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Siyum in the News 

October 3, 2007 - North County News
Yorktown Synagogue Embarks on Campaign to Restore Torah Rescued from Holocaust by Laura Scharf

Temple Beth Am, a Reform Jewish congregation in Yorktown, is the proud home of one of 1,564 Torahs rescued from the Holocaust.

The Torah scrolls contain the first five books of the Old Testament.

The Torah, which has been at Temple Beth Am since September 1967, is urgently in need of restoration, which must be done by a trained scribe. The scribe letters every character by hand, writing on parchment with a quill pen. It is a painstaking process.

The Torah was is disrepair even before it arrived at Beth Am, and the congregation recently had a scribe come to inspect it. Letters are lifting off the parchment in places, and there are stains and tears that need to be properly repaired. The cost of the restoration is estimated at $40,000.

Rabbi Robert Weiner and the Temple Board hope to involve the congregation in the restoration process, using the experience as a hands-on opportunity to teach about the Torah. “This Torah is a symbol of hope,” says Rabbi Weiner, echoing the thoughts of the Nobel prize-winning writer, Elie Wiesel.“May it be a reminder of the dark times; of the hope which endured within the Jewish people (during the Holocaust); of the task of remembering which we all share,’ wrote Wiesel.
The restoration initiative will begin on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah on Thursday evening, October 4, when the whole Torah is unrolled. Simchat Torah, which means rejoicing in the Torah, marks the end of the annual cycle of readings from the Torah.

The History of the Czech Torahs

During the Holocaust, the Nazis wanted to create a museum of captured Torahs as a testament to the success of their efforts to eradicate the Jews and their sacred objects. Many of the Torahs the Nazis confiscated were warehoused in a synagogue just outside Prague.

In 1963, an American art dealer named Eric Estorick, a professor at New York University, on a buying trip to Eastern Europe, met with local Czech officials who told him about the Torahs. They took him to an old synagogue, where the Torahs were stacked floor to ceiling, many in a state of disrepair.

Professor Estorick turned to a philanthropist in London, who purchased the entire collection. He donated the scrolls to the Westminster Synagogue, and created the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust.

More than 1,000 of the Czech Torahs have been loaned to American synagogues with 100-year leases.

The Torah at Beth Am is identified as #938.

December 15 and 25, 2008 - Journal News and Yorktown and Cortlandt Express
Temple Celebrates Torah Restoration by Danielle De Souza

When Temple Beth Am of Northern Westchester received its Czech Torah in 1967, its parchments had water damage, holes and tears.

Thirty-one years later, the Torah has been restored.

The temple held a "siyum," or celebration, to rededicate its restored Torah yesterday, a week before Hanukkah.

"This day is an emotional day because we have worked so hard to bring our scroll home," said Rabbi Robert Weiner. "It has brought us back to the beginning."

Before the Torah was donated to the temple, it was found in 1963 in a warehouse in Prague, the capital of what was then Czechoslovakia. More than 1,000 scrolls were languishing in disrepair, according to the temple's Web site.

During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Torah scrolls from destroyed Jewish communities throughout the county were collected for use in a proposed museum of the extinct Jewish race.

After they were discovered in 1963, members of the Jewish community in London were contacted, and the scrolls were transported there a year later for repair.

"The Torah is the foundation for the congregation and for Jewish life," said Louise Iyengar, recording secretary of the temple. "We have an obligation to keep and preserve it."

Temple members have kept that obligation.

Over the past year, the temple raised about $40,000 for the restoration, Iyengar said. The restoration took one year.

The Torah was restored by Sofer Neil Yerman and his trained assistants. A sofer is one who writes and restores the holy writings of the people of Israel.

Yerman said the celebration was overwhelming.

"I did not really think there could be a greater joy and blessing than bringing the scroll back to its healthy life," he said. "But seeing the faces of all in attendance and the love the community feels toward each other, the clergy, leaders and this sacred scroll, has brought this to an unanticipated higher level."

Toward the end of the ceremony, members of the temple unrolled the scroll and wrapped it all the way around the room.

Daelah Aaronson, 40, of Cortlandt watched in awe.

"This was emotional and spiritual," she said. "I had a relative that died in the Holocaust and to see something that came from that time and to be able to grow with it and see our children grow with it is very special."

The celebration was memorable to 14-year-old Robert Pagan. He was the last bar mitzvah child to read the Torah before its restoration.

"I used it before it was restored and people before that used it in the Holocaust," said the Peekskill resident. "I feel like I am following in their footsteps."

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Photos of our Siyum in the Journal News :

December 24 and 25, 2008 - The North County News and The Yorktown Pennysaver
Torah Unveiled After Yearlong Restoration by Anna Lillian Moser

Just in time for Hanukkah, the celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, members of Temple Beth Am in Yorktown were able to celebrate their own rededication. The temple’s Torah was unveiled after a year of restorations.

The restoration was completed by scribe Neil Yerman and cost $40,000. According to Rabbi Robert Weiner, the money was raised through a number of fundraising efforts. For example, for a donation, members of the congregation could dedicate a letter to a loved one in the holy document’s text.

“They got to sit down next to the scribe and he would have his hand on the quill and they would write a letter in honor of a parent, in honor of a grandparent, in honor of a sibling, in honor of someone,” Weiner said.

The majority of funding came from Temple Beth Am members, but there were some outside donations as well.

The Torah first arrived at Temple Beth Am in 1968 from the Czech Republic. The Torah was one of many that were saved during the Holocaust.

“These particular scrolls were saved by the Nazis believe it or not, so that they would have a physical representation of the Jews that they had destroyed,” Weiner said, adding that the Nazis had planned to display the scrolls in a museum.

The Torahs were kept in a damp basement of a church until the 1960s when they were discovered and transported to London. The Czech Memorial Scrolls Center was founded and the organization began restoring the scrolls and putting them on official loan. Weiner says that the temple’s Torah was in good condition, but after being kept in a damp basement for over two decades and then being put in a dry area some of the ink started coming off.

“The ink itself was sort of drying up or popping off the parchment itself,” Weiner said.

The Torah is the very root of the Jewish faith. “It represents the source for the master story of the Jewish people,” Weiner said. “The pillar of our existence sort of comes out of the Torah itself. When we look to understanding our connection to God that is where we turn to.”

Weiner said that the sad history of this particular Torah makes its meaning all that more significant.

“We said this was a symbol of destruction and now it’s a symbol of hope and life,” he said. “People died trying to keep this text alive.”




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