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October 12, 1990 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

from the Pinkas Synagogue
in Warsaw, at Temple Beth
El; a Sefer Torah from
Novoye Rosanovo, Russia, at
Congregation Beth Abra-
ham Hillel Moses; a Torah
originally from Kyjov,
Czechoslovakia, now at Adat
Shalom Synagogue; and the
Torah of Taus Domazlice,
Bohemia, at Temple Kol
Ami.
Rabbi Richard Hertz of
Temple Beth El learned
firsthand of the Nazi terror
when he traveled in 1959 to
Czechoslovakia. He visited
Theresienstadt and a wall,
at Prague's Pinkas Syn-
agogue, listing the 77,297
names of everyone in the
city murdered by the Nazis.
He also went to the
Klausen Synagogue of
Prague, where he saw what
he calls "the living rem-
nants of the Six Million" —
the items that were to com-
prise the "Museum of the
Extinct Jewish Race."
Rabbi Hertz was most
astonished by the hundreds
of Torahs in terrible
disrepair. He felt over-
whelmed when Prague offi-
cials asked him to take all
the Torahs to the United
States and see to their resto-
ration.
"I was appalled at the
magnitude of such a pro-
ject," he says. "Each Torah
was like a living person that
would need to be cared for,
clothed and housed. It would
take an organization, a
library, a museum, an in-
stitution."
A Prague art director, Eric
Estorick, became interested
in the Holocaust Torahs. He
held negotiations with Ar-
tia, the official agency for
Czech cultural properties,
and a London philanthropist
who agreed to pay for the
shipping of the Torahs. This
anonymous philanthropist
approached Rabbi Harold
Reinhart of the Westminster
Synagogue, who agreed to
care for the Torahs.
The Westminster Syn-
agogue then numbered and
cataloged each Torah scroll

Every Torah
Has A Story

30

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1990

and made repairs where
possible.
In 1971, Rabbi Hertz
returned to England, where
he spoke with Rabbi
Reinhart's successor, Rabbi
Albert Friedlander. The two
met at Westminster Syn-
agogue, once the palace of
the Duke of Kent.
"Rabbi Friedlander took
me upstairs into what were
formerly the bedrooms of the
royal family, and there
sleeping in the little bins
were 1,500 Torahs," Rabbi
Hertz says. "I was over-
whelmed with emotion as I
saw what looked like hun-
dreds of naked corpses in
shrouds. I knew each Torah
had to come from some
plundered synagogue where
men had once pored over
these scrolls, reading the
sacred texts of the weekly
sedra."
As the new Temple Beth
El was being built in the
1970s, Rabbi Hertz re-
membered the Torahs of
Prague and asked Rabbi
Friedlander that the temple
receive one.
Torah 987, written in 1800
and once housed in the
Pinkas Synagogue of
Prague, arrived at the new
Temple Beth El in 1972. It
was dedicated on Rosh
Hashanah and "represents
the chain of tradition link-
ing the Holocaust with the
next generation," Rabbi
Hertz says.
Rabbi Ernst Conrad of
Temple Kol Ami became in-
terested in obtaining a
Torah from the Westminster
Synagogue as soon as he
heard they were available.
So he wrote in his request,
and in August 1969, the
Torah arrived.
"We have cherished it ever
since," Rabbi Conrad says.
Officials at the
Westminster Synagogue
made some repairs on the
Torah —corrected letters are
darker than the old ones —
and sent it with an old wim-
ple still wrapped around the
scrolls.
Temple Kol Ami decided

More than 1,500 Torahs
sat on the waterlogged
synagogue floors. Some
were splattered with
blood; one contained the
note, "Please God, help us
in these troubled times."

