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Czech Memorial Scrolls 50 Year Commemoration

by Rabbi Matt February 22, 2014

In the last parashah of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses received the long expected summons. God called him to ascend the heights of Mount Nebo to see the Promised Land and breath his last. At the very beginning, God breathed life into the first human “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7) and when Moses’ time arrived, God gave him a divine kiss. “So Moses died there, the servant of the Lord, in the land of Moab, by the mouth of the Lord. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab... and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” (Deuteronomy 34: 5-6)

Our ancestors lined the route upon which Moses ascended Nebo. Like a father laying his hands from a death-bed on the heads of his children, the departing leader stopped and blessed each tribe. He continued his ascent, then turned to behold the assembled multitude for the last time. Thereupon the Almighty lovingly buried Moses somewhere in a valley upon the mount.

“Torah tzi’va lanu Moshe, mo’rasha k’hi’lat Ya’akov.” Moses commanded us, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. (Deuteronomy 33:4) The Torah is an inheritance? The rabbis of old teach it is better to translate the Hebrew word mo’rasha as heritage, rather than inheritance. Why? Because an inheritance may be spent by the heir at his discretion. But an heritage is a detailed estate which must remain in the family to be handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, undiminished. An heritage is to be transmitted from generation to generation, and from age to age, so that it is never forgotten.

As Jews we have been given an heritage of Torah. In our congregation, we are blessed to have five Sifre Torah (Torah scrolls). One of them is particularly precious. It survived the furnaces of Nazi hatred and antisemetism. In our ark, it is the tallest of our Sifre Torah. It was scribed in 1830 and somehow remained intact when the Nazis destroyed the Jewish community of Kostelec n/Orlici in Czechoslovakia. The Sefer Torah, number 465, has been given to us, on permanent loan, from the Memorial Scrolls Trust at the Westminster Synagogue in London, England.

The Torah certificate on our Sanctuary wall reads: “The Sefer Torah number 465... is one of the 1564 Czech Memorial Sifre Torah which constituted part of the treasures looted by the Nazis during the 1939-1945 war from desolated Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia... and which were acquired... for Westminster Synagogue, where they arrived on the 7th February 1964. Some of the collection remain at Westminster Synagogue, a permanent memorial to the martyrs from whose synagogues they come; many of them are distributed throughout the world, to be memorials everywhere to the Jewish tragedy, and to spread light as harbingers of future brotherhood on earth; and all of them bear witness to the glory of the holy Name.”

Our Sefer Torah #465 is one those “distributed throughout the world” and came to our congregation in the summer of 1985.

February 2014, marks 50 years since the Czech Memorial Scrolls arrived in England. The Memorial Scrolls Trust has invited all of the congregations, in 1,400 communities throughout the world, to gather for a commemoration which will witness that “Am Yisra’el Chai, the Jewish people lives.” Sefer Torah #465 is carried through our congregation every time we read Torah and is read by each Confirmation student. We treat it as a serious heritage which remains in our family to be handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, and from grandparents to grandchildren, undiminished. We strive to transmit our Jewish heritage from generation to generation, and from age to age, so that it is never forgotten.

Rabbi Fred Eisenberg, founding rabbi emeritus, lead Temple Israel of Greater Cleveland, when Sefer Torah #465 arrived in 1985. He will join me, with the Sefer Torah, on a journey to London for the 50 Year Commemoration on Sunday, February 9. We will be joined by Jerry Strom, Temple Israel Ner Tamid President. Teddy “Efraim Aharon” Eisenberg, will accompany us so that we will have the privilege of passing this Torah through three generations of our holy congregation. “Am Yisra’el Chai, the Jewish people lives.”

If you wish to help send our delegation to the 50 Year Commemoration and/or contribute to our a monetary support of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, please contact me at your convenience.

Kol tuv v’shalom (all the best and peace)

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