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Honoring the past, praying for the future

Created date

September 21st, 2009

On the morning of June 27, 1941, Nazi troops from Order Police Battalion 309 invaded the town of Bialystok, Poland. They surrounded the town square by the Great Synagogue, the largest wooden synagogue in Eastern Europe, and forced residents from their homes into the street. [caption id="attachment_3027" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Philip Weiner, chair of the Torah Search Committee at Riderwood, holds up the community s new Torah."]... Targeting the Jewish population, soldiers threw citizens up against building walls and shot others dead. More than 800 men, women, and children were locked inside the synagogue, which was subsequently set on fire. Everyone inside died. As the flames from the synagogue spread and merged with grenade fires, the entire square was engulfed. In that one day, 3,000 Jews lost their lives and 56,000 additional Jews were confined to a ghetto that was exterminated two months later. During the chaos and horrors of that day, many Jews risked their lives hiding Torahs the most holy of the sacred writings in Judaism in fear that they would be destroyed at Nazi hands. Now, one of those hidden Torahs, secreted away in Bialystok for more than 60 years, resides with the Riderwood Jewish community, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, founder of the nonprofit Save a Torah foundation.

High honor

Since 1985, Rabbi Youlus has found and restored more than 1,000 desecrated Torahs. Our existing Torah was in woeful condition, with the parchment peeling in places and the letters also peeling off the parchment, says Riderwood resident and chair of the Torah Search Committee Philip Weiner. When we learned of Rabbi Youlus activities in rescuing Torahs, we hoped he would be able to help us find one for our community. Receiving a Torah rescued from the Holocaust is a tremendous honor. Members of the Jewish community raised funds in support of Rabbi Youlus work and soon learned that a Torah, unearthed in Bialystok, would be theirs. They then went to work planning a memorable dedication ceremony. We are all awestruck, privileged, honored, and extremely fortunate to receive this Torah, says Weiner. The entire Jewish community attended the dedication ceremony led by Rabbi Youlus. The Riderwood chapel was overflowing. On the day before the dedication, Rabbi Youlus gave a lecture on the history of the Torah and the events in Bialystok during World War II. A professional scribe, he also enlightened the community with exhibits of parchment and special ink used to inscribe letters in the document. Under his guidance, several Riderwood residents inscribed Hebrew letters in the Torah, a very high honor. The following day, Rabbi Youlus led the Torah dedication service.

Humble tribute

It was a most happy and joyous event which included marching with the new Torah and blowing of the shofar (ram s horn), says Weiner. The fact that this rescued Torah survived the Holocaust adds special meaning to it, adds Riderwood Jewish community member Joe Sumner. His thoughts are shared throughout the greater Riderwood community. As such, the words, In memory of the Holocaust victims of Bialystok, are inscribed on the Torah s cover. Now, as they pray the Torah s sacred prayers and learn from its hallowed lessons, members of the Jewish community at Riderwood are paying homage not only to God but to the memory of those who lost their lives for their beliefs.