A Survivor’s Lost Torah Scroll

From War-Ravaged Poland to Disappearance in Jerusalem

Generations: The author, her grandparents and brother pose with the Torah at her brother’s bar mitzvah in 1983, before the scroll disappeared.
Courtesy of Mimi Schultz
Generations: The author, her grandparents and brother pose with the Torah at her brother’s bar mitzvah in 1983, before the scroll disappeared.

By Mimi Schultz

Published January 12, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 7)

After raising their two daughters in L.A., they made aliyah in the early 1980s and brought the Torah with them, placing it, safely, they believed, on loan to the Great Synagogue. In 1991, when the scud missile attacks of the first Gulf War drove them back to the States, the Torah remained in Jerusalem.

In February 1992, my grandmother received a note on Great Synagogue letterhead from the then-director, Chaim Klein. “The Torah you entrusted to us was recently inspected… and found to still be kosher,” he wrote in Hebrew. He mentioned that it continued to be used for worship “from time to time.”

I imagine this letter was reassuring for my grandmother. Despite the fact that she was thousands of miles away from the Torah — further than she’d ever been from her treasured scroll — here was a confirmation that the Torah remained in good hands and was still being put to its intended use.

In 1999, my cousin Jake Sharp and his wife, Lizzie, visited the Torah with their daughter Becky on the occasion of her bat mitzvah. They were the last family members to see it.

Lizzie tells a story that echoes the anecdote from Sean’s bar mitzvah: Becky and her mother were not permitted to touch the Torah, so in the photograph the Torah sits in the ark of the Great Synagogue, with Becky on one side of it and a 13-year-old boy from her b’nai mitzvah class on the other.

Fast-forward to June 2010. My mother and aunt arrived at the Great Synagogue the morning after their mother’s burial and were met by the synagogue’s director general, a rabbi named Gedalia Finkelstein. He was the highest-ranking synagogue official present that morning.

Finkelstein disappeared for a few minutes and returned carrying a tattered piece of yellow legal pad paper. On it a few names were scribbled in pencil. He told Rachel’s grieving daughters that all the names of the families who lent Torahs to the synagogue were on that frayed piece of paper, and their mother’s name was not on the list. He told them he had no idea where the Torah was.

He also said that Klein, who had signed the 1992 letter — the letter assuring my grandmother of the Torah’s continued safekeeping and use — was now dead. Finkelstein had been in his current position since 2001. He told them that he could not be held responsible for anything that transpired before his tenure began.

He had nothing else to say on the matter, he said, but he did admonish my mother and aunt for leaving their hotel room during shiva for their mother.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.