Twelve year old Morissa Lambert, from the American city of Glencoe, became a Bat Mitzvah – “daughter of the commandments” in Lostice synagogue on August 6th 2016. It was a significant life event, consisting of a ceremony and the assessment of knowledge of Jewish law and traditions. The sermon, attended by numerous relatives and the public, was led by Rabbi Bruce Elder of the Congregation Hakafa. The synagogue was once again completely full.
On the eve of the sermon Rabbi Bruce recalled: When I first came to these parts in 2005, so that for a moment I could return the Torah we use, and which originates from Lostice synagogue, to Lostice, I led a worship service, just as I did today. After the service, while listening to a concert performed by the Vetrnik children’s choir, I had the feeling that the walls of the Sanctuary were crying. They cried because they were lonely. Almost all members of the local Jewish community had perished during the Holocaust, and now there was no one here. However, there was the Torah, which has it’s home here, the Torah from which their rabbis prayed. Thereby as the Torah returns home, this synagogue becomes our home as well. This evening, as we sit in the Shabbat circle, the walls no longer weep. It’s congregation is here, once again. And as the bells of the following song bring peace, we too are calmed and we welcome in the Sabbath ... Shabbat Shalom.
We are delighted that someone from faraway, across the ocean, has shown such respect for this historic building. In the past, three young people from Congregation Hakafa have included Lostice in their Bar Mitzva ceremony. Zachary Berger, Jonathan and Sarah McCullough had their ceremony in the States, but devoted it to the memory of Holocaust victims and to the Lostice synagogue. Collaboration between Congregation Hakafa and the town of Loštice started 11 years ago.
Before WWII, 18 Torah scrolls were located in the Lostice synagogue. In 1940, the Nazis closed the synagogue and most of the objects were catalogued and shipped to a storage facility in Prague. After the war these objects became a part of the Prague Jewish Museum collections. In 1964, by order of the Czechoslovak government, the majority of the Torah scrolls (1564 scrolls) were sold to England. The Westminster Synagogue was now the new owner. This institution set up a special loan program, through which it loans Torahs to Jewish congregations around the world. The loan requirements are that the Torah be well taken care of, and that prior to any reading, Czech and Moravian Holocaust victims are remembered. Lostice Torah scrolls are now located in the USA, Canada, England, Chile and Australia.
Morissa’s decision to accept the Bat Mitzvah in Lostice was clarified by her mom, Heather: We have three daughters. The two older ones have already had their Bat Mitzvah. One was a beautiful ceremony at Masada in the Promised Land, a symbol of the Jewish people. And the most beautiful place in the world for the other, is a lake where the family spends time together. During the ceremony at the lake, a beautiful rainbow lit up over our heads... a ceremony to which our Rabbi Bruce Elder, brought the Torah and in his speech reminded us of it’s Lostice origins, the home of our Torah. At that moment, Morissa turned to me and said: “That’s where my Bat Mitzvah will be. But where exactly is it?
She never gave up her resolve, on the contrary, the more she learned about Lostice, the more she wanted to combine her celebration with a Bat Mitzvah sermon for Greta Hirsch – a Jewish girl from Lostice, who had perished in the Holocaust. During the service Rabbi Elder addressed both Morissa and Greta as a Bat Mitzvah. After the ceremony the entire congregation went to the local Jewish cemetery, where they prayed a Kaddish at the Hirsch family tombstone.
Greta Hirsch on Moravičanská Street, circa 1940
The ceremony was attended by many renowned people, including Jesuit priest František Lízna, a political prisoner, bearer of the distinguished TGM Czech order, acquaintance of president Vaclav Havel, and a man who managed to live in a totalitarian communist regime and maintain his inner freedom.
Morissa was also congratulated by Mr. Jan Janku, another recipient of the TGM Order, a political prisoner and finder of the Mírov Torah.
Holocaust survivors, Elizabeth Dostálová and Daniela Zavadilová, gave Morissa their beautiful gifts.
On behalf of the town of Lostice, Deputy Mayor Mr. Jan Konečný gave her an antique menorah – a symbol of light.
And members of the Respect and Tolerance Foundation had a few meaningful gifts for Morissa to commemorate her special day:
Hours of Devotion a book written by Fanny Neuda, the wife of Lostice rabbi, Abraham Neuda. Her book is considered to be the first prayer book written by a woman for Jewish women. In her book she urged parents and tutors to teach girls not only about cooking, sewing and piano playing, but also about a much more important subject: religion. Fanny’s work began the long journey that eventually culminated in girls being given the honor to demonstrate their knowledge of the Torah and become a daughter of the commandments – a Bat Mitzvah, in the late 19th century.
Fragment of Lostice Cup Necklace. Handcrafted silver detail, limited edition, only 3 ever made. These cups made Lostice famous throughout Central Europe in the 14–16th centuries. During the era of the Lostice Cups, the first Jewish settlers began to arrive in Lostice. The Lostice Cup is depicted in the Garden of Earthly Delights painting by Hieronymus Bosch, at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Song of Songs Book printed in English-Hebrew with unique illustrations by Czech painter František Kupka, one of the founders of modern abstract painting.
Morissa felt the deep significance of her gifts with an open heart. She is an exceptional young lady who demonstrated her insightfulness, not only by choosing this site for her journey to adulthood, but also by the maturity of her words at the end of the ceremony. During her talk, Morissa quoted verses recited by children in the Terezin Ghetto and dedicated her Bat Mitzvah to her precursor, Greta Hirsch.
At the end of this extraordinary gathering, Rabbi Bruce Elder and Morissa walked around the prayer room with the 300 year old Torah and all present were invited to became a part of the Hakafa community. The Lostice synagogue and it’s Torah will always belong together, as well as the people who are close to them both.
The ceremony was followed by a violin concert performed by Bohemian Strings, accompanied by piano, featuring English lyrics from the book Hours of Devotion.
Photo: Jindřich Buxbaum, Rudolf Dub, Zdeněk Hanák, Tonyk Kulhaj, Jaroslav Vitek. Thank you all for providing the beautiful photos.