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The Torah Scroll Bigger Than Life

Urban Illustration by Liora Blum

During the last months of World War II, my parents and my six-year-old brother were hiding in the woods of Olsavica, located in the Carpathian Mountains of the Slovak State, which had been declared by the Clerical-Fascist regime of Jozef Tiso. On their return after the daily struggle to survive, strengthened only by the hope to be reunited with their loved ones, they learned that everybody, and all they knew in the past, were lost. They were the only ones from the family of many on both sides who had survived, together with their young son, by being buried in a man-made cave for nine months.

The flourishing pre-war Jewish community of 458 members was decimated to 8 adults and 1 child. The local synagogue, built in 1840 and rebuilt after a fire in 1905, was the house of worship for the pre-war flourishing Jewish community. During WWII it was plundered and desecrated by the Germans and some locals who felt there shouldn't even be a reminder that there were Jews in the town. Ever.

The most precious thing, the Torah scroll, was taken out and hidden just in time before the last few Jews were deported or left the town in search of safety. There were some decent people, particularly the local teacher who lived with his elderly mother, who was willing to safeguard a few of my parents' most important belongings, including the Torah scroll from their synagogue. After the return from this dreadful hiding place, they were dealing with their emotions: grief over the loss of their loved ones, fear of their future, insecurity of their day-to- day existence, and just the feeling of not belonging in this new reality. Even in that state of mind, my father felt a strong responsibility - and even more a need - to bring back if not the people, then the tradition, source of strength, order, reason, and meaning. The Torah scroll. And so he became its shomer, and I understand today that the Torah became the connection to the past and the light to the future.

When I was a child, I clearly remember him studying the text and I was wondering, what is he looking for, why is he for hours buried in the books, and mainly, does he find his answers? It was clear to me that this object must be something very precious and magical if my father holds it in such high esteem; and protects and shelters it. In my mind, the Torah became bigger than life. After we eventually moved away from the small town as the last Jewish family, the Torah scroll was transferred into the custody of the Union of Jewish Communities of then Czechoslovakia. My father continued his life as a deeply religious man, attending minyan every day in the bigger city with an existing kehilla and was able to worship with fellow Jews.

Fast forward to the present day and our grandson's bar mitzvah, when the impact of the Torah of my childhood came back in full force. And it arrived in the time of the pandemic, with all the restrictions and mitigations. At first it seemed that his bar mitzvah would take place in his home just in the presence of his parents and sister, with everyone else watching him become a fully-fledged member of the Jewish community via Zoom in their living rooms.

We were deeply unhappy at the thought of not being physically present. But suddenly it was announced that ten people could attend. Ten felt like a big gathering to us and we were ecstatic. Everything is relative, as they say. We offered our home to host this event. His brit milah was in our house, so it just felt right.

And then we learned that we would be entrusted with the Torah scroll from which our grandson was to read his parsha. It dawned on me that the scroll would be in our house. In our house? For how long? For a few days? My first reaction was that our home was unworthy of this honor. I started to panic. Of course, I'd clean every corner, but where to store it? What is the proper place for it? We ended up emptying a closet and placed the Torah scroll there with shaky hands. I begged the Torah for forgiveness; I felt we couldn't offer the hospitality it so deserves. And then came the day of the bar mitzvah. Our grandson read his parsha beautifully from this Torah scroll and we were so proud of him. I suddenly felt that the Torah scroll was in the right place at the right time and that we took good care of it, the same way my father did many years before. 


Comments 1

Guest - ZRL on Friday, 04 December 2020 03:51

Beautifully written and very meaningful story. Torah made a full circle, all the way to the next generation, and next...Feeling inspired by you sharing the story! 🙌🏽

Beautifully written and very meaningful story. Torah made a full circle, all the way to the next generation, and next...Feeling inspired by you sharing the story! 🙌🏽
Thursday, 25 July 2024

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