(lubavitch.com) Chabad of La Costa, in Carlsbad, California, inaugurated a Torah at Shabbat services last week.
Not just any Torah.
Chabad’s newest scroll (the center already has four Torahs) is written in a script that is extraordinarily rare—one that contemporary scribes no longer employ. And beyond its hallowed words, the Torah bears its own tale. The 200-year old scroll originally belonged to the Jewish community of Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovakia. Until the late 18th-century, the spa town prohibited Jews from residing there and it was only until 50 years later that a Jewish community was welcomed. But by 1930, over 2,000 Jews called Carlsbad home, nine percent of the total population.
All that ended in 1938, when local Jews fled, and their ornate synagogue, with room for 2,000 worshipers, was decimated. The sole surviving Torah spent the war years buried deep beneath the ground.
On a recent Shabbat, the Torah was read for the first time in 71 years, at its new home across the Atlantic.
“It is not only our congregation that is so blessed,” Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort states: “the Torah is incredibly blessed to have a congregation, to have found its way home. It will be used and loved, not sitting in a museum somewhere in a glass display.”
Many Torah scrolls rescued from the Holocaust have since languished in museum cases around the world. Others, looted by the Nazis or destroyed during Kristallnacht, have been lost forever. For many, it has become a mission of love to discover and adopt the few surviving scrolls.
“There were four miracles at play here,” says Ed Richard, who purchased the Torah for $10,000, and donated it to the center. “First was that we found the Torah; second that it was almost ready to be used.” Remarkably, the scroll had only minor mildew issues and needed little fixing. “Thirdly,” continues Richard, “it was a miracle to bring the Torah from Carlsbad to Carlsbad. And, of course, it was a miracle to remember all the Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.”
According to Eilfort, there are two more miracles to celebrate.
In recent weeks, the California Chabad center completed paying off its mortgage and purchased a complex of modular building to add to its current site. “These are miracles in their own right,” says Eilfort. The center, which has grown too small for Shabbat services and can no longer accommodate its Hebrew school waiting list, will triple in size.
“Now,” laughs Eilfort, “we just need a new ark. Ours is too small.”
The Torah scroll was feted at a dedication ceremony earlier this month, with members of the broader San Diego community in attendance. Cantor Joseph Malovany, of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue, performed traditional songs that the Torah likely heard in its previous home. He was accompanied by the San Diego Men’s Choir and enthusiastic dancing by those gathered.
“People kept telling me how amazing it was. They had heard of the Torah, but they had no idea how important, how precious it is to us,” Richard says. “When we brought the Torah out, the room was electrified.”
It is common for synagogues to have more than one Torah. When Chabad first opened its doors here in 1989, a nearby Chabad center loaned a first scroll to the new center. Now that there’s a surplus, Eilfort plans to loan that one to another fledgling congregation. Because there are many Sephardic members of the La Costa community, a Sephardic scroll in a traditional case also occupies the ark. In 2001, Richard donated his first Torah in memory of his parents and the victims of 9/11.
“How can we ever have enough Torahs?” questions Eilfort. “Each one represents so much light; there can never be too many.”
“This Torah is just so compelling,” asserts Richard. “It survived even though its congregation of thousands went to nothing. This Torah is a symbol of all those people. And when we use it, we remember all those who revered it before us.”