It was a beautiful, proud Torah, one of nine such scrolls. They all had their proper places in a dark mahogany ark. Our Torah had been donated by a pious old woman and was written on the finest parchment in big clear letters, and dressed in a lovely royal blue velvet coat. Two mighty lions adorned the tablet with the Ten Commandments, embroidered in silver and gold.
Whenever the cantor raised the Torah towards the congregation she seemed to grow even taller, almost majestic. The synagogue itself was considered one of the most stately buildings in Gablonz (now Jablonec), a thriving, industrial town in Czechoslovakia. Thus, for years our Torah brought knowledge and enjoyment, fulfilling its mission – “the more you study it, the more you love Judaism.”
Until one day, not a Sabbath and not a Holy Day when the Torah was lifted hastily from the Ark, along with all the others. The Holy scrolls were placed in small wooden boxes, two to a box. The lid closed, a chapter of history was closed, and a dark, unhappy one began to unfold.
It was the time of the madman, of Hitler. This little town in Czechoslovakia was too close to the border, and could be overrun by German troops. Thus it happened that one night in September 1938 an entire Jewish community, led by Rabbi George Vida, left their homes with only what they could carry in their hands and on their backs – their goods and their Torahs.
The Rabbi’s wife had parents and extended family in the United States, who urged them to emigrate immediately. There was a quota, and then there was the problem of visas. Time was running out, and visas took time to get.
Rabbi Vida decided to do something about one of the Torahs when it became clear that the visas might take months to obtain. He lifted the one he had so often read out of its “coffin”, removed the silver crown and the velvet coat, and wrapped it with a plain white sheet, like a child. The Torah was bedded down in a long narrow trunk, as he recited prayers while tears streamed down his cheeks. The trunk was closed and shipped to a warehouse in France marked “Destination, unknown”.
For more than a year the chest with its sacred contents awaited the owner, along with other trunks destined never to be reclaimed. Our Torah was one of the very few to survive The Holocaust. Together with her Rabbi and his family, the Torah arrived safely in America in 1939. For many years this Rabbi served as a chaplain in the United States Army.
Her beautiful synagogue in Czechoslovakia was burned, gone – destroyed during Kristallnacht. But God in his infinite wisdom created another synagogue in the United States to take its place. Twenty-seven years after that tragic day, her Rabbi took our Torah to a new home, one filled with hope for the future – Beth Tikva.
This is the story – but is it true, you may ask?
Our Torah now rests in front of you, open to Lech Lecha, the last parsha read aloud before that tragic day.
Our Torah is now a memorial to those who perished and all that was lost during the Shoah.
May we never forget.
Mrs. Emmie Vida