Among the Torah scrolls housed at Congregation Beth El in Tyler is a scroll with a special history — one of only 1,564 that were rescued from a Nazi warehouse after World War II.
The scroll kept at Beth El is from the town of Roudnice Nad Labem in Czechoslovakia. Another scroll from the same community is kept by a congregation in San Diego.
The more than 1,500 scrolls were discovered by an American art dealer who was friends with the rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue in London. He and other benefactors rescued the scrolls from poor storage conditions in Communist-controlled Prague after the war and took the scrolls to the Westminster Synagogue in London.
“After months of sorting, examining and cataloguing each Scroll, the task of distributing them began, with the aim of getting the Scrolls back into the life of Jewish congregations across the world,” according to a document written on the history of the project. “The Memorial Scrolls Trust was established to carry out this task. Each Memorial Scroll is a messenger from a community that was lost, but does not deserve to be forgotten.”
The Trust acquired the scrolls in 1964 and one of the scrolls was requested by a member of Beth El in 1968. Scroll 990 arrived in March of 1969 — one of the first scrolls to be sent out, according to an email from the U.S. director of Memorial Scrolls Trust, Susan Boyer.
The Trust retains ownership of the scrolls, and conditions of the loan include that the congregations use the scrolls in a meaningful way. At Beth El, the scroll is read on Yom Kippur and during the year when the “holiness code” in Leviticus 19 is read.
The scroll’s significance is not lost on the members at Beth El, Katz said.
“The scroll belonged to a community that no longer exists in the Czech Republic,” Katz said. “But their Torah scroll is still in active use. It’s a symbolic and physical link to those who died.”