“This little Torah is not ours, it is theirs—the people of Kolin,” says Rabbi Barry Lutz, senior rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS). “When we carry it, we carry the hopes and dreams of a Jewish community that is no more. And this is the promise we made to them: to care for their scroll and do all we can to make sure that they are never forgotten.” In the sermon that introduced the restoration project to his congregation, Rabbi Lutz had made the reasons for this restoration clear: “We will bear witness for the people of Kolin that the Germans didn’t win, that we still exist, and that this Torah will be a living part of our community for many more generations to come.”
The Torah has suffered from damage and years of neglect in that abandoned synagogue, and though it has been read from and carried and danced with over the years at TAS, it has fallen into a state of disrepair. This past Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) Rabbi Lutz announced the synagogue’s plans to restore the Torah with the help of a scribe, Rabbi Moshe Druin.
Members of the TAS community have arranged for the scribe and Torah to spend a day at the Los Angeles Jewish Home. The Jewish Home is a complete multi-level senior living facility, providing seven distinctive levels of care that include independent living, residential care, assisted living care, skilled nursing, geriatric psychiatry, Alzheimer's care, and hospice. Residents—including a number of Holocaust survivors—will be making their mark in the Torah as they write letters with the scribe.
This Torah was written approximately 350 years ago for the town of Kolin, in the former Czechoslovakia. It was the centerpiece of the town’s Jewish community until March of 1938, when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Jews who had become part of the fabric of life in Kolin were systematically removed. Businesses were closed. Jews were not allowed in stores and forbidden from all public areas. Children could not attend school. They were allotted only the meager rations of bread and potatoes and were forced to wear the yellow star that became emblematic of the Jewish people’s near-total destruction. Eventually, over three days in June of 1942, the entire community was lined up at the school gym, systematically registered, and deported in three train loads to the nearby Terezin concentration camp.
The Kolin Torah had been in use for more than 300 years before being hidden away in Prague, where it remained until being discovered in the 1960s. The Kolin Torah—along with almost 1500 other Czech scrolls from 122 communities—
The scrolls were brought to London’s Westminster synagogue, which decided that they should be offered, on permanent loan, to Jewish communities around the world. The Torah scrolls would serve as testimony and memorial to a great Jewish community that had been lost.
In 1978, TAS’s Rabbi Solomon Kleinman and Esther and the late Harvey Saritzky decided that their congregation should have one of the Czech memorial scrolls. Esther went to London to retrieve a scroll with one instruction:
Since that day, all of the synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah children have carried that little Torah around their sanctuary. Rabbi Lutz says they carry it not because it is the smallest, “but for the last children of Kolin, who never had the opportunity to celebrate their own b’nai mitzvah, or to hold and hug this little Torah.”
“We are going to make this Torah, once more, as it was intended to be,” says Rabbi Lutz. “A living, vibrant part of a Jewish community.”
“On our congregation’
And with the help of some other survivors at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, it will be so.
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Los Angeles Jewish Home
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
9:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Los Angeles Jewish Home – Eisenberg Campus
18855 Victory Blvd
San Fernando Valley, CA 91335