Notes from Cantor B

A highlight of my recent trip to Eastern Europe was meeting Rabbi David Maxa, the leader of Ec Chaim, the progressive Jewish community in Prague. Rabbi Maxa welcomed our group of cantors and congregants to the small sanctuary set up in an office building. He told us his moving story, which you can read on his website:

When he opened the ark, we all oohed and aahed at the beautiful new Torah cover, made by artist Jeanette Kuvin Oren, the designer of the 2022 US Chanukah stamp. Rabbi Maxa told us the story of the Torah. Saved from the Holocaust, the Westminster Trust had loaned this Czech Torah to the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NJ. Before he became a Rabbi, David Maxa had worked at Kutz Camp.  This Torah was the very first scroll he ever read from.  When Kutz Camp closed down, the decision was made to send the Torah back to the Czech Republic, to Ec Chaim.  Rabbi Maxa ended our time with him by singing Debbie Friedman’s Misheberach for us, in his own translation into Czech.

The four letters on the Chanukah dreidel, nun, gimel, hey and shin, stand for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” – “A great miracle happened there.” Of course, on the dreidel, “there” refers to Israel, but witnessing the vibrant Jewish communities growing in Prague, Krakow and Warsaw, places where such unimaginable destruction occurred, I felt that a great miracle is happening in Eastern Europe, too!  Especially in this troubling time of war, we can find inspiration and solace in the miracle of our peoples’ survival through the ages.

The “Holocaust” Torah at Temple Israel comes from the town of Nachod, on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. You can read about its history on the Temple’s website:

There is no longer a synagogue in the town of Nachod. Our tour bus stopped at the town boundary so that Barbara Feigelman and I could take a picture by the sign to say, Mir zainen do! We are here!

Wishing you and your family a very happy Chanukah, full of light, love and miracles!

Cantor Suzanne Bernstein