Ala. synagogue home to Torah that survived Holocaust

Torah at the old Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne, Image by Willy Horsch. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. MOBILE, Ala. (AP) – In a glass case on the pulpit of Springhill Avenue Temple – Mobile’s Reform Jewish congregation – a Torah endures that survived the Holocaust in Trebic, Czechoslovakia.

The sacred scroll, with the Five Books of Moses spooling out in ancient, hand-lettered Hebrew, was one of thousands desecrated by the Nazis as synagogues were vandalized and destroyed, and millions of Jews were sent to death camps.

To Perrye Lewis, a long-time Temple member, the Torah evokes deep, personal feelings.

“It was moving, it was emotional,” says Lewis, recalling how she and her husband, Julian Lewis, were on a trip to England in the 1970s when she first saw the war-ravaged scrolls.

She learned that through the Czech Torah Network – – 1,564 Torah scrolls had been gathered up after the war and sent to London for restoration.

The Lewises saw the Torahs being worked on, repaired, given new life, on that journey.

The intent of the Czech Torah Network was to place these homeless Torahs in new homes throughout the world, she says.

With the help of Lowell and Bobette Friedman, and others in the Mobile congregation, they raised funds and applied to have one of the holy texts.

It would join other Torah scrolls at the Temple, this one, with its own dramatic history.

The Lewises, with the Friedmans, even made a trip to Trebic, the Czechoslovakian town about an hour from Prague, where the Torah had known its vibrant life.

Before the war, historians say, 300 Jews had thrived in the village; afterward, not a dozen. Most had been shipped to Mauthausen and other concentration camps.

The couples sought out the Trebic synagogue where the Torah had been at the heart of prayers.

The war had taken its sad toll. It was, as Lowell Friedman wrote at the time, an “old, run-down building” with padlocked doors and “no Star of David or Menorah sculpture.”

Lewis remembers the day that the Torah arrived in Mobile, and the excitement – and awe – as it was unboxed.

“I kept thinking about where this Torah had been, the people who had lived at that time, and the Nazis who destroyed everything.

“It also represents that the spirit of these people goes on.

“Our faith has gone through horrific things ever since Abraham,” she says. “And it somehow survives everything.”

As Julian Lewis, who died in 1992, said in the Trebic Torah’s reconsecration ceremony at the Springhill Avenue Temple in 1979:

“These Torahs still carried the oft-tenuous thread of Judaism, beaten, water-soaked, cut-up, blood-stained, burned or whatever they might be. The scrolls would be around for untold generations to come, stark blatant reminders of a time to forget – and yet not to be forgotten – if we are to survive.”

These 33 years later, as the High Holy Days unfold – Rosh Hashonah begins at sundown on Sept. 16, Yom Kippur sundown on Sept. 25 – the Trebic Torah continues to have special meaning.

It is not alone in the place it holds.

At Congregation Ahavas Chesed – Mobile’s Conservative Jewish synagogue – there is another Torah that survived the Holocaust, from Prague.

The Prague Torah, says Rabbi Steve Silberman of Ahavas Chesed, “records the power of violence to destroy … and of the collaborative efforts for beauty, law, and compassion, and the quest for justice in our world.

“It is a living witness of the past for the present and on into the future.”

Rabbi Donald Kunstadt, at Springhill Avenue Temple, echoes that theme.

“The special scroll from Trebic,” Kunstadt says, “reminds me of the terrible period of the Holocaust, and the millions who died needlessly during World War II.

“It reminds me of the banality of evil, and its recurrence through history.

“It also speaks of hope, however.

“Judaism, despite Hitler and despite anti-Semitism through the centuries, is still here, flourishing as we continue to worship the almighty God.”


Information from: Press-Register,

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AP-WF-09-17-12 1244GMT


Torah at the old Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne, Image by Willy Horsch. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.