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 5 of 7)

That was only the beginning.

From their Jerusalem hotel, my mother and aunt called the synagogue every day for a week, asking for Finkelstein and pleading for an update on the Torah search. They were rarely connected with him directly, and when they were, he reiterated that he had no information.

(Reached by the Forward for this story, Finkelstein said that he did not recall the specifics of his initial conversation with my mother and her sister. He said that he attempted to match a photo of my family’s Torah with the scrolls in the Great Synagogue to no avail, and that he also gave information about the Torah to Hechal Shlomo. Hechal Shlomo did not return requests for comment from the Forward.)

Upon her return to the United States, my aunt continued the inquiry, exchanging dozens of emails with Finkelstein, Zalli Jaffe, a synagogue vice president and attorney, and Asher Schapiro, chairman of the board, about their attempts to locate the Torah. The emails add up to 18 printed pages at most recent count.

Keeper: The Torah was donated to Hechal Shlomo, the building at left, with the understanding that it would be housed in the Great Synagogue, on the right.
MartinVMtl/wikimedia commons
Keeper: The Torah was donated to Hechal Shlomo, the building at left, with the understanding that it would be housed in the Great Synagogue, on the right.

The back-and-forth became demoralizing and, at times, infuriating. The confusion was further heightened by the fact that no one individual was taking ownership of the Torah search: Sometimes Schapiro, sometimes Finkelstein, sometimes Jaffe — really, who was in charge over there?

At one point, Schapiro enacted a show of sympathy in an email, explaining that his own family also lost a Torah saved from the war when it was later loaned to a hotel for a bar mitzvah. I wondered: Does the chairman of the board really want to draw a parallel between the Great Synagogue and, say, the Marriott? Shall we assume that one of the largest synagogues in Jerusalem places no more import on the safekeeping of a Torah than a hotel?

This past summer, I learned that Finkelstein, known in America as George Finkelstein, had resigned from his post at the Great Synagogue after the Forward reported that he had been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse over decades. The claims began when he was an administrator at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan. The Forward also found that in 2009, a man filed a complaint with the Jerusalem police alleging that Finkelstein had behaved inappropriately by wrestling with him in the rabbi’s home and at the Great Synagogue. The police dropped the case in 2010 for lack of evidence. Needless to say, the allegations against Finkelstein made my family even more skeptical about the trustworthiness of the Great Synagogue.

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!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • 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.