not to restore the Torah be-
cause damage is so exten-
sive. But the rabbis supplied
a new wimple and cover, a
dark-blue needlepoint
design showing the Ten
Commandments. The Torah
is taken out on Yom Kippur
and Yom HaShoah, Holo-
caust Memorial Day.
Number 900 of the 1,564
Torahs confiscated by the
Nazis, Temple Kol Ami's
Torah was written in 1890
and used in the community
of Taus Domazlice, Bohemia.
Dedicated at Adat Shalom
on Yom Kippur 1986,
memorial scroll 1017 was
written in 1890 and was ir-
reparably damaged during
the war.
Records show Jews lived in
Kyjov for hundreds of years.
A 1613 charter protected
their right to reside there,
though townsfolk petitioned
for their ousting.
In 1930, the Jewish com-
munity of Kyjov numbered
319, 7 percent of the popula-
tion. During World War II,
the Nazis used a large camp,
established by Kyjov au-
thorities after World War I
to aid refugees, as a tem-
porary holding area for
Jews. From Kyjov, the Jews
were sent to the There-
sienstadt death camp.
After the war, Kyjov
became the central commun-
ity in the area, with jurisdic-
tion over the Hodonin,
Holesov, Kromeriz, Uhersky
Brod and Vsetin syn-
agogues. In 1956, a
memorial to Holocaust vic-
tims was dedicated in the
Kyjov cemetery.
The Torah mantle (cover)
shows a charred tallit,
uniting man and Torah into
one. "The soul of the Jew

and the Torah cannot be
parted," explains Elsa
Wachs, who designed the
mantle.
The cover also includes
Job's lament, "Oh, let my
cry have a resting place,"
burned into the tallit, and
symbolic colors and designs.
The Torah rests on a dark
base of nickel silver, bronze
and steel, designed by local
artist Morris Brose. Black
blades cut through panels
resembling the Aron
Hakodesh (the Holy Ark) to
symbolize the slaughter of 6
million Jews.
The fifth Torah saved from
the Holocaust and now in
the Detroit area is housed at
Congregation Beth Abra-
ham Hillel Moses. Written
in the 19th century, the
Torah is originally from
Novoye Rosanovo, 150 miles
southwest of Moscow. It
came to the West Bloomfield
congregation in 1984 to
replace a Torah destroyed in
a fire that ravaged the syn-
agogue in 1983.
The Torah mantle shows a
hand reaching toward
heaven. The arm is clothed
in the death-camp inmate's
black-and-white striped
garb, and the yellow Star of
David the Nazis forced Jews
to wear. It also bears the
words "Am Yisrael Chai,"
the Jewish people lives.
The Torah was in poor
condition when it arrived
and has yet to be repaired,
but it is still taken out on
special occasions including
Yizkor on Yom Kippur and
Yom Hashoah.
"We felt there had to be a
place for it in the syn-
agogue," Beth Abraham
Hillel Moses Rabbi A. Irving
Schnipper says of the

Novoye Rosanovo Torah. "It
couldn't be left alone like an
orphan. It needed to have a
place with other Torahs."

T

he man eased his way
up to Leo Steinmetz
and gently touched his
shoulder.
"I think I've found some-
thing in the garbage can
that's holy to you," he said.
Mr. Steinmetz followed the
stranger to a nearby dump-
ster. Inside he saw two
treasures: a Megillat Esther
and a Sefer Torah.
He picked them up and
took them straight to a sofer,
scribe. Could they be used?
Were they reparable?
They were, the scribe said.
So Mr. Steinmetz paid $80
to fix the Torah handles and
another $150 for an inspec-
tion to determine if the
Torah was kosher.
"And $230 in 1951 — that
was a lot of money," Mr.
Steinmetz says.
Today, Mr. Steinmetz, of
Oak Park, feels close to the
Torah he found abandoned
in a dumpster almost 40
years ago in Chicago.
"I adopted it," he says.
"It's my Torah."
The Torah belonged to a
congregation whose syn-
agogue was sold to a church.
When the new occupants
moved in, they cleaned out
the facility, throwing away
any unfamiliar, apparently
useless, items.
If no one else wanted the
Torah, Mr. Steinmetz did.
First he lent it to his son-in-
law, who started a congrega-
tion just outside Chicago.
Then he loaned it to his
other son-in-law, who was
creating a congregation in
Miami.
After Mr. Steinmetz set-
tled in Detroit, the Torah
found a home at Oak Park's
Machon L'Torah.
"I went to daven there
once," says Mr. Steinmetz,
mashgiach at Sperber's
Kosher Catering. "And
(Machon director) Rabbi
Avraham Jacobovitz told me

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