Chapter 8

Part III – The Next 100 Years

Chapter 8

ornamented For many decades, the Jewish community in Amschelberg had grown and prospered. In the first half of the 19th Century –about the time that the Scroll was written– a Census showed that there were 37 Jewish families in Amschelberg, living in 23 houses. By 1870 the number of Jews in Amschelberg had grown to 400 people and they comprised about one-third of the total population of the town. In 1848 and 1849 a widespread popular revolution overtook Central Europe. Prague was the first city in the Austrian Empire to rise in favor of political reform. The revolution brought about greater civil rights and political freedom for the Czech people and the years that followed were a time of increased tolerance towards the Jews. During this period the Jews of Moravia and Bohemia became more involved in the secular life of the country and were able to attend secular schools of higher education. Many famous Jewish writers and scholars emerged during this era, including Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Sigmund Freud and the great composers, Gustav Mahler and Darius Milhaud.

Along with greater political freedom came more opportunity and geographic mobility. Jews moved away from the small towns and villages to Prague and other larger cities in greater numbers. Over the next thirty years the population of Kosova Hora began to dwindle and by 1893 there were very few people who came to services at the synagogue and the Kosova Hora Jewish congregation was finally abolished. Instead, the congregants joined another congregation in the nearby town of Sedlcˇany, which was only about three kilometers away.

Until the middle of the 19th Century, only a few Jewish families had lived in Sedlcany. Not far from the town were silver and gold mines, and Jews had not been welcome or desired in the community. Throughout Europe, Jews had historically been prohibited from engaging in certain businesses and were frequently not welcome in many communities. Sedlcany had been one of them. But as a result of the political reforms brought about by the populist revolt in 1848, there came greater civil liberties including more freedom for the Jews. Jewish traders started to settle in Sedlcany in larger numbers. By 1876 there were 92 Jews living in the village and in 1881 the first Jewish religious group was started in the town. The Jewish population continued to grow, and records show that in 1890 there were 175 Jews in the village. In 1888 Sedlcany Jews established their first independent Jewish community.

Torah shield, Prague, 1831When the Kosova Hora Jewish community joined the Sedlcany Jewish community, its Torah scrolls (including Rabbi Shmuel’s Torah, which by this time was almost 50 years old) were moved to the Sedlcany shul. The Jews of this region had developed very good relations with their gentile neighbors. They spoke Czech and declared their loyalty to the Czech people, while the Jews in some other cities continued to speak German.

As the Sedlcany Jewish community grew they found that they needed a synagogue since there was none in the town. Instead of building a new synagogue they decided to purchase an existing building that for many years had been a combination restaurant-hotel. People used to come and stay at this inn and eat meals in the restaurant. The country inn had a large room which also had served as a local theater. After the inn was purchased for use as a synagogue, the large room of the inn was turned into the sanctuary. Thus a converted inn became a place for Jewish worship, and it was used for services and as a center of Jewish community life in the area until 1939.

The Jewish community of Sedlcany reached its peak during the 1890′s, but then gradually dwindled. During the next 30 years from 1890 until 1921 the number of Jews had dropped by half from 175 to 88 people and by 1930 the number of Jews in the town had dwindled to only 50. There were however, still hundreds of Jews scattered nearby in villages who came to services in Sedlcany, including 32 Jews who lived in nearby Kosova Hora and came to Sedlcany to worship. As the synagogues in small villages like Kosova Hora and other small communities closed down, their scrolls were brought to Sedlcany and as a result, by the 1930′s. Sedlcany had a relatively large number of Torah scrolls considering the size of its population.

Rabbi Shmuel’s Torah, which early in its life may have been one of only a few Sefer Torahs in its community of Kosova Hora/Amschelberg, became one of many scrolls that ended up in the Sedlcany synagogue. As years went by, and the Scroll became older, it was probably not kept in good repair. With so many scrolls to take care of, the dwindling congregation could only afford enough to pay a scribe to keep only one or two of its scrolls in perfect condition for use on Shabbats and holidays. By this time, Rabbi Shmuel’s Torah began to be pushed to the back of the ark and after a while was probably only rarely used.