Temple Sholom Sifrei Torah
by: Evelyn H. Lazare
In 2015, to celebrate the congregation’s 50th anniversary, Temple Sholom members participated in the scribing of a new Torah. This brought the number of scrolls at Temple Sholom to eight. Temple Sholom is fortunate that each of the eight scrolls is in good condition and is considered kosher and suitable for use during services.
We know the very recent history of the 50th Anniversary scroll, but how and when were the other scrolls acquired? As a starting point, we know that when Temple Sholom was founded in 1965, two scrolls were donated to the congregation, one small and one large. In 1971, Temple adopted and rededicated the Czech Torah. This brought the count to three.
In 1980, Rabbi Bregman came to Temple Sholom; when he arrived, there were five scrolls: two small and two large plus the Czech Torah. This means that one additional small and one additional large scroll were acquired between 1971 and 1980.
In 1985, Temple Sholom was fire-bombed and one of the scrolls, housed in a portable ark, was destroyed. The remains of the burned Torah are buried in the Temple Sholom cemetery. This reduced the number of scrolls at Temple to four: three plus the Czech scroll. READ MORE >
A Holocaust Torah Reunion
Behind the treelike doors of Temple Sholom’s Aron Kodesh are housed six beautiful Torahs, each with its own history. As many of you know, the torah in the centre of the top row is known as our “Czech” Torah. This torah is one of 1,564 scrolls rescued from Prague at the end of the Second World War and brought to London, England in 1964 by a group of dedicated volunteers: the Czech Memorial Scroll Trust (the “MST”). We honour our Czech Torah each year by dedicating our afternoon Yom Kippur service to it. Our Czech Torah is on loan to us from the MST is officially known as Czech Memorial Scroll #1036, and was brought to Vancouver in 1971 by Temple Trustee David Huberman, who travelled to London on our behalf to chaperone the torah to its new home.
Earlier this month, my wife Debby and I escorted Scroll #1036 back to London for something of a “family reunion” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the torahs’ arrival in London. In the years since 1964, most of the torahs brought to London have found new homes around the world and this month for the first time, 53 of them were reunited. It was a great pleasure to see torahs arriving from the world over, and a little humorous to see how different congregations found creative ways to safely transport these precious artifacts. One scroll from an American congregation arrived in a golf bag, while another was given free shipping and chaperone service from FedEx. Many congregations who were unable to attend in person sent large posters of their torahs as stand-ins for the commemorative service. Ours was the only one to come from Canada, and was shipped in a hard-shell foam filled torah case loaned to us by the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC. Air Canada was also very supportive of our journey, supplying us with two complementary seats for the large case. We were seated right behind it so we could keep an eye on it the whole way. Ironically, Air Canada’s Vancouver crew handled other precious cargo the same day: the Stanley Cup.
The tragedy of these extraordinary scrolls is that they are often the only surviving relics of some 153 Czech Jewish communities whose members were deported and exterminated in the Nazi death camps during the Second World War. Our torah is one of eighteen scrolls from the small town of Sedlčany, located 60 km south of Prague in Central Bohemia. It was written in 1890. In the years after the war, a legend spread that the Nazis had planned to create a ‘Museum to an Extinct Race’. According to the MST, this has little foundation in fact. They do know that a pious group of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community worked to bring artifacts and Jewish possessions of all kinds from Bohemia and Moravia to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. Here they preserved what little remained of Jewish communities, previously at the mercy of plunderers. The MST believes this Jewish initiative was directly responsible for the subsequent conservation of the scrolls. All the curators at the Museum were eventually transported to Terezin and Auschwitz.
Only two such curators survived, and the Czech Jewish community after the war was too depleted to be able to care for them. The pious group’s legacy was the catalogue of the vast collection in the Museum, eventually to become the Jewish Museum of Prague and the saved 1,564 Scrolls.
For 20 years following the war, the scrolls remained in a disused synagogue in a Prague suburb until the communist government, in need of hard currency, decided they should be sold. A British art dealer learned of this opportunity in 1963 and worked with the rabbi of Westminster Synagogue, a Hebrew scholar and a generous donor to bring the 1,564 scrolls to London. Many were in a pitiful condition – torn or damaged by fire and water – a grim testimony to the fate of the people who had once prayed with them.
The Memorial Scroll Trust has given these precious scrolls a second life by lovingly restoring them and loaning them to over 1,400 communities around the world, thereby spreading their message to new generations in diverse communities and institutions such as Temple Sholom.
The February 9, 2014 Czech Memorial Scrolls Commemorative Service at Westminster Synagogue was sublime. It began with a procession the 53 scrolls that had been brought for the occasion, mostly from the U.K. and the U.S. To the strains of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, each Torah was lovingly brought to the Bimah, held by a member of its current community and announced its original hometown.
A video of the Commemorative Service can be viewed at:
Information about the MST is available at http://www.memorialscrollstrust.org/
David Schwartz, President of Temple Sholom, 2012-2015