Providing Torah scrolls for the army is one of the large-scale undertakings of
The National Council of Young Israel, a mainstream Orthodox body, and the
International Young Israel Movement’s Israel region.
Last month its
members dedicated a restored Torah scroll at the Sirkin army base near Petah
Tikva. It was the 200th scroll donated to the IDF by Young Israel, and the first
of a series of Torah scrolls that were rescued from the Holocaust.
Nazis confiscated thousands of Torah scrolls from synagogues across Europe. It
is impossible to guess how many more were destroyed or violated. I found one in
my parents’ home town in Poland that had been used as a carpet runner in a
Of the masses of scrolls looted and confiscated by the
Nazis from some 350 synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia, close to 2,000 were
stored in the Jewish Museum in Prague, where they remained till 1948, and were
then transferred by the Communist regime to the Michle synagogue where they were
crudely stacked and more or less abandoned.
Under the rule of Communism
the Czech state authorities maintained the cemetery in Prague’s old Jewish
quarter and turned the surviving synagogue buildings into mini
Somewhere along the line it became known that Jewish ritual
objects were in storage at the Michle synagogue, and when the situation was
investigated 1,564 scrolls and 400 Torah binders were discovered.
1963, the Czech government allowed Eric Estorick, a London art collector, to
acquire the scrolls and the binders, which he did with the help of
philanthropist Ralph Yablon, who financed the acquisition.
were brought to London in 1964, and were given a temporary home at the
Westminster Synagogue where the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust was established.
Some of these scrolls form part of a permanent exhibition at the Westminster
Synagogue, while others, after being repaired, were distributed on permanent
loan to congregations and Jewish institutions around the world.
scroll has a number and a brass plaque. In addition, each is accompanied by a
certificate detailing its place of origin.
In more recent years 300 Torah
scrolls, together with a vast quantity of Hebrew and Yiddish books, were
discovered in a church in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, known to
pre-Holocaust Jews as Vilna, “the Jerusalem of the north.” Rabbi Yisrael Meir
Lau, who was then the chief rabbi of Israel and is himself a Holocaust survivor,
asked that the scrolls be transferred to Israel. Opinion in Lithuania was
divided. Some parliamentarians believed that the scrolls were part of
Lithuania’s national heritage, and as such should remain in the country’s
national library to which they had been transferred from the church. Others said
that after all the suffering that the Jews had endured they should be allowed to
take possession of objects that were holy to them.
The scrolls were
transferred in January 2002 to an Israeli delegation headed by Lau and Rabbi
Michael Melchior, who was then deputy foreign minister.
Melchior said at the time that a museum was not a place for a Torah, and that
each Torah deserved to be part of Jewish life.
In the interim, individual
scrolls and small collections of scrolls were found in various parts of Europe
where Jewish communities had been decimated or completely destroyed by the
Over the past two or three years, Torah scrolls that survived the
Holocaust in Romania have also become available for use in synagogues in Israel
and around the globe. They are sent for examination to the Jerusalem-based
Menorah Foundation, whose scholars determine whether they are suitable for use
or whether they need to be restored.
It was one of these scrolls that was
presented by Young Israel to the Sirkin army base.
The presentation was
perhaps more meaningful than previous presentations not only because it was a
scroll rescued from the Holocaust, but because it was in memory of Ruby
Davidman, a staunch second-generation Young Israel activist who had died a year
earlier and whose grandson Amit is a soldier serving at Sirkin.
originally from New York and a graduate of Yeshiva University, was one of the
initiators some dozen years ago of Young Israel’s Redeem a Torah
An ardent Zionist from his childhood, Davidman, while a student
at Yeshiva University in 1948, helped to smuggle guns to the nascent State of
Israel, Young Israel said.
Davidman, his wife, Phyllis, and their three
children, Lenny, Cindy and Jonathan, moved from New York to Beersheba in the
summer of 1971.
Davidman immediately became active in the community and
formed a Young Israel congregation.
After two years, the family moved to
Jerusalem, where he remained until his death.
Davidman had enormous pride
in the brave young soldiers of the IDF, and considered each and every one of
them to be a hero, said his family and friends.
