Children in the Czech Republic have heard stories about once-flourishing Jewish communities that have since vanished. Children in Pompton Lakes, who have also heard stories about those communities, will get a chance to learn more about them starting next week, thanks to a project by a group of Czech children.
"Neighbors Who Disappeared" is an exhibit from the Jewish Museum in Prague. It was created by non-Jewish Czech students who researched the Jewish communities that disappeared during the Holocaust. It will be on display at Cong. Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes beginning Monday.
"It’s part of our congregation’s connection with the Jewish community of Czechoslovakia, most of which was decimated," said Beth Shalom’s Rabbi David Senter.
The synagogue is home to one of more than 1,800 Czech Torahs in Hitler’s private collection that were discovered shortly after the Holocaust. An English trust distributed them to synagogues and museums across the globe and Beth Shalom received one, which it rededicated last year. That scroll sparked an interest for Senter in the republic’s Jewish community and, because of the meticulous records kept by the Nazis, Beth Shalom now commemorates the yahrzeits of every member of the Jewish community of Pardubice, which once hosted the Torah.
As he researched the history of Pardubice’s Torah, Senter learned of "The Neighbors Who Disappeared."
The exhibit is made up of ‘0 panels of photographs and information compiled by Czechs between the ages of 1’ and ‘1. Under the direction of the Jewish museum in Prague, they turned to their parents and grandparents to find out the history of the once-thriving Jewish communities in villages and cities across the Czech Republic.
The traveling exhibit will remain in Pompton Lakes until April 30. Senter has invited area schools to visit. The exhibit has special significance, he said, because of its origins.
"This exhibit has something unique to it, inasmuch as most Holocaust remembrances are [by] Jews remembering the Holocaust," Senter said. "This exhibit is [by] Czechoslovakian children who are not Jewish [about] their Jewish neighbors."
The project is coordinated by the Education and Culture Center of the Jewish Museum in Prague. Six versions of the exhibit are traveling through the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Slovak Republic, and Czech Republic.
Susan Boyer, director of the Czech Torah Networks in California, first brought the exhibit to Los Angeles almost two years ago. As director of the Czech Torah Networks, she has worked with the Jewish museum in Prague to find homes for the displaced Torah scrolls. When the museum’s directors decided to take the exhibit international, they called Boyer.
So far, the exhibit has been seen in California, Virginia, and Washington, among other parts of the country. It has attracted school groups of all ages and, Boyer said, has an appeal beyond the Jewish community.
"It has interfaith potential because it wasn’t done by Jews," Boyer said. "They were people who aren’t Jewish, talking about Jews. That is a uniqueness about it you often don’t see."
For Senter, the Holocaust became much more real after Beth Shalom received information on Pardubice and its Jewish community, which had been entirely deported in only three days.
"Suddenly we were more than custodians of the Torah, we were custodians to the traditions of that town," he said. "Maybe somebody would come here and see this and feel that connection as well."
For more information on the exhibit, call Beth Shalom at (973) 835-3500.