From Czechoslovakia to Woodcliff Lake

From Czechoslovakia to Woodcliff Lake

Ed Ruzinsky holds the Torah scroll rescued from Czechoslovakia after the Shoah.

On February 9, 1964, 1,564 Torah scrolls rescued from Nazi-era Moravia, Bohemia, and the Sudetenland began arriving at the Westminster Synagogue in London. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed to administer these holy scripts, many of them in unusable condition, and to find “guardians” for them. Those guardians were necessary because the Czech Jewish communities from which they came had been wiped out.

On the 50th anniversary of that day, the Trust invited guardians – including many in the United States – to take part in the celebration by submitting a poster detailing the present circumstances of the salvaged scrolls.

In 1983, Ed and Enid Ruzinsky of Saddle River arranged to have one of the Torahs – number 974 – shipped to JFK Airport. They picked it up and took it to its new home at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, where Ed was a board member and later became president. They had read about the London collection in a Florida newspaper while visiting Enid’s mother there.

In consultation with Rabbi Andre Ungar, now rabbi emeritus of the congregation, the Ruzinskys commissioned a cover for the scroll in the style of a traditional black-and-white prayer shawl. The short inscription hints at the long and tortured journey this sacred item took: “Prebram, Czechoslovakia, circa 1850, Temple Emanuel, May 18, 1983.”

“They told us it may not be a kosher Torah since many of them had been damaged, and we could use it only ceremonially,” Mr. Ruzinsky said. This indeed turned out to be the case. Although a damaged scroll may not be used for Torah readings during services, it can be held by worshipers during Simchat Torah, when all of a synagogue’s scrolls are taken out and displayed.

“The community of Prebram dates back to the Middle Ages and doesn’t exist anymore,” Mr. Ruzinsky said. “But we have photographs of the synagogue that the Torah was in – a stately, august facility that was completely obliterated by the Nazis. We have the names of congregants and the rabbi that we came upon through research.”

The rescued Torah sits in a place of distinction, flanked by two kosher scrolls and enclosed in a mesh screen. “When you sit on the bimah, you see the five scrolls through the screen, and especially at night when the ceiling lights are focused on these scrolls, it’s beautiful,” Mr. Ruzinsky said.

Mr. Ruzinsky told the temple’s third-grade religious school class all about the Torah before the anniversary. He and the students posed together for photos for the poster, which the children adorned with their names written in yellow stars of David.

The pictures were taken by another congregant, Simone Wilker, who with her husband, Bernie, arranged for another of the Czech Torah scrolls to find a home at what was then the Solomon Schechter Day School in Rockland County.

This Torah’s cover, also resembling a woolen prayer shawl, bears the words: “Krankenheim” and “We Remember.”

“Bernie and I were so taken with the idea of having a Holocaust Torah to protect that we wanted to have our children involved in this project,” Ms. Wilker said. “And so we planned for our friends Helen and Lenny Goodman to visit the Westminster Synagogue in London in 1984, and procure a Torah for safekeeping for our children’s school. It was important for our children to remember that so many Jewish communities were lost because of the Holocaust.”

Ms. Wilker discovered that many newer members of Temple Emanuel did not know the story of the Prebram Torah, and the 50th anniversary celebration presented an opportunity to retell the story.

The timing dovetailed well with the synagogue’s Torah-writing project, which is taking place this year. Ms. Wilker was delighted to discover that the same scribe organization working on this project, the Florida-based Sofer on Site, also is taking responsibility for transferring the Holocaust Torah posters to the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

As of press time, the Memorial Scrolls Trust had not answered a query about how many more of the Torahs were transferred to the North Jersey area.

Temple Beth Or of Washington Township has a rescued Torah scroll from Kyjov in former Czechoslovakia, according to Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick. It was acquired by a congregant in 1989, but not through the Memorial Scrolls Trust project.

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