Beth Shalom bringing burned Holocaust Torah back to life

Beth Shalom bringing burned Holocaust Torah back to life

By Cady Schulman |

Around 1,500 Torahs survived the fires that burned synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust. Congregation Beth Shalom has taken on the project this year of restoring one of those Holocaust Torahs, an effort Rabbi Mark Zimmerman said is aimed at ensuring that the Jewish congregations that came before and loved the Torah will not be forgotten.

“Jews right here in Atlanta, Georgia, will keep the flame of their memory alive for future generations,” Rabbi Zimmerman said.

When the Torah arrived at the Dunwoody synagogue from the Czech Memorial Trust in Europe, congregation members were told that the scroll, which had been unrolled only to the burned portion, could not be restored. But when it was unrolled further during a visit by a scribe, it proved to be in better shape than anticipated.

“The Torah must have been opened to that section when they set the building on fire because the rest of the Torah is in great shape,” said Vera Newman, who is heading up the restoration project. “We were amazed as we unrolled it. The dust was flying everywhere, but we couldn’t stop. We opened the whole thing, and it was gorgeous. The edges were smoke-damaged but not destroyed.”

The Torah was sent to Miami, where a sofer (scribe) is re-creating the burned pages and cleaning the rest of the scroll, a project that will cost $25,000. Passage sponsorships and donors are paying for the project.

“For only a few thousand more, we could have written an entirely new scroll, but there is something very special about our restoring a scroll from a synagogue and Jewish community that was decimated during the Holocaust,” Rabbi Zimmerman said. “Plus, it is a very elaborate scroll written in a rare scribal tradition that is no longer taught or used today. In this way we are preserving something from the past that the Nazis almost destroyed.”

Although much of the work is being done in Miami, the sofer will travel to Atlanta several times this year to include the congregation and give synagogue members the chance to participate in the restoration.

“Many people have signed up to write a letter or word,” Newman said. “And to think that we’re actually going to have it on holidays. We’re going to use this Torah. It’s very, very exciting.”

In addition to being saved from the Holocaust, the Torah is different from most because it follows the Kabbalistic tradition and uses special, stylized letters that are rarely seen in other scrolls. That tradition includes putting letters inside other letters, Newman said.

“You can see the letters. You can read the letters. But inside the letters you can see another letter,” she said. “It’s so unique. When you look at the writing, it’s breathtaking.”

The Holocaust Torah includes more than 100 stylized letters, compared with around a dozen in other scrolls, Rabbi Zimmerman said.

“The sofer and I were awestruck as we went through this Torah scroll and discovered one surprise after another,” the rabbi said.

He said he hopes the Torah remains at Beth Shalom for generations to memorialize the Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

“It was obvious that this special Torah scroll ought to be again used and treasured by a thriving Jewish community and not left to languish in a display case,” Rabbi Zimmerman said.

More information on the Year of the Torah project is at

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