The last time they were all together was more than five decades ago, shortly after they were rescued from a damp, dark warehouse in Prague.
The group ended up at Westminster Synagogue in London, where they were given a new lease on life. After a short stay, most of them ended up somewhere else — being taken in by synagogues in Canada and the United States.
Twenty-six of the more than 1,500 Torahs, sacred scrolls that survived the horrors of World War II, were reunited Sunday at Temple Beth El in Hollywood as congregants, Holocaust survivors and clergy came together to remember.
“This is a type of reunion that has never taken place before,” Temple Beth El Rabbi Allan Tuffs said. “Every one of these Torahs have separate stories, but they share a common bond.”
Never miss a local story.
The reunion, which culminated a three-day Holocaust workshop at the temple at 1351 S. 14th Ave., was a labor of love for Temple Beth El President Lynn Strauss.
She came up with the idea after leading an effort to restore her own synagogues’ scroll, which for years was locked up in a glass case.
“She was wet and moldy and in really bad shape,” Strauss said, referring to the temple’s Torah. “It broke my heart.”
So began Strauss’ love affair with Torah No. 38 — each Torah is marked with a number. She rolled it out and used five fans to help dry it. She then enlisted the synagogue to have a fundraiser to restore the sacred letters.
In making Torah 38 whole again she had the idea of uniting all of the rescued scrolls. She wanted to focus on the resilience of the human survivors and the importance of the Torah to Judaism.
The event came together after a year of planning and reaching out to The Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, the group that purchased the lot from Czechoslovakia in 1964. Many were in need of restoration.
More than 20 synagogues from across Florida, New York, Canada and London brought their scrolls to be recognized. Survivors filled the audience.
One by one, designated Torah holders walked the guests of honor down the aisle to the front of the synagogue as congregants stood for respect. Strauss carried her “baby” with the help of the temple’s two Holocaust survivors, Bela Deutsch and Eva Abramczyk.
Abramczyk said seeing the scrolls together was very “spiritual.” She often speaks to children about the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
“The major thing is we need to teach children not to hate the other,” she said.
The Torahs were placed side-by-side on a long table for everyone to admire.
The star of the show: No. 38, which was rolled out for all to see.
Gedalia Druin, a scribe, invited the children and several Holocaust survivors, to help him restore a letter.
Cindy Chamides, 16, said taking part in restoring a Holocaust Torah was “amazing.”
“It was just a beautiful thing,” she said, noting that not everyone gets the opportunity to help preserve the past. “I feel blessed.”