Congregation purchases Torah scroll rescued from Holocaust

As far as the life spans of synagogues go, Keddem Congregation is a toddler.

Just 2 years old, it does not yet have a building of its own. Instead, the congregation meets in a room at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, where prayerbooks are kept in a small closet.

The Reconstructionist congregation, however, has just taken a giant step toward coming of age and forging a connection with Jewish history. It made its first major purchase –a 70-year-old Torah scroll rescued from the Holocaust.

"It means a lot to us that we could provide the continuity, that [the Torah is] returning now to a community," said Robert Zimmerman, head of Keddem's Torah committee.

Though details of the Torah's path are sketchy, it is known that it once belonged to a Central European community and that Allied troops rescued it at the end of the Holocaust.

The Torah was delivered to the Jewish Welfare Board's Jewish Chaplain's Council, which in turn made it available for Jewish services on military bases during the Cold War. With the end of the Cold War, the Chaplain's Council offered the scroll for sale.

Zimmerman, who lives in Portola Valley, chose the Torah during a business trip to the East Coast. He stopped in New York, where the Chaplain's Council is located.

Several Torahs rescued from overseas military base closures were for sale at the council, and Zimmerman considered them as candidates for Keddem. Ultimately, he chose the Holocaust-era scroll because of its moderate size and good condition.

"It seemed to be the best match for us, a very happy balance," Zimmerman said.

The Torah, with its clean white parchment and clear black ink, arrived in the Bay Area wrapped in a white velvet cover and a blue velvet girdle with a silver clasp.

"It is a beautiful Torah," said a proud Elaine Moise of Palo Alto, vice president of Keddem.

Though the approximately 60 members of Keddem have yet to see their new Torah, it's clear they very much wanted a holy scroll to call their own. Until now, congregants have read from a paper Torah purchased at a local Jewish bookstore.

Back in November, during a special Torah fund-raising campaign, the congregation reached its goal after only six weeks. Of the money raised, $7,500 went to purchase the Torah scroll and additional funds covered shipping costs. Leftover funds will be used to buy an ark, according to Moise.

"It really lends an immense amount of dignity to a service to have a proper Torah and be able to do a Torah reading," Moise said. "It'll feel more like a real congregation. It's exciting."

Keddem will celebrate the arrival of its new Torah with two events. At 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, a Torah dedication ceremony will accompany the regular Shabbat service. The congregation will read from the Torah for the first time and thank the members and friends of Keddem who helped purchase the scroll.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, congregants will have the opportunity to see and examine the Torah as it is rolled from end to end.

Both services will be held in the Senior Community Room of the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center, 655 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto. For information, call Keddem at (415) 323-4796.