Around the Jewish World: UJA Young Leaders Deliver Torah to Prague’s Egalitarian Synagogue

A group of young American Jewish leaders has provided a valuable gift to a progressive Jewish group in the Czech capital.

Members of UJA Federations of North America’s Young Leadership Division delivered a refurbished Torah scroll to Beit Praha, the only organization in Prague that holds mixed-gender services, during a special Sabbath morning service last Saturday.

The 193 active federation members — aged 25 to 45 — visited Prague over the weekend as the first leg of their biannual mission to Israel

Of the 350,000 Jews who once lived in 153 communities throughout the current Czech Republic before the Holocaust, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 survived.

Of those, some 1,300 are registered members of the Prague Jewish community, which is served by three prayer groups: Beit Praha, Chabad House and an Orthodox group led by Sidon.

Beit Praha was started by a group of young expatriates living in Prague who did not identify with the city’s Orthodox, predominantly elderly community. Since then, Lisa Frankenburg, one of Beit Praha’s founders and the publisher of the English-language newspaper Prague Post, said many Czechs have joined the group, which now has about 100 members.

Peter Gyori, the 29-year-old leader of the group, said the donated Torah “had a huge impact” on the dozen members of Beit Praha who attended the service, which was held in the banquet hall of a modern hotel in Prague’s old Jewish Quarter where the American group was staying.

Gyori said he now sees potential for the group to have regular Saturday morning services in addition to the Friday night services held on the third floor of the Jewish Town Hall, a pink Baroque building located next to the 17th-century synagogue where the Orthodox services are held.

The genesis of the Torah delivery lies in a meeting that Lewis Norry, the mission’s Rochester, N.Y.-based co-chair, had with Gyori in Prague during the summer.

After meeting with Gyori, Norry saw an opportunity to support pluralism among Prague’s younger generation.

Norry eventually turned to Avi Eisenbach, a Torah scribe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Norry and his wife, Jill, paid some $10,000 for the restored Torah — estimated to be about 100 to 150 years old — complete with new wooden rollers and a new midnight blue velvet cover embroidered with an inscription from the UJA mission.

During the Torah service, Deborah Friedman, a member of the Young Leadership Cabinet and its former ritual and Judaica chair, read the Torah portion in a lilting soprano as Beit Praha members surrounded the reader’s table for their first glimpse of the new scroll.

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