Our Czech Torah
our czech torah mST#938
From the editors of the January 2009 edition of the Temple Beth Am Newsletter
For those of you who were unable to attend the Siyum……
The Chuppah was moved from its display case on the rear wall of the Sanctuary and set up on the Bimah, where a continuous slide presentation, depicting the restoration of the Torah, was projected onto the wall to the left of the Ark.
Kol Rinah, Westchester’s Jewish community chorus, opened the service with two beautiful pieces and continued to keep the mood throughout the service. Rabbi Weiner related the history of our Holocaust Torah and he and Cantor Jamie offered prayers for the rededication.
Karen Firestone, President, and Aaron Bock, Past-President, carried the scroll into the Sanctuary. Then Neil Yerman, Rabbi Weiner and Cantor Jamie, assisted by our Scribe, Neil Yerman, completed the restoration by finishing the word 'Bereshit', the first word of the Torah.
Members of the Board of Trustees, past and present, were privileged to hold the Torah as it was unrolled around the entire Sanctuary, after which Cantor Jamie chanted a passage from the newly restored scroll. Once the Torah was re-rolled, a number of those present danced to the lively music provided by Kol Rinah.
The evening ended, in true Jewish tradition, with tasty food and drinks
The story of our Czech Torah scroll is one of hope and joy, as well as deep sadness.
So, we'll tell the story backwards and start with joy: our Czech Torah scroll MST#938, which may date as far back as the 18th century, has been beautifully restored and is ready to take its place once again in our sanctuary.
On December 14, 2008, Temple Beth Am had a Siyum, a celebration rededicating the restored Czech Torah and welcoming it back to our sanctuary. There was a service, dancing, and refreshments. In addition, Kol Rinah, Westchester's Jewish Community Chorus, performed..
In the fall of 2007, Rabbi Robert Weiner notified the temple board that our Czech Torah scroll was in disrepair. The parchment it was written on was discolored and torn in spots, and its fading Hebrew letters needed to be painstakingly rewritten -- handwritten with a quill pen, actually. The board agreed that we needed to establish a fund to raise money for the restoration. We contacted Sofer Neil Yerman, as scribe whose special skills would allow him and his staff to restore our Torah.
Our congregation got to work. From the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, we held fund-raisers, gathered support, and raised about $40,000. In addition, many of us, from our youngest congregants to some of our older members, had the profound experience of writing one Hebrew letter in our Torah, guided by Sofer Yerman.
This Czech Torah first came to Temple Beth Am in 1967. The 4-year-old congregation held a dedication ceremony on September 28 of that year. The Torah was donated to the Temple by the families of Saul Holstein, Fred Farber, and Saul Wolff.
But before the Czech Torah came to Temple Beth Am, it had been part of a tragic past. In 1963, the owner of a London art gallery was in Prague, capital of what was then Czechoslovakia. He was taken by the Czechoslovak government to a small synagogue, which had been converted to a warehouse, in which 1,564 Torah scrolls were languishing in disrepair.
During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Torah scrolls from destroyed Jewish communities throughout the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia had been taken and stored with the intention of making them relics in a proposed museum of the 'extinct Jewish race.'
Once the scrolls were discovered, they were bought by Ralph Yablon for the Westminster Synagogue in London, who subsequently set up a trust for these scrolls. The scrolls were transported to London in 1964. The process of repairing began, and these Torahs have since been given to synagogues and other Jewish institutions throughout the world. Most are now in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and the United States.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust (www.memorialscrollstrust.org) in London states in its brochure that "it is the cherished hope of the trust that the Czech Scrolls would be reinstated in Jewish life as a memorial to the vanished communities that once treasured them." Our Torah is identified by the center as MST#938.
As our newly restored Czech Torah scroll continues in its place at Temple Beth Am, it will always remain treasured as both a memorial to what was lost and as a joyous testament to Jewish life as it continues in our congregation.
1) The Czech Torah Network: A Holocaust Education Project. The Story of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia. http://www.czechtorah.org/thestory.php
2) Peekskill Evening Star, Saturday, September 28, 1967
3) The Memorial Scrolls Trust, Kent House, Rutland Gardens, London. Brochure.
Some interesting links:
For information on the process of Torah restoration and the work of Sofer Neil Yerman:
Louise Iyengar, November 20, 2008