Scrolls’ reunion
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Scrolls’ reunion

Local family reports on commemoration of dispersal of Holocaust scrolls

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The Torah scrolls were displayed during the commemoration.

Look at the procession of 50 Torah scrolls in these photos by Allyn Michaelson of Fair Lawn, and you’ll notice their vastly diverse covers, or mantles, right away.

That’s because each one is housed at a different synagogue around the world. But they all share a common point of origin. They all are from Czechoslovakia.

As this newspaper previously reported, 1,564 Torah scrolls rescued from Nazi-era Moravia, Bohemia, and the Sudetenland began arriving at the Westminster Synagogue in London on February 9, 1964. The Jewish communities from which they came did not survive the war, so the Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed to administer these holy scrolls and find “guardians” for the ones that were in good enough condition to travel.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first Torahs’ arrival in London, the Trust invited guardian congregations – including the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel, Temple Beth El of Northern Valley in Closter, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, and the Young Israel of Fort Lee – to bring their scrolls to the London synagogue. If it was not possible for them to make the trip, they could send a poster showing their salvaged scroll and its assigned number, with information on where it originated.

Ms. Michaelson was alerted to the invitation by Temple Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Alberto Zeilicovich. “I’ve been in the shul since it started in 1957,” she explained. “I co-chair our federation’s Holocaust commemoration and volunteer at the Jewish Family of North Jersey’s Café Europa for Holocaust survivors, so I guess I was the logical person to contact.”

Because she did not know if her synagogue would be able to send representatives to London, she decided to create a poster. Her husband, Richard, took a photo of Morris and Marilyn Starr from Washington Township, survivors who had underwritten the cost of acquiring Torah #715 from the trust in 1980. (The Torah is honored but it never comes out of its special case; the scroll was punctured by a bayonet and so rendered unusable.)

As it happens, Allyn and Richard Michaelson and their 27-year-old son, David, were in London during the anniversary commemoration. They took many photos, which they shared with the Jewish Standard, and provided an eyewitness account of the standing-room-only proceedings in the sanctuary of Westminster Synagogue.

“The music of [Czech composer] Viktor Ullmann’s ‘Berjoskele’ played as each Torah was lovingly carried by a member of their adopted synagogues, wearing the mantle and character of that synagogue,” Ms. Michaelson reported. “The Torahs were large and small, just as their handlers were tall and short, young and old, men and women.

“Each coverlet was different: simple gray flannel, brilliant coral velvet with embroidered pomegranates, bejeweled emerald green velvet, royal blue with gold and silver stars, brilliantly colored needlepoints. The rabbi from the U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton, California, proudly carried his Torah scroll … simply tied with a tallis.”

The 50 Torahs had been brought from their new homes in North America – from British Columbia, Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Illinois. There were others from Ireland, and from shuls all over England.

“There was a richness not only in fabric but in symbolism,” Ms. Michaelson wrote. “In 1964, the damaged scrolls were similar. But over 50 years, they have taken on the character of their new communities. They represented the diversity of Jewish communities coming together as one to remember the lost communities each Torah represents.”

The Young Israel of Fort Lee acquired its Memorial Scrolls Trust Torah only last March, through the efforts of a group of members. Its Torah is an “orphan” scroll whose community of origin could not be identified.

According to Arthur Schwartz, one of those members, “It required extensive repair and restoration and now is back in Fort Lee awaiting completion and a ceremony on May 4, Yom HaZikaron” – Israel’s national Memorial Day – “to complete and return it to the synagogue. Our members who are survivors will participate with the family of Ulo Barad, who repaired and restored it in his memory.”

Mr. Barad survived the Holocaust by hiding in Ukrainian cave, as portrayed in the 2012 documentary “No Place on Earth.”

“We will also dedicate this Torah to the 80-plus towns destroyed in Bohemia, Moravia and Sudetenland from which there are no surviving artifacts,” Mr. Schwartz said. Together with his wife, he already had arranged for Memorial Scrolls Trust Torahs to be transferred to the guardianship of Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange and the Yiddish Museum in Massachusetts.

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