A Sacred Trust

What do you do when you get an email from your rabbi with the subject line, “HELP”? I say, “I’m not sure I can, but I’ll give it a try.” This is how another project started.

The congregation I belong to, Shir Shalom in Woodstock, VT, has been gifted the permanent loan of a Holocaust Torah through the Memorial Scrolls Trust and the generosity of a long-time congregant, Zecil Gravitz. The rabbi has asked me to lead the oldest Sunday school class in researching our new scroll. What do I know about the Torah? It is a scroll of parchment inscribed with the Five Books of Moses. I don’t read Hebrew – I barely know the Hebrew alphabet. I never had a bat mitzvah. I never learned to read from the Torah nor did I learn the lessons it holds. My son, Joshua, has been studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem for a year and a half. He studies the Written Torah and the Oral Torah daily. He is learning about Jewish law and customs and takes every opportunity he can to tell me what he is learning. We have conversations over whatsapp – and I learn small bits and pieces. But I am no Torah scholar. I am not even up to the abilities of a young kheyder student (think Torah primary school). The Torah is sacred. There are rules to how it is to be handled. I don’t know anything about those either. So why me?

When I spoke to the congregation last year on Yom HaShoah Rabbi Haigh was moved by my presentation and impressed with my research. She came to me because I know where to find archives that might hold secrets about our Torah. And she trusts me to lead the teens on this search.

Here’s what I know:

Our scroll came from Švihov, a small town near the western border of today’s Czech Republic not far from Germany. It has been assigned a number (#959) by the Memorial Scrolls Trust. It will serve as an inspiration for Holocaust education for the Shir Shalom community and beyond.

What is a Holocaust Torah? The Nazis looted the Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia in 1942 and brought all the sacred items from the synagogues to the Jewish Museum in Prague, including approximately 1,800 Torahs. The Germans envisioned a museum documenting how they eradicated the world of the Jews. However, these scrolls do not only represent history. They represent lost Jewish communities. They represent the families who worshiped by listening to the reading of these scrolls every week. They represent the boys who were called to become bar mitzvahs near their thirteenth birthdays and those who never had that chance. They represent the 77,297 Jews (66%) of Bohemia-Moravia that were murdered during the Holocaust. And they represent the enduring vitality of the Jewish people.

The Rabbi has entrusted me with a sacred task. I have accepted it with trepidation, curiosity, enthusiasm, and honor, knowing that I will not be alone in the undertaking.

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