Orlando, Zuzana Krulichova and Leona Stejskalova. A big thank you for their courage in embarking on an adventure into the unknown, and for leading the way on the path to a better future for Pacov Synagogue.

The Executive Board membership changed in August 2020, with myself as the new chair, Karen Koblitz whose great-great-grandparents are from Pacov and who lives in California, as deputy chair, and Eva Sobotka, an expert in Holocaust remembrance and human rights, as the third member of the Executive Board.

So, where do we go from here? Firstly, we have to advance with the much-needed renovation of Pacov Synagogue. This depends on available funding. Applications have been submitted to Norway Grants and the Czech-German Future Fund, with the outcome foreseen by end 2020. Many thanks to Michal Arend, chair of Cernovice Jewish Memorial Association, for his support and drafting skills. If successful, we will start the renovation work in 2021. 

As for my motivation, my ancestors were farmers from the Pacov area, and experienced all the upheavals of modern Czech history, including confiscation of their property and expulsion in the case of my great-grandfather. We do not have Jewish roots but I was always passionate about local history, including the history of our Jewish neighbours. My relatives still remember the empty seats at school when their Jewish classmates were deported during the Nazi occupation. Hardly anyone survived. 

I have always believed in the moral obligation to keep the memory of our Jewish neighbours alive, so they don’t die twice, and are not erased from local history. This is why I became involved with Pacov Synagogue.

It is my hope that more and more people will support us in different ways. We can accomplish our dream only with the help of the entire community. We need to heal the wounds and step in as a compassionate community with the right moral compass. 

I look forward to working with the members of Tikkun Pacov Synagogue Association and with everyone who is interested and willing to support our efforts.

Lest we forget, 

Pavel TYCHTL

The synagogue in 2019 and our plans for 2020

Updated version of an article originally published by the Z mého kraje monthly in January 2020.

The Tikkun (Hebrew for repair) Pacov Synagogue Association purchased the former Pacov synagogue, located downtown behind the Crystalis bottling plant (where a small park used to be), at the very end of 2018 with funds provided by private donors and municipal aid. The NGO run by local and out-of-town people was established in order to save this important 200-year-old building within the Pacov urban heritage area from falling apart and to use the future renovated synagogue as both a reminder of our former fellow citizens who perished during the Holocaust and a meeting place/educational and cultural venue.

More here

Structural survey confirms poor condition of synagogue

A floor probe conducted during the structural survey.

A floor probe conducted during the structural survey.

The Brno company Průzkumy staveb conducted a structural survey of the former Pacov synagogue on 20th November 2019 as part of the preparations for an emergency action. The survey was done in order to assess overall conditions of the masonry, flooring, and roof of the synagogue as well as the composition of an additional ferroconcrete ceiling structure installed in the 1960s. A thorough inspection was necessary here and the results are valuable, although not exactly uplifting.

More here