This is the story of Woodlands Community Temple’s first Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). It was rescued from the town of Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia (a town in the western part of the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic located between the cities of Prague and Plzen). The Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust rescued a collection of 1564 Torah scrolls and 400 Torah binders, part of the precious legacy of ritual objects collected at the Jewish Museum in Prague during the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia in the Second World War.
Our scroll, number 339 in the Czech Memorial Scrolls collection, was written in 1890, seized by the Nazis, and later, along with the other Holocaust Torah scrolls, was made available to American congregations. In our case, temple member Doris Lieberman's parents paid the costs and asked that the scroll be dedicated to the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. UPS transported the Torah on the last part of its journey and, when the company learned what was in the crate it was carrying, refused to accept any money for their part in bringing it to us.
Jack Safirstein, a founding member, tells the story of the scroll’s journey from New York City to Westchester. Temple member Don Moskovitz was bringing it home with him on the train but fell asleep before his disembarking at the Hartsdale station. He woke up just in time to dash off the train, but forgot that he’d placed the scroll in the overhead rack. When he realized his mistake, Don drove to the North White Plains station only to discover that the scroll has been locked up for safe keeping in the station’s Lost and Found. At Don’s insistence, a guard was placed on the office overnight until the scroll could be safely brought to its new home.
The Rakovnik scroll is on permanent loan to Woodlands where it was formally welcomed on September 22, 1967. The original cover needlepoint was designed by artist and temple member Neil Waldman. It was sewn by Elsie Bitkower.
The current Torah mantle was designed and created by artist Jeanette Kuvin Oren in 2007, part of a set that depicts three values at the core of our temple: Care for our Environment, our Community, and our Past. The Holocaust Torah cover focuses on history, the Shoah and how new birth will come after destruction. Its design includes blossoms amidst flames and represents the essence of Jewish peoplehood: out of the flames of the Holocaust came new birth and new life. The mantle is made of an assortment of fabrics, mainly hand-dyed silks, that have been pieced and quilted by the artist.
In recent years, our sofer (Torah scribe) has informed us that the original materials used to produce this Torah scroll have not stood up to the test of time. Although this scroll was used many times for Shabbat, holidays and children becoming B’nai Mitzvah, its parchment has grown brittle and is no longer able to be taken from the Ark. Nonetheless, we have given this Torah a place to live and to be loved, inspiring our synagogue community to continue seeking out new joys and new visions for a future filled with hope.