The Woodacre Torah
Part III – The Next 100 Years
Right after the High Holidays, just on schedule, during the eight-day Succoth Festival, Rifka gave birth to a beautiful 8 pound baby boy. They named him Simcha because his bris was just after the holiday Simchas Torah. When Simcha was three years old, he began to write letters on a slate, just like Shmuel had. Everyone in the town was sure that he would become a scribe like his father and grandfather and they were right. Rabbi Shmuel continued to write Torah Scrolls and his work became better and more refined as he got older and more skilled. Every three or four years he took a trip to Amschelberg to check on his first Torah and to make sure that it remained in perfect condition. After about 10 years the Congregation in Amschelberg had grown and they needed a second scroll which Rabbi Shmuel made for them.
Rabbi Shmuel’s father, Reb Shlomo, lived for another 24 years and died peacefully in his sleep in the year 1869 when he was 92 years old. Even though his eyes became a little weak after he turned 85, his hand remained steady his entire life and he continued to write Torah Scrolls until he was 90.
Altogether, Rabbi Shmuel and Rifka had six children. They lived in their village for their entire lives. Shmuel died at the age of 84 in the year 1907 and Rifka passed away two years later. Their daughter Leah married a wonderful and handsome young Rabbi named Aaron from Lublin in 1862. Leah was 19 at the time. She and her husband had seven children and 21 grandchildren. Three of their grandchildren moved from Poland to New York City in the early years of the 20th Century. Every week they sent letters to their parents and also to their beloved Grandma Rifka and Grandpa Shmuel. Two of their great grandsons became scribes and wrote Sefer Torahs for new congregations in America.
Pinchas, Rifka’s younger brother, continued to make a modest living, milking his two cows and delivering milk and cheese and butter to the people in the village. But Pinchas had a yearning to travel. He dreamed one day of going to Eretz Israel and becoming a farmer. He dreamed of growing grapes and tending a whole herd of dairy cows. He saved his money and in the year 1852, when he was 23 years old, he married a beautiful young woman named Hadassah. Right after the wedding, the young couple boarded a train from Warsaw and booked passage on a ship that took them to Haifa in Palestine. They settled in Tiberias and had five children and fourteen grandchildren and thirty-five great grandchildren. Their descendants live in the land of Israel to this very day.
And what about the Torah? Ahhhh, the Torah. The Amschelberg Torah served its community very well for many years. It was brought out of its Holy Ark week after week and read on weekdays, the Sabbath and holidays. It was loved by the entire community and kept in good repair. Every three years, Rabbi Shmuel made a visit to Amschelberg to inspect the Scroll to be sure that all of the letters were still perfect and that none of the ink had rubbed off, and to see if all of the stitching of the individual sections of the parchments was still strong. When Shmuel’s son, little Simcha, got to be big enough, he went along with his father to Amschelberg to check on the Torah. When he turned sixteen, Simcha was permitted to take the trip to Amschelberg by himself and he stayed for a week to repair and replace several sections that with time had become worn. The town of Amschelberg which was the German name for the town was now called by its Czech name of Kosova Hora.
The people of Kosova Hora lived more or less peacefully for nearly 100 years. Children grew up, raised families and then passed on. Some moved away to the big cities and others stayed in the area. There were greater opportunities for Jews to attend secular schools and many young people went to the universities and entered the professions. Some remained steeped in the Orthodox religious traditions and customs of their ancestors, others became assimilated into the secular social, economic and political lives of the country. For some years the Jewish population of the town increased and then after a while people moved on to other settlements or big cities, to Prague or to the New World in America. In 1939 the Jews who were living in Kosova Hora and the surrounding region were rounded up by the Nazi soldiers and were sent to Terezin, a concentration camp north of Prague. A few survived in Terezin for the war years, but most who were sent there were transported to Nazi death camps where most of them perished.
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.
When 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.
Copyright © 1998 Suzanne Sadowsky