Holocaust-era Torah ‘dances’ its way into Cleveland

Posted Friday, Oct 5th, 2018

 Fromovitz Chabad Center in Beachwood got a visit from a Holocaust survivor this weekend – a Torah scroll that made its way out of the destruction that occurred on the night of Kristallnacht.

Nearly 80 years ago, beginning on Nov. 9, 1938, Jewish businesses and synagogues across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland were destroyed by Nazi forces and German civilians. Now called Kristallnacht, or “the Night of Broken Glass,” the event is largely seen by historians as the beginning of the Holocaust, and among the deaths of at least 91 Jews that night, resulted in the destruction of countless sacred items, including holy Torah scrolls.

That night, Isaac Schwartz, a 14-year old Hamburg resident, saw a flaming pyre of Torah scrolls left unattended during the riots. He put the fire out and attempted to save the scrolls. He was able to save just one of them, which he later buried in the ground.

After the Holocaust, Schwartz and his family retrieved the scroll and the other sacred items they had been able to spare. Unfortunately, much of the scroll was unusable due to the damage it had taken. After some time, the scroll was purchased by philanthropist Leonard Wien and donated to the Jewish Learning Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., which restored the scroll, having a scribe rewrite the faded letter and replacing the parchment that was not repairable.

Now, the scroll travels the world in what the JLI calls “a spiritual gesture of unity that spans continents, cultures and generations.” It visited the Fromovitz Chabad Center when the center celebrated at Highland Park Golf Course in Highland Hills the weekend of Sept. 28.

Rabbi Moshe Gancz of Fromovitz Chabad Center said he heard about the scroll when JLI publicized it. He said he felt it would be meaningful for his congregants.

“On Simchas Torah night, we dance with the Torah, we don’t open up the Torah to read from it,” Gancz said. “Of course, we read it during the day, but at night, we only dance with the Torah. This is a level that transcends the level of a person’s intellectual abilities or educational background. And that’s what this Torah represents, a Torah that was saved from the Holocaust, where every single Jew was pursued, not because of their level of observance, but simply because they were Jewish.

“They were Jewish, so (Adolf) Hitler wanted to kill them. We have to do the opposite. At Chabad, we’re nonjudgmental Judaism, bringing in every single Jew, show them the light of Torah and unite every single Jew together. Simchas Torah is an opportunity to dance with the Torah that represents this concept of unity.”

The Torah was at Chabad for a yizkor service on Oct. 1, which was followed by dinner and dancing with the Torah.


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