In the early 1960s, over fifteen hundred Torah scrolls from the Czech Republic were brought to safety from where they had been desecrated by the Nazis. Thousands and thousands other Torahs were burned throughout Europe in that terrible period we call the Holocaust. Letters were sent out to the entire Jewish community to find places around the world to display these amazing artifacts. Through the persistence of Dave Feld, an aerospace engineer, who died several years ago, one of those scrolls, number 980, came to Buffalo in the 1970s. Scarred beyond repair, with hundreds of holes from Nazi fire, this beautiful, sacred scroll hung in the hallway of Temple Sinai and now Congregation Shir Shalom. Unfortunately, just about a year ago, the frame fell down and the Torah itself was damaged. We have since repaired the Torah, and now due to the generosity of the Feld family, and the ingenuity of our Executive Director, Joanne Marquisee, we have a new home for the scroll, right outside of our Daniel E. Kerman Sanctuary. There, it is open, just as it was in the past, to the Song of the Sea, Moses’ great poem dedicated to vanquishing Pharaoh and finding freedom for the first time as a people.
Torah is central to our identity as a Jewish people. In addition to being there at the crossing of the sea, we are all also supposed to have been there in spirit at the receipt of Torah on Mount Sinai. That is what is meant in this week’s double portion, Netzavim-Vayelech, when Moses says, “not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this imprecation, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” As none of us were physically there thousands of years ago, those “not here with us today,” has always been interpreted as us. For thousands of generations we have passed the word of Moses down, meticulously, lovingly, as if we ourselves had been there when it all began. This was why the Nazi desecration of our Torah scrolls hurt so deeply and why it is our community’s mission to preserve and protect this amazing Holocaust scroll. I encourage you to come and see it, and revel in the joy of having once again in our communal space.