A Holocaust Torah Reborn – Messages – 9/2005
Dec. 1, 2005
Thirty Eight years ago, the founding members of Congregation Shalom had a vision – to build a synagogue that would be more than just a building, but rather a place where prayer and study and community would flourish; a place where people would find a home to nurture their Jewish identity and faith and spirit. That vision has been realized. Thirty Eight years later we are a vibrant, active congregation where Judaism and Jewish life thrives.
As the Rabbi of Congregation Shalom I more than anyone else see the many ways this happens; in the eyes of our many students who study and learn each week; in the voice of a member who has felt the tender care and support of our Caring Committee during a difficult time; at the High Holidays when our sanctuary is full and filled with the voices of committed Jews; and at the many, many programs that happen throughout the year – and the center of it all is Torah. Torah, which literally means “Teaching” is the foundation of Jewish life and as such is known in our liturgy and literature as the “Tree of Life.” The Torah is the record of our people’s earliest history and it embodies the teachings, laws, traditions and values of our people. It is a living, sacred text that is read throughout the year.
Our community is particularly blessed because of a specific Sefer Torah – Torah Scroll – that resides with us at Congregation Shalom. Let me share with you some of this Scroll’s history. During World War II, the Nazis had a diabolical vision to exterminate the Jewish people and then to have a museum about in their own words “the Jews – an extinct race”. Towards those ends, when the Nazis went into villages and cities to take the Jewish community captive, they also stole their possessions and in particular their sacred religious objects. The Jewish communities throughout Europe were decimated and these religious artifacts were warehoused. After the war, when the Allied Troops came into these areas, they found the stores of these religious relics, but not Jews. Only a fragment of the original population had survived the mass killings, transits, and concentration camps. In Czechoslovakia, a warehouse of Torah scrolls was found; each scroll tagged with an identifying number explaining what village the scroll had come from. These Scrolls were brought to reside in Westminster, England in a repository. Small synagogues like our own can borrow them on indefinite loan – the vision being to use them and to keep Judaism alive. We are so blessed to have one of these scrolls in our midst – a reminder of what was almost lost and as a reminder of what we have to be dedicated to in the future; to live our Judaism as fully as possible and to resist any forces of assimilation and inertia. We hold this Sefer Torah in trust; that if ever any Jews were to choose and reside in the village from which it came, we would bring it back to its original home – to once again let the Torah and her teachings be the center-piece of Jewish life.
We do not read from this Torah on every Shabbat, but rather on special occasions, for example during our Yom Kippur service. Also, the young students who become Bar or Bat Mitzvah are invited to read from this Scroll if they wish. It is very moving to see a young teen standing on the threshold of Jewish Adulthood choose to affirm their identity by reading from this very Torah; their action speak to all those present in the community – ” I am a Jew and Judaism is Alive!” It is a sacred and meaningful moment, especially now, sixty years after the war ended. Time can be a cruel eraser of emotion and as a Jewish community we hold as our responsibility the commitment to not forget those who perished in the village from which our Torah came from. As we live full and meaningful Jewish lives we bless the memories of those lost.
Thank you for sharing this special moment of memory and re-dedication with our community. May the Torah continue to be a Tree of Life to all who hold Her fast….
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry