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Prague’s synagogue gets first new Torahs since World War II

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Reuters) - The Old-New Synagogue is over 700 years old, one of the oldest existing synagogues in Europe.

Members of the Czech Jewish Community write final words in a new Torah scroll during a ceremony in the medieval Old-New Synagogue in Prague March 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Reuters) – Prague’s medieval Old-New Synagogue received two new Torah scrolls on Sunday, the first ones since World War Two shattered the country’s once-thriving Jewish community.

The Torahs, funded by donations to the Prague Jewish community, were written in Israel and brought into the synagogue in a ceremony that included scripting of the final letters by guests and members of the community, and a street dance.

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“After years when Torahs were being destroyed, burnt … the community today celebrates with its rabbi a new Torah scroll after many, many years. That is the best expression of the development of the Prague Jewish community,” said deputy head of the Jewish Community of Prague, Frantisek Banyai.

The Old-New Synagogue (known locally in Czech as the Staronová Synagoga, and Yiddish as the Altneu Shul) is over 700 years old, one of the oldest existing synagogues in Europe. Apart from its significance to the community, it is the main attraction of Prague’s JewishTown, a popular destination for visitors.

Before World War Two, there were about 125,000 Jews living in what is now the Czech Republic. About 80,000 were killed during the war.

The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities estimates 15-20,000 Jews live in the Czech Republic now, although only about a quarter is registered with Jewish communities or otherJewish groups.

(RNS staff contributed to this report)