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Return of Torah remarkable tale

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

By now, every Jew should know about the Czech Torahs, and most have probably seen at least one — so many have found new homes in American houses of worship since their reclamation following the Holocaust.
Hitler had sequestered them after he raided synagogues throughout that country, with the idea of someday putting them on exhibit in his intended “Museum of an Extinct Race.”
Of course, his aims were foiled and those precious scrolls were saved — more than 1,500 of them — and transported to Westminster Synagogue in London, where they were evaluated, repaired for resumed ritual use if possible, or for display and educational purposes if not. Czech Torahs are now important fixtures in the institutions that have “adopted” them, for they are not in anyone’s ownership; they are on perpetual loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust…
Except for one, which has now been restored to its actual place of origin. And its heartwarming story involves a family in our very own community!
Gary and Ellen Ackerman of Dallas have one son who is a rabbi, and one daughter who is married to a rabbi. This last, Corey Helfand, is the center of a very recent event: the return of one of those precious Czech Torahs to the same place from which it was taken by the Nazis. Over past years, some of those precious scrolls have been passed on to European congregations, but the fact that there is still a congregation to welcome back its very own Torah — that is truly a miracle of sorts. A story worth telling, one that has now been told in the Jewish Chronicle of London and is traveling around the world.
The Ackermans’ son-in-law, Rabbi Helfand, traveled with his congregation’s precious cargo almost 6,000 miles, from Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California to Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, to return this Torah to the very place from which it had been removed more than 75 years ago. His synagogue raised the money necessary to make the holy scroll — thought to have first been scribed in 1880 — kosher again. Its original home was burnt down by the Nazis in 1939, but there is now a growing Jewish community in the old neighborhood that was there to welcome its Torah back again.
Peter Briess is 86 years old. He and his immediate family were able to leave Olomouc when they gave their home to the German invaders, but the rest of his relatives all died in the horrors that followed. He now lives in England, and came back to his hometown with his sister and a nephew for the Shabbat morning service during which he carried the restored Torah, and for the formal welcoming ceremony the next day.
The Chronicle quotes his joy: “I was the only person there who had actually attended the original synagogue where this scroll was used,” he said. “I still remember going there for Simchat Torah and other festivals. My parents were married in that shul.”
A varied crowd of dignitaries was in attendance: Jeffrey Ohrenstein, chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, was there, along with the Czech Republic’s Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon; also Daniel Meron, its Israeli ambassador, whose wife’s family was originally from Olomouc. But most important was Rabbi Moshe Druin, the American sofer who restored the Torah; he called upon those men — and of course Mr. Briess — to fill in the very last letters. When that was completed, “I cried,” said Petr Papousek, president of the town’s Jewish community. “That doesn’t happen to me often. I hope it (the Torah) will bring our community more energy and enthusiasm for the future.” Then singing and dancing accompanied the scroll as it was placed into the Ark that has become its new, permanent home.
Last Shabbat, when Rabbi and Mrs. Helfand were visiting her family, he told this remarkable story to an especially appreciative audience: the worshippers at Beth Torah, the Ackermans’ home congregation for many years.

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