These holy scrolls survived the Holocaust. Now, Hurricane Irma is coming

A synagogue in Coral Springs must safeguard its torahs before Hurricane Irma devastates Florida.
A synagogue in Coral Springs must safeguard its torahs before Hurricane Irma devastates Florida. Marci Bloch

Steve Feinstein didn’t speed Friday morning. He didn’t run a red light or hook a turn too fast. He was driving more carefully than he ever had in his life.

As the winds of Hurricane Irma brought death and destruction to the Caribbean, Feinstein was carrying holy cargo in the trunk of his Nissan Rogue: the six torahs of Temple Beth Orr, a congregation of 325 families in Coral Springs.

“There is nothing more sacred than a temple’s torahs,” the Jewish scriptures, Feinstein said. “They are the sacred scrolls of generations of our people.”

Two of the torahs survived the Holocaust — now they need salvation from Irma.

The temple doesn’t have storm shutters. If a major storm hits, the scrolls could be waterlogged or ripped to shreds, leaving the congregation without its most precious artifacts.

“You have to think of them as being as fragile as human life,” said Marci Bloch, the temple’s senior rabbi.

The two rescued torahs date to the 1780s and were used by Jews in what was then Czechoslovakia, according to temple president Lori Weinstock.

One of the torahs was kept in a synagogue in the Czech town of Strážnice. Nazi soldiers stripped it from the temple’s ark during the German occupation in 1942. For more than 20 years, the scroll sat in a warehouse. Finally, it was resurrected from the darkness and sent to Westminster Synagogue in London. In the 1980s, it was permanently lent to Beth Orr.

An official history of the torah asks those who read from it to remember a prayer: “For the agony, the tears, the mothers, and the fathers, for the children who were and for the children yet to be: we remember.”

As Beth Orr’s leadership fretted over how to safeguard their heritage, Feinstein, a past president of the Reform congregation, had an idea.

His firm, People’s Trust Homeowners Insurance, keeps the computer servers that are its lifeline in a windowless room on the second floor of a Deerfield Beach office.

“It’s built like a bunker,” said Feinstein, director of customer service at People’s Trust. “Concrete walls, air control.”

The firm’s CEO, George Schaeffer, a religious Jew himself, was adamant the scrolls be brought in for safe-keeping.

A final prayer

At 7 a.m. Friday, Feinstein and his 15-year-old son, Matthew, arrived at Beth Orr. They covered each sacred scroll in a tallis, a prayer shawl. Then father and son wrapped the scrolls in plastic shrink wrap, just in case, to keep the storm waters out.

“It was an important mitzvah that he and I were able to share together,” Feinstein said, using the Hebrew term for a good deed. “A powerful moment.”

Wherever the torahs are kept becomes holy ground. And so Saturday morning Feinstein plans to hold a brief service in the 10-by-15-foot, concrete sanctuary.

He will say a prayer before the storm.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

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