Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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A true story

Forty years ago, a synagogue in London was contacted by the Czech government with a very unusual proposition. They had acquired some Jewish artefacts stolen by the Nazis, and being communist and all, didn't have very much use for this collection, so would the synagogue like them? The synagogue were of course keen to have these artefacts; after all, there might be something there that could be used in a Holocaust memorial.

So appropriate arrangements were made, and some time later, two large lorries arrived at the synagogue. The lorries contained somewhere over 1,500 Torah scrolls. Soon after this, a peripatetic scribe arrived at the synagogue. As was his habit, he asked whether they had any scrolls in need of repair. Just imagine his face when he heard the reply!

It transpired that when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, they had instigated a project to gather together all the important treasures from all the synagogues in the country, with the aim of putting them together in a museum to glorify their achievements in completely destroying every single member of the Jewish race. The obviously financially valuable objects had long since been dispersed, but the scrolls had sat in a derelict synagogue for 20 years. It is hardly surprising that their condition was ranged from terrible to dire.

The rescue and repair effort took decades of work, carried out by a team headed by the original scribe who had happened to show up at an opportune moment. Many of the scrolls were restored to the point of being usable by synagogues; they were dispersed to communities around the world, mostly but not exclusively in America. Several of the communities which benefitted were made up of people who had come from Europe as refugees, and had few resources to buy new Torah scrolls for themselves. Today, with communities in the west being more prosperous, some of the Czech scrolls are being donated to struggling new synagogues in central and Eastern Europe as well.

The scrolls which could not be used in services (because there are certain kinds of damage which are ritually irreperable, in particular damage to the Divine Name) are used for display and educational purposes. There are a hundred or so scrolls remaining which are so badly damaged that they would probably fall to pieces if handled. Those are kept as a memorial, complete with the original museum labels prepared by the Nazis, describing the communities of origin of the scrolls and the fates of the communities themselves.

  • More detailed version of this story. There are several versions of this online, because lots of the synagogues and organizations that have the scrolls also have websites about their amazing history; this is just the first hit that happened to come up.
  • Relevant pictures from a scribe's blog. If you want more information about Torah scrolls and scribes then this site is probably a good place to look.

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