The Survival of a Torah Scroll

On March 10, 2024 baby Samatha Rose (Sarah Leah) was welcomed into her family and into our RSNS community at her naming ceremony in our sanctuary.  Granddaughter of Dinah and Marc Kramer and daughter of Rachel and Scott, Samantha touched our Holocaust Torah scroll as she received a name honoring the memory of 2 great-grandmothers and one great, great aunt who survived the Shoah.  What a beautiful journey!  Where did that journey begin?

On April 7th, our Torah joined 80 other scrolls from the tri-state area at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, an organization based at the Westminster Synagogue in London. Joined by 10 members of the RSNS community, we joyously celebrated the survival of these scrolls and the fact that they have found homes in loving and thriving Jewish communities around the world.   How did this sacred text make the journey to us?  Like so many Jews, our Torah has taken a long and fascinating journey.

The story dates back to at least the late 19th century.  Our Torah’s original home was the Strasnice-Prague Synagogue in the Czech Republic.  The Jewish community in Strasnice was established in the mid-15th century and peaked in the late 1800s.  Over 420 Jewish residents were recorded in the Strasnice census between 1869 and 1880.  In March 1939, the Nazis invaded this region.  In 1942, Jewish communities were told by the Nazis to pack up their Torahs and ritual objects of gold and silver and send them to the Jewish Museum in Prague.  It is not clear what was the intent of the Nazis but 40 warehouses were filled with this Judaica. After the war, under Communist rule, some 1800 Torah Scrolls were transferred to a damp warehouse.  In 1963, the Czech Communist government approached an art dealer in London and asked if he’d be interested in buying these scrolls.  A generous benefactor by the name of Ralph Yablon agreed to fund the purchase of 1,554 scrolls that were brought to the Westminster Synagogue.  At this point the Memorial Scrolls Trust was established with the goal of finding foster homes for these scrolls in 27 countries including Argentina and the United Arab Emirates.

One of our B’nai Mitzvah classes (1986) came up with the idea of bringing a rescued scroll to our synagogue for their class mitzvah project.   The Grossberg/Silberzweig family was taking a trip to London to celebrate their son’s graduation from college. Rabbi Lee asked the family if they might bring our scroll home with them.  Arlene describes the experience of seeing the shelves of hundreds of Torah scrolls.  “It felt almost frightening.  It took our breath away to see the scrolls.  It was an unforgettable experience.”  They bought a seat for the Torah on the airplane to make the journey back to New York.   When it arrived in our community, it was treated with the kind of honor and respect that is so emblematic of our congregation.  An artist was commissioned to design the Torah cover which was lovingly needlepointed by 5 women in our community (including Harriet Feiner).  The buckle on the sash that is tied around the Torah was made by congregant and silversmith Myrna Sigman.  Now it holds a loving place in our new ark that was designed by Joseph Jaroff to hold its unique dimensions. From Prague – to London – to Plandome.  From the Holocaust – to a baby naming – to a celebration of survival in New York City.  L’dor v’dor!

Eileen Rosendahl