The Torah from the Great Synagogue in Kielce in the Room of Blessings at the Institute

Some fragments of the Torah from the Great Synagogue in Kielce, discovered by professor Piotr Bańkowski in 1945 at the Kielce main square, after Germans had left the city, have been displayed in the Room of Blessings at the Institute for the Culture of Encounter and Dialogue. The Torah scroll belongs to the Łomża Scientific Society as the professor bequeathed his entire collection to the Society. The Torah was discovered in the collection by Kamil Mrozowicz, who cooperates with the Jan Karski Society and became involved in activities initiated by Bogdan Białek which aimed at commemorating the victims of the Pogrom in Jedwabne 1941. Thanks to the kindness and cooperation of professor Rober Kotowski, director of the National Museum in Kielce, the scroll has been restored by the Museum’s employees, Alina Celichowska and Izabella Żołowicz. The restoration works lasted two years.

On Sunday, October 7,2018, a ceremony entitled The Joy of Torah, during which the scroll was permanently placed in the Room of Blessings, was held at the Institute for the Culture of Encounter and Dialogue. During the ceremony Jewish songs were sung and passages from the Torah were read and commented on. The participants included Dawid Szychowski, Rabbi of Lodz, and Professor Łukasz Kamykowski, head of the Institute of Ecumenism and Dialogue of the John Paul II Pontifical University in Krakow. The guests discussed the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity. At the same time, the meeting inaugurated the second year of the ABCs of Judaism project, under which 70 residents of Kielce will learn about the Jewish history, culture and religion.

The Torah is one of the few artefacts of the Kielce Jews which survived to our times. Its six fragments were placed in special frames behind UV resistant glass panels. One of the fragments is presented in the form of a scroll. In order to exhibit it a special display case was made.

In the Room of Blessings the scroll is displayed together with a Torah mantle (meil) from Chmielnik presented to the Jan Karski Society as well as a parochet from Wadowice on lease from a private collection. Ultimately, the Society intends to purchase the latter.

Jews could settle in Kielce since 1862. At the end of the 19th century there were more than 3,000 of them living in Kielce whereas in 1915 the number reached 15,000 and in 1931 around 19,000. When in 1868 the state authorities approved the Kielce synagogue district, a house of prayer was opened in Bodzentyńska street. The Great Synagogue in Kielce was built in the years 1902 – 1903 and quickly became the main religious centre and the pride of the Kielce Jews. In addition, there were other houses of prayer and Hassidic shtiblakh. In the interwar period there were 35 and 20 of the respectively. In each of those places the Torah was kept with great respect.