Ironically, they were gifts from the Holocaust — and Yakima has one. It's a 150-year-old Torah, or Hebrew Bible, that belongs to Temple...
YAKIMA — Ironically, they were gifts from the Holocaust — and Yakima has one.
It’s a 150-year-old Torah, or Hebrew Bible, that belongs to Temple Shalom, the local Jewish house of worship.
On Sunday, Rabbi Moshe Druin, an expert in evaluating and repairing Torahs, visited from Miami Beach to inspect the Torah.
Druin is one of about 30 sofers in the United States. Sofers, or scribes, meticulously copy each letter in a Torah in order to make a new one. As he assessed the Yakima Torah for signs of wear and tear, he alternately enlightened, delighted and awed the congregation with his findings.
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The Jewish faith holds that the first Torah was given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai.
Not only does the Torah here have a historical provenance, it’s a rare copy that will probably never be made in the same way again, Druin explained.
The congregation of 48 families was aware that their Torah had been rescued from what was once Czechoslovakia after World War II. Druin filled in the details of how it happened.
During World War II, Jews in Germany-occupied Prague sent messages around the countryside for fellow Jews to bring their family heirlooms and Torahs to be housed in one place that they thought would be safe. That was done with the blessings of the Nazis, Druin said, because Hitler intended to create a museum of a lost race after he had exterminated all the Jews in Europe.
That didn’t happen, and the Jews in Czechoslovakia didn’t survive. Their hidden belongings, however, did.
In the 1950s, a London art dealer was visiting countries in communist Eastern Europe and discovered 1,681 scrolls, or Torahs, in a Czechoslovakian basement.
“He flipped out,” Druin said.
After some missteps, the art dealer returned to England, gathered money and headed to Prague to buy back all the Torahs. Later, after being held by a trust in England, many of those Torahs have been loaned out to temples around the world.
Yakima’s Temple Shalom’s is one.
“Take it out and commemorate it,” Druin told the congregation. “Keep the memory alive of the people it belonged to.”
Although all script in Torahs is identical, the style of lettering is different. Scrolls are handmade from animal parchment. A scribe uses special ink to hand-write all 80,000 words.
Druin is both a scribe and a restorer.
“This scroll is extremely unique,” he said. “It has a combination of both (styles from two Jewish ethnic groups, Ashkenazi and Sephardic). No one writes this kind now. The tradition of writing with that combination has been lost.”
Scribes stopped creating Torahs with mixed styles about 150 years ago, he said.
Druin began to learn the skills of a scribe at age 18 and has practiced for 31 years. Further study propelled him into the ranks of restorative scribe. Repairs require painstakingly writing over the original letters to maintain the same style.
“We’re glorified forgers,” Druin joked.
Druin found the Torah in fairly decent condition, but noted where black letters were fading to brown. He noticed that some repairs had been done before — about 10 years ago, said Shalom member John Vornbrock — and complimented the group on its diligence.
“Honor goes to you. Well done to you,” he said. “You didn’t just leave it lying around.”
In fact, he recommended that the group use the Torah as much as possible, exposing it to air. Because it consists of all organic materials, it needs to breathe.
“Be holy rollers,” he exhorted. Roll and unroll the scroll on its wooden dowel frequently, he said.
Although the art of scribing a Torah blends thousands of years of tradition, using kosher animals for the parchment and writing with a pen made from turkey feathers, modern technology has also become a part of the repair process. As Druin assessed the work, he took photographs with an iPhone to document what needs to be done.
As a sofer, Druin has made 17 Torahs, with each taking about a year to complete. As a restorer, he said he visits a new city every week, evaluating Torahs for repairs.
Several members of the congregation said they learned a great deal from Druin. Nicole Jevons, a 15-year-old West Valley High School student, read from the Torah when she had her bat mitzvah two years ago; she said she was fascinated to know its history.
She and her mother, Carole Jevons, were also intrigued with Druin’s explanation of the lettering, which occurs below the line, rather than above the line like most other languages. That tradition came from the belief that words written above the line are for the spiritual world and under for the physical world.
Druin said that showed the Torah belongs to the people.
For Paula Vornbrock, Druin’s presentation reinforced how the temple’s Torah should be treated with great respect.
“This is such a unique treasure,” she said.