Czech Torah Mystery Solved

The May-June issue of the Vine reported that the history of how Temple Micah obtained its first Czech Torah in the 1960s is clouded in mystery. (“Saved from Holocaust, Czech Torahs Serve New Generations at Micah,” May/June 2016, p. 1). Further research into temple newsletters and board minutes of the period as well as “Derech Micah”, Brenda Levenson’s history of Micah’s first fifty years (which is available in the library), came up with much of the story, and also provides another glimpse into the human side of Micah’s early history.

The temple–then called the Southwest Hebrew Congregation (SWHC)– learned in late summer of 1966 that it was eligible to receive one of the Torah scrolls saved during the Holocaust from the synagogues of Czechoslovakia. The scrolls had been transferred to Westminster Synagogue in London, which established the Memorial Scrolls Trust that continues to oversee the distribution of these antique Torahs.

Micah member Joya Rosenberg and her 5-year old son Philip were visiting in London, her home town, and agreed to undertake the paperwork involved in securing the scroll and to bring it back with her to Washington. However, the scroll assigned to SWHC– No. 1531, which had been rescued from the synagogue in Ivancice in southern Moravia–was in need of extensive repair and, worse, Philip came down with the chickenpox. The Rosenbergs had to change their plans.

The September 1966 Newsletter reported that the specially designated SWHC Dulles Airport Welcoming Committee had to cancel its planned ritual reception. Nonetheless, the October 1966 Newsletter announced that the scroll would be dedicated at Friday evening services on October 7. That announcement proved to be premature as the Torah wasn’t dedicated for another 17 months, on March 22, 1968. The reason for the delay remains unrecorded. The Bulletin, the renamed newsletter of the newly renamed Temple Micah, described the dedication ceremony as taking place under a chupah (a bridal canopy) to symbolize the marriage between the Torah and the community. Sid Booth, still a major presence at Micah today, led a procession to bring the scroll, adorned with a breastplate and rimonim (crowns) contributed by about a dozen members, to the chupah, where it was officially received by the temple’s president at that time, Stanley Siegel.

Finding and preserving snippets of Micah lore like this story is part of the Living History Team’s effort to develop an interactive, web-based venue to chronicle Micah from its beginning to the present and into the future. Pictures, artifacts and anecdotes are welcomed by the team.

[By Shelley Grossman; from July-August 2016 Vine]