How many Holocaust scrolls do we have at TBD?

Posted on February 1, 2017

From the beginning of my tenure at our synagogue, I was told that the middle scroll in our ark was our Holocaust scroll. I believed this because the parchment looks burnt and damaged in many places. By the way, we use this Torah regularly. Most of our Bnei Mitzvah students carry it because it is lighter than the other Torahs. We read from it during our Second Day Rosh Hashanah service at the Huntington Beach pier and at select times throughout the year such as at Shavuot.

I have been aware that the seams are coming apart especially at the revelation of the Ten Commandments. It had become imperative to repair the scroll. Robin Harrison, VP of Religious Practice, and I have begun researching the origin of our Torahs. To my surprise, we identified two Torahs on the left as surviving the Holocaust.

In Cantor Harry Newman’s autobiography, of blessed memory, he describes how the Germans during WWII collected thousands of Jewish religious artifacts in Europe and stored them in Czechoslovakia. After the war, the World Progressive Jewish movement created a repository in London for the “Czech Torahs.”

He writes, “One scroll was sent to Temple Beth David and placed in the Ark… When conservative Congregation Hillel of Huntington Beach merged with Temple Beth David, they brought their own Czech Torah with them. Now we had two in our Ark and used both of them on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.”

Cantor Newman describes furthermore how the original atzei chayim (rollers) were replaced with newer ones and placed in our display case in the hallway. The letters on the TBD Torah scroll identified it as coming from Provstitz, a village in Czechoslovakia that was destroyed by the German army. According to Cantor Newman, it is well over two hundred years old. Cantor Newman informs that it is unusual for a congregation to have a Holocaust scroll, not withstanding two, since there are only 1500 Holocaust scrolls in the world.

So what is the story behind our middle scroll, the one I have referred to as our “Holocaust scroll?” Previous rabbis, presidents, and long term members of TBD have no idea of its origin.

We hope to learn more on Tuesday night, Feb. 21, when we bring in a sofer, scribe, to look at our scroll, repair it, and hopefully give us some information about it. The sofer will be here that night approximately 5:00 p.m. and onward. Our religious school students will be able to come in and watch him work. You are welcome to come as well.

On Friday night, Feb. 24 at the 6 & 7th grade Shabbat service, we will honor those who contributed to its repair with an Aliyah and talk more about our Torahs and their history.

We invite you to join us in celebrating our history, our Torahs, and our people’s survival.