Friday, August 23, 2013

Czech Torah scrolls, Alan Turing and L.S. Lowry

The Czech Torah Scrolls Museum: My son and daughter-in-law took us to see the Czech Torah Scrolls Museum, a small private museum in Kent House in Rutland Gardens in Knightsbridge. This was actually the London home of the Duke of Kent and now houses the Westminster Synagogue, with which the Museum is connected. This museum came about because starting in the 1930s, and seeing the deterioration of Jewish life throughout Bohemia and Moravia, that now make up the Czech Republic, the Jewish Museum in Prague began collecting Jewish artifacts from all over the country. There had been ca. 360,000 Jews in the region, but as war approached the number rapidly decreased, 80,000 were murdered by the Nazis and only ca. 10,000 returned after the war. There is a myth that the Germans were collecting these Jewish items in order to make a "museum of the dead race," but recent research has shown that this was not true. There are many pictures taken before and during the German occupation in which Jews alone are carrying out this collection and documentation. It seems that the Head of the Museum during the Communist era used this story to gain Government support. Anyway, thousands of Torah scrolls were collected over a period of years and stored in an obscure unused synagogue in suburban Prague. After the war someone came across them and had the idea to "rescue" them. Money was provided by a donation and 1,600 Torah scrolls were purchased from the Czech Government and trucked to London in 1964. Volunteers began to work on them and a group of professional scribes were retained to check and repair the scrolls. We were taken around the museum by Rabbi Ariel Friedlander, who is the daughter of the former Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue. She explained that it was felt that it was not appropriate to keep the Torah scrolls purely as museum pieces and as the scrolls became available about 90% of them were loaned out to synagogues across the world. My son and daughter-in-law's synagogue, Beth Emek of Livermore, CA, was one of the lucky shools to receive such a loan of a Torah scroll, that they have now dedicated to the forgotten Jews of a town in the Czech republic. This was a moving and inspirational visit.

The Globe Theater - Macbeth: I was waiting all the time for someone to say "To be or not to be, that is the question" but noone said it - wrong Shakespeare play. I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, quite familiar, although some of the kids were less than enthralled. Later we also watched the movie "Anonymous" about the origin of the Shakespeare plays, which is a bit of a mystery, so we were steeped in it.

The British Museum: We decided to give the BM a miss since we have been many times before. Our family especially liked the Rosetta stone, since they all learn about it at school. My son was impressed by how much the British mnaaged to steal from around the world when they had an Empire.

Alan Turing: One reason for visiting the Science Museum at S. Kensington was that they had a special exhibit on Alan Turing (1912-1954) entitled "Code Breaker." Turing was the mathematical genius who was the first to predict in 1936 how a modern computer would work, long before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Alan Turing worked at the code breaking department at Bletchley Park during WWII and was responsible for breaking some of the Enigma machine military codes. He published an iconic paper in 1950 predicting how artificial intelligence should work, that introduced "the Turing test." He was a homosexual and was quite open about it, but at that time it was a serious matter and he lost his security clearance and committed suicide in 1954. The British Prime Minister apologised in 2013 for how Turing had been mistreated by the police and security personnel.

Lowry exhibition: At the Tate Britain Gallery there was a large exhibition of the paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) entitled "Lowry and the painting of modern life." To those unfamiliar with the work of Lowry, he painted mainly industrial landscapes in the north of England, with factories belching smoke and people rushing back and forth to work. In that respect, he represented the British artist's response to the reality of the industrial revolution that was all around him, and he sought beauty in it's grimy ugliness. He depicted the plight of the working men and women scratching out an existence among gritty landscapes, yet he was not a socialist, but a Tory, who foresaw that through this process of industrialization would come a better life with more jobs and less pollution.

Shopping in Oxford Street: Apart from shopping in Cambden market and Spitalfields market, various combinations of us went down to Oxford Street and made forays into the stores to acquire clothing and presents of various kinds. All survived.

Hampton Court Palace: We chose not to go to HCP, although it is a lovely place to visit, one of the favorite palaces. The kids always love the maze ("I went through it in 5 mins!") and the adults were fascinated by an actor who played Henry VIII who was enjoying the excesses of the palace. Not many people know that during the plague when the court was at HCP some of Shakespeare's plays were put on in the great hall there and never seen publicly at that time.

Marlow Bottom: After the families left to get their kids back to school in time, Naomi and I had a lovely lunch with some friends and then returned with Barbara to her home in Marlow Bottom. We spent a leisurely day shopping in High Wycombe, before she dropped us off at Heathrow which is quite close by. Altogether a great and eventful holiday and we had lovely weather, for the most part mild and cloudy.


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