Historic Torah Scroll at Temple Beth Ami
During World War II, when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, they gathered an enormous number of Torah scrolls and mantles, and other ritual items. Their intent at the time was to use these items to set up a museum of a lost race. When the War ended, Czechoslovakia and other European nations were in dire financial difficulty, and were doing everything they could to raise money. The Czechoslovakian government attempted to sell their large collection of Torah scrolls to Israel, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, so the scrolls stayed in Czechoslovakia.
In the 1960s, a Czech company approached Eric Estorick, an art dealer who had been to Prague frequently, about purchasing some scrolls. Mr. Estorick asked one of his clients, Ralph Yablon, who then discussed this with Harold Reinhart, the Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue in London. Following an inspection of the scrolls to verify their authenticity and evaluate their condition, Mr. Yablon agreed to fund the purchase of 1,564 scrolls.
A team of sofrim (scribes) examined the scrolls to see which ones were kosher, which ones could be repaired and restored, and which ones were in such bad condition that they could only be used as a memorial. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was set up, and Torah scrolls started being allocated on loan to communities and organizations worldwide.
By the late 1990s, most of the scrolls had been allocated and delivered. Around this time, Mike and Gail Kaltman, long-time congregants of Temple Beth Ami, were travelling to London. Mike had read about the scrolls in a Jewish publication, he was the chair of our Fine Arts Committee, and we had recently moved into our new building. He knew that the committee was looking for something to display in our Memorial alcove, and thought one of these scrolls would be perfect.
The Kaltmans discovered that most of the remaining scrolls were in very poor condition, but they found a few that were in good enough condition to be used as a display. Mike took photos of the three scrolls he thought would be best, and noted that Scroll #57 had particularly nice calligraphy. Upon their return home, a decision was made, with financial support from the Norwitz family, to acquire that scroll (on loan) for Temple Beth Ami.
The scroll was housed in our Ark for many years. Recently, at the request of the Kaltmans, the original intent for the use of the scroll was reconsidered. Nearly a year of planning and construction resulted in the display that we now have in the Memorial Alcove in our front lobby.
We are so grateful to the Kalman and Norwitz families, and to Bob Jasper and Terry Korth, who designed and constructed the display, for enabling us to take care of a precious piece of our history.
If you haven’t gone into the Memorial Alcove to look at this display, I encourage you to do so.
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