After years of refuge in Lithuania, Torah finds new home in J'lem

Scroll transferred to shul by US congregation after being repaired.

Torah 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Torah 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Torah that survived the Holocaust and spent the better part of a century hidden in a monastery in Lithuania has completed a long journey to Israel. Last week the Torah, saved by a girl during the Holocaust, was dedicated at its new home in Kehillat Mayanot, a Masorti community in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. More than 60 years ago the girl from the town of Kelm, Lithuania, took refuge in a local convent, serving as a nun in an act of self-preservation. She brought the Torah from her local synagogue with her. While the girl was eventually discovered by the Nazis and murdered, the Torah remained unscathed. Two American teenage girls belonging to the Orthodox Bais Yaakov movement discovered the Torah on a Jewish heritage tour of Europe in the summer of 2003. One of them took pictures with her digital camera and sent them to Rabbi Menachem Youlus, a rabbi in Wheaton, Maryland, who operates a foundation called Save A Torah. Youlus's foundation takes old Torah scrolls, many from communities destroyed during the Holocaust, and restores them to be used by Jewish communities once again. "No matter what has happened in 5,000 plus years of Judaism, the one thing we have in any era is our Torah. That is our rock," said Youlus in an e-mail message. Youlus traveled to Lithuania to the monastery to purchase the Torah from the priests in the same summer of its discovery. He then restored it with the help of Elliot and Evonne Schnitzer, two congregants of Congregation Adas Israel, a Washington DC Conservative synagogue. "For my family these events are an affirmation of 'Am yisrael chai,' the people of Israel lives," Eliot said at the Torah dedication at the US synagogue in May. Together with Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of Adas Israel, the Schnitzers decided to lend the Torah to the Masorti movement in Israel. The first community chosen was Kehillat Mayanot. Synagogue chairwoman Miriam Avraham described Mayanot as a small group that has developed to become more family oriented. The community consists mostly of a mix of Israelis and English-speakers, with several French Jews. Though they have met in the Masorti high school in Talpiot for 10 years, they are in the process of receiving land from the city of Jerusalem to construct a building near Ramat Rachel. Wohlberg traveled to Israel along with many of his congregants, some who came to Israel for the first time, to personally deliver the Torah at a special ceremony on the Haas Promenade in Talpiot, just minutes from Kehillat Mayanot's current home. "When we take the Torah out of the ark, we say 'Ki mitzion tetze Torah," meaning because out of Zion comes the Torah. "Now, we get to give a Torah to Zion," Wohlberg said. "It's wonderful to strengthen the Masorti community in Eretz Israel, and strengthen our connection to Israel and to Masorti from the US." The ceremony consisted of singing and dancing after an initial speech by the rabbi. Before they marched down to their building, the congregants passed the new Torah around and finally handed it to the bar and bat mitzva children for the next year. Finally, it was read from for the first time in its new home. Mayanot had been looking for a Torah to use for holidays and other celebrations. "The Masorti shuls can't get a Torah from the government like the Orthodox can," said Avraham. "What is the most touching is that it came from the Holocaust, from Europe, with generous help from the American Jewish community, and eventually to Israel." She called it a classic Jewish story, "from the ashes to Israel and renewed Jewish life. It's a symbol of continuity of the Jewish people and Israel."