Of his many achievements
through Young Israel, what meant the most to him was the IDF Torah scrolls
project. He had previously started a Purim packages for the IDF project, but the
dedication of Torah scrolls gave him infinitely more pleasure. in total, 187
scrolls were presented to the IDF in his lifetime, and only four days prior to
his death, he was planning two more Torah dedication projects.
was one of the pioneers of the project, and because he was so ardently committed
to it, Young Israel has renamed it the Ruby Davidson Redeem a Torah
Two busloads of Davidson’s relatives, friends and Young Israel
colleagues went from Jerusalem to Sirkin for the dedication ceremony, happily
joining with soldiers both observant and non-observant in singing and dancing
under a bridal canopy from the entrance to the base synagogue, some hoisting
others on their shoulders in spontaneous enthusiasm.
One of the soldiers
brought a Sephardi-style Torah case with a scroll inside from the synagogue to
meet the dancers, so that the ceremony became one of Sephardi-Ashkenazi
The soldiers were very pleased to receive an additional
scroll, explaining that they needed it when they went out into the field,
especially when fighting terrorists.
“The more Torah scrolls we have, the
more we can take to the battlefield to guard us in times of war,” said one
Before they reached the synagogue, another soldier playing a
saxophone joined them, giving more impetus to the dancing.
Chaplain Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, who made a special point of attending and
joining in the dancing, noted the significance of the symbolism of a Torah
scroll rescued from the ashes of the Holocaust being used by the soldiers of the
Scrolls that had previously been presented came from the United
States, culled mostly from congregations that had died out or were on the verge
of doing so.
For people of limited means, who cannot afford to give
hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity, the Redeem a Torah project is an
opportunity to make an important contribution for a minimal
According to Daniel “Mush” Meyer, the executive director of
Young Israel in Israel, the cost of restoring a Torah scroll and providing a
mantle is in the realm of $12,000. Last year, he said, a family had celebrated a
50th wedding anniversary by donating a Torah scroll. More recently Rabbi Jay
Karzen and his wife Ruby, celebrated the 25th anniversary of their arrival in
Israel by donating a Torah scroll to an IDF base outside Alon Shvut, in Gush
Quite often, a family who cannot raise $12,000 will put down
whatever they can afford and relatives and friends will contribute the
The whole concept of being able to contribute to the restoration of
a Torah scroll that will be used by untold numbers of Israeli soldiers is a very
exciting prospect to a lot of people.
Rozanne Polansky and her husband,
Joe, together with the Tryfus family donated a Torah scroll last year. Polansky
said that she had been very moved by a soldier who had said to her: “Yesterday I
was sad. Today I’m happy because we have our own Torah scroll and we don’t have
to borrow one, which we always did before.” If that’s all it took to make a
soldier happy, she said, “I’m delighted to bring many more over.”
Davidman underscored that a large share of the credit for the success of the
project belongs to Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National
Council of Young Israel in the US, and to Lt-Col. (res.) Rabbi Yedidya Atlas of
the IDF Ground Forces Command, who is originally from the US, and is the key
liaison between Young Israel and the IDF. By coincidence, he and Davidman
studied together in yeshiva 40 years ago, when they were both newly arrived in
Lerner has traveled the length and breadth of the US rescuing
Torah scrolls that are no longer in use. Some of these scrolls were originally
brought to the US from Europe. Lerner specially came to Israel for the
dedication ceremony as did Shlomo Mostofsky, president of NCYI who said that the
Redeem a Torah project was one of the most satisfying programs with which he had
ever been involved.
At a previous dedication ceremony he recalled, one of
the speakers was a general who pointed to his gun and said: “This is not the
weapon. You brought the weapon. The strongest weapon is the
Speaking in similar vein, Sirkin base commander Lt.-Col. Saar
Abadji observed that there is a general tendency to take many things for
granted. “We danced with the Torah and placed it in the ark in the synagogue.
That’s a fairly trivial process. But if you take into account how many people
were involved with a single Torah scroll, with writing it, with rescuing it,
with bringing it here…. Our encounters with something of significance is usually
at toward the end, but we should remember how things developed along the
“We place a lot of emphasis on every holy site, but we should
remember that what makes a place holy, whether a synagogue or a battlefield, is
people. Look at how an event like this has united people in such a simple way,
regardless of who they are or what backgrounds they come from.”