Baltimore school brings Polish Torah 'home' to Israel

Scroll was painstakingly restored and repaired, is part of effort to give Torah to every Border Police base.

kids w torah 88.298 (photo credit: )
kids w torah 88.298
(photo credit: )
Its sections torn, letters faded and parchment soiled, this Torah scroll was entirely unfit for use. The scroll, thought by scholars to have been written in Poland in the early part of the 20th century, survived the Holocaust and found sanctuary at the Randallstown Synagogue in Baltimore, Maryland for several decades. The scroll's fate, however, seemed sealed when the congregation shut down in 2003, and it was too costly to repair the scroll to donate it. But an article in The Jerusalem Post last summer about an effort by the Jerusalem-based Chaim Veshalom Hatzola organization to provide every Border Police base with its own Torah spurred an intensive effort to painstakingly repair the scroll and bring it to Israel. On Friday, a delegation of 77 US high school seniors brought the Torah to Israel, via Poland, and marched proudly to the Western Wall with the scroll. It will be donated to the Border Police Sunday. "It was amazing to be with the Torah for my first time at the Kotel," said Jessica Felton, 17, who was visiting Israel for the first time. "Finally, we both get to be at home." After reading the Post article, the former president of the Randallstown congregation felt compelled to find a way to save the scroll. Students at the Baltimore-area Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School embraced the mission. The project was adopted by the senior class, who, with the help of the entire school, raised the more than $6,000 needed to refurbish the scroll. "Everyone in the school participated in some way, from pre-school students to high school students," said Zipora Schorr, the school's director of education. She described the emotional convocation ceremony that took place before the departure of the senior class for Israel. "The kids marched under the huppa with the Torah, singing, 'From Zion came the Torah,' and now we're sending it back to Zion. What could be better?" she asked. Last week, with "their Torah" in tow, the class visited concentration camps in Poland. "For me, the Torah [provided] a sense of protection," said Julie Rapoport, 17. "We visited Tarnow, where we were warned of gangs and where there was no sign of Jewish life other than a solitary bimah in the middle of a park, surrounded by houses. But somehow, I felt safe knowing that the Torah was with us," she said. "I felt lucky being able to bring the Torah to areas that haven't seen Jewish life in so many years," said Jon Falk, 17. "What we did with the Torah, six million Jews were forbidden from doing. I did with ease what my grandfather was never able to do," he said. The students will receive simulated field training and one-on-one shooting lessons from members of the Border Police at the Yad Mordechai base Sunday morning, followed by a dedication ceremony. Some 200 border policemen and the families of fallen members of the unit will also attend. The scroll will be dedicated in their memory. The school is also donating a yad, or Torah pointer, with the Hebrew inscription, "Hand in hand, one people, one heart," and a wimpel, a cloth binding that encircles the Torah scroll and holds it closed, with the words, "The angel who has saved me from all evil shall bless the youth" (Genesis 48:16). The students will also be giving dozens of cards made by nursery school students to the border police officers. "This is like a holiday for us," said Capt. Dudu Mursino, spokesman for the Southern District Border Police. "As Jews, the occasion to stand before a Sefer Torah is exciting enough on its own. Adding to it the memory of our fallen and the journey of the students through the concentration camps to bring the Torah to Israel really strengthens our people," he said. The students said that while they were sad to leave the scroll, they felt good about where it was headed. "I don't want to let it go, because of the connection I've formed with it, but I know it's going on to a better place," said Jonathan Kalish, 17, who carried the scroll through the concentration camps. "I hope it's as meaningful to them as it is to us," he said. "By witnessing the death and destruction in Poland with the living Torah in hand, we are affirming the life that was not," said Schorr, who accompanied the students through Poland and onto Israel. "To give the Torah to our very own children, who are protecting Israel - there is no greater affirmation that Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel lives," she said.