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Temple Beth El is honored to be the guardian of two special Torah scrolls that survived the Shoah (Holocaust).

In 1964, more than 1,500 Torah scrolls, mostly from communities across Bohemia and Moravia (today’s Czech Republic) arrived at the Westminster Synagogue in London. There, the Memorial Scrolls Trust was established. The Trust is dedicated to cataloguing and repairing the scrolls and distributing them to synagogues, museums, and other institutions around the world. 

Temple Beth El is honored to be entrusted with Torah scrolls #290 and #1161 from the Memorial Scrolls Trust. We received these scrolls thanks to the generosity of two TBE families. Aron Ross, father of TBE member Josh Ross, was moved to donate a scroll in memory of family members lost in the Holocaust and in honor of the b’nai mitzvah of his grandsons Sammy and Jaden, Josh and Wonah Ross’s sons. Longtime TBE members Ruth and Russ Frank also understood that donating a rescued scroll would be a meaningful way to memorialize the millions lost in the Shoah, including many of their family members, and would serve as a link to Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky, a survivor of the Shoah and the spiritual leader of TBE from 1940 to 1976. These generous acts will have a powerful and lasting effect on all TBE members. 


Pictured above: Jaden and Sammy Ross, Ruth and Russ Frank

The dedication of the scrolls took place on September 27, 2021, during our Simchat Torah celebration. 

The following excerpts were among the readings from the ceremony.

In their time with the Jewish community, these simple but extraordinary scrolls have witnessed the love of communal life, as well as the terrors, persecutions, and horrors of the Holocaust. Some of these sufferings were reminiscent of the ancient years of oppression of our people; some were new and terrifyingly fiendish for their day. Yet these scrolls survived, boldly preserving the life and the law they contain, and serving as witness to the terrors that our people experienced. Because of the generosity of the Ross and the Frank families of our synagogue, we are privileged to honor the survival of these scrolls by providing them new life and new sanctuary in our synagogue community.

Each of these scrolls is a sacred witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust; they both have stories to tell; their mere existence is a miracle. By helping to preserve these scrolls here at Temple Beth El or wherever they—one day—continue their journey, the spirits of those Jews of Moravia and Bohemia can rest easy and know that part of their precious legacy is being preserved.

These scrolls cannot speak but we can. They cannot love, but we can. They cannot choose life for us, but we can.

In the name of Temple Beth El of Madison, Wisconsin, on this 22nd day of Tishrei in the year 5782, corresponding to the 27th day of September 2021, we accept these Sifrei Torah, these Torah Scrolls, as sacred possessions of the Jewish people, pledging to maintain them, to teach about them, to study Torah in all aspects, and to teach and learn Torah in fulfillment of our obligations as the Jewish people.

These cherished objects are now part of the rich fabric of our life at TBE. One will be used during special or unique observances, such as confirmation, installation of the Board of Trustees, Holocaust commemorations, and worship during our annual Swarsensky Memorial Weekend. The other, more fragile scroll will be displayed as a memorial object, inviting us to learn from its historical significance. Both of these scrolls serve as historical and spiritual witnesses to the perils our people faced during the Holocaust, and they remind us of the need to preserve the study and promotion of Torah in every generation. We look forward to including the scrolls in as wide an array of opportunities as possible, according to the guidelines of the Trust, for education, worship, and community. Above all, we pledge to be caretakers of the scrolls themselves and of the legacies they represent. 

Temple Beth El is now part of a worldwide community of holders of Holocaust scrolls. The story of our participation is included as a link on the website of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, contributing to an important repository of more than 450 Czech Torah web pages with information about where the scrolls live and how they are used. The Certificates of Authentication that we received from the Trust tell us that the exact origins of scrolls #290 and #1161 are unknown. While deeper research might uncover clues to the specific communities the scrolls came from, we are interested, too, in connecting with a congregation or organization in the Czech Republic as a way to create meaningful ties with a progressive Jewish community there.  

The Torah, the Tree of Life, is passed down from one generation to the next, symbolizing resilience, heritage, and faith. The Holocaust scrolls remind us of these principles and of the importance of speaking out against injustice. For these reasons and more, we are grateful to welcome them home to Temple Beth El. 

May 27, 2024 19 Iyar 5784