Historic Holocaust 'Kristallnacht' Torah comes to Chabad of Orange County
Shavuot, observed this year June 9-10, celebrates the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago. Shavuot is the second of the three major festivals (Passover being the first and Sukkot the third) and comes exactly fifty days after Passover.
Rabbi Pesach Burston, director of Chabad of Orange County, invites the community to celebrate the holiday with a special ceremony using this historic Torah on Sunday, June 9, at the Chabad Center in Chester.
The Kristallnacht Torah
In November 1938, a Torah scroll was sentenced to death along with the Jewish people. On Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass,” when more than 1,400 synagogues were torched and 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed across Germany, 14-year-old Isaac Schwartz of Hamburg knew he had to act.
Seeing a pyre of Torah scrolls and other Jewish sacred items left unattended, Schwartz doused the flames and attempted to recover the holy objects. His efforts yielded a single Torah scroll.
A Torah scroll, which contains the Five Books of Moses, is the most sacred object in Judaism. It outlines values that people of the Jewish faith aim to live by. An authentic handwritten parchment scroll can take up to a year to craft at the deft hands of a sofer (trained scribe). It is then stored in the ark in the front of the synagogue and read only during services.
As the situation continued to deteriorate rapidly, Schwartz had the scroll buried in the ground along with a number of other sacred items.
There it lay for the duration of the Holocaust until it was retrieved by Schwartz and his family. But the trauma had taken its toll, and much of the scroll had been rendered unusable.
Recently, the relic was purchased from the Schwartz family by philanthropist Leonard Wien and donated to the Jewish Learning Institute, which operates hundreds of adult educational franchises at Chabad Centers across the globe.
Over 18 months, a sofer painstakingly rewrote the faded letters and replaced parts of parchment that were beyond repair. Having been finally completed in 2016, the newly refurbished Torah has been sent on a historic mission, hopping from community to community, in a spiritual gesture of unity that spans continents, cultures, and generations.
The scroll travels in a blue cloth covering inscribed with a dedication from Wien to those who died in the Holocaust and in celebration of the revival of Jewish life and Torah study across the globe.
The Torah Celebration at Chabad
The historic scroll will be present at Chabad of Orange County during the Shavuot holiday weekend, where it will be used during the Shabbat and Shavuot services. Participants will be honored to carry, kiss and even read from its ancient letters.
On Shavuot, which is observed by reading the Ten Commandments from the Torah, it will be read from the Kristallnacht Torah.
“It is such a special way to celebrate the Giving of the Torah by hearing the Ten Commandments read from the Kristallnacht Torah,” said Burston. “It’s a powerful symbol of survival, resilience and continuity, and celebrates our past, present and future.
"Torah is non-judgmental,” the rabbi added. "Shavuot celebrates the Torah that was given to and is the heritage of every Jewish person, regardless of level of observance, or 'label.'"
Hitler was also non-judgmental. Jews were persecuted for simply for being Jewish, regardless of “label” or their level of observance.
“The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the spiritual leader of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, has taught us that we must do the same – only in the positive," Burston said. "At Chabad, we’re non-judgmental Judaism, reaching out to every single Jew, regardless of background, affiliation, observance, age or economic possibilities.”
The public is invited to join Chabad of Orange County for Shavuot Torah Services on Sunday, June 9, beginning at 10 a.m., followed by a dairy kiddush luncheon. T
here will also be a cheesecake bar and ice cream bar. (Dairy foods are one of the Shavuot traditions).
The event is free of charge, but reservations are required. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
Kristallnacht Torah schedule at Chabad
The historic Torah will be used during the following services at Chabad:
• Saturday, June 8, 10:30 a.m. Shabbat service and Kiddush. Services start 9:45 a.m.; Torah reading 10:30 a.m., followed by Kiddush lunch.
• Sunday, June 9, 10 a.m. Community Shavuot Celebration featuring Torah Ceremony with the reading the Ten Commandments followed by diary brunch
• Monday, June 10, 7 to 7:30 p.m. Shavuot Yizkor Service: Memorial prayers for the dearly departed. This special service will include the historic Torah as well.
For special video about the Kristallacht Torah, visit www.ChabadOrange.com/676233 (Or on our YouTube channel)
For more information about Shavuot, to register and to learn more about Chabad’s Jewish educational programs for all ages, contact Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston at 845-782-2770, email rabbi@ChabadOrange.com or visit www.ChabadOrange.com.
Chabad of Orange County is a non-for-profit Jewish educational organization whose mission is to promote and strengthen Jewish awareness, pride, and observance, by providing educational, cultural, and social activities to all Jewish individuals and families regardless of background, affiliation or financial capabilities.