Holocaust Torah No. 808

The story behind the scroll

How Holocaust Torah No. 808 made it to Hilton Head Island.

Story by Howard Rothchild + Photo by Lisa Staff

A Sefer Torah is a handwritten copy of the Torah, which are the five books of Moses (the first books of the Hebrew Bible). A Torah scroll is mainly used in the ritual of Torah reading during Jewish prayers. At other times it is stored in the holiest spot within a synagogue, the Torah ark. 

The beautiful Torah at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island came from a vibrant, pre-World War II Jewish community in Czechoslovakia.

During World War II the Nazis confiscated 1,564 Torah scrolls with the intention of placing them in a museum they planned to dedicate to a “defunct” race of people. After the war the scrolls and other Jewish artifacts came under the protection of the Jewish Museum in Prague, in the city’s unused Michle Synagogue.

In 1963 with the Czech government’s cooperation, the scrolls were transferred to the Westminster Synagogue in London, which accepted responsibility for their care. There they determined the origin and age of each scroll. The scrolls were numbered and restored. The Memorial Scrolls Trust decided to make the scrolls available to congregations around the world that needed a Sefer Torah.

In February 1984 the Jewish Community Association of Hilton Head Island, soon to be Congregation Beth Yam, requested one of these historic scrolls. The scroll was received in June 1984 on “permanent loan” for use in worship. In July 1984 it was part of Beth Yam’s first Bar Mitzvah.

The scroll, created near the end of the 19th century, bears a brass tag with the number 808, identifying it with the town of Kostel-Podivin, Moravia, now the Czech Republic. 

Kostel-Podivin’s Jewish community came into being in the early 1600s, with only four families in residence at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1857 the town’s Jewish community had 684 members, its largest number. When this Torah scroll was first dedicated in the late 1800s, Jews made up 8 percent of the town’s population. At the end of World War II, only six Jews lived in Kostel-Podivin. Sadly, their temple was never rebuilt.

This Sefer Torah was dedicated on Hilton Head Island twice – in 1984 and again in 2003. Congregation Beth Yam has forever become linked to the Jews of Kostel-Podivin. The congregation has twice, and forever, dedicated their lives to the preservation of their memory — “Never Again.”

Photo: Rabbi Brad Bloom stands next to Congregation Beth Yam’s Holocaust Torah. April is Holocaust Remembrance Month. Congregation Beth Yam has a Torah study class led by Bloom at 10 a.m. every second Saturday. 

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