Our Torahs.  Etz Chaim, The Tree of Life.

You are here

Our Torahs

“It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all it paths are peace."
(Proverbs 3:17-18)

We are fortunate to have a collection of six (6) Torahs (Sifrei Torah) at Congregation Beth Am ("CBA"). All Torahs are special, but a couple of ours hold very special meaning and significance.                                                                   

Our Holocaust Torah
(This scroll is on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust)

The Roudnice Jewish community of Czechoslovakia dates back to the middle ages. By 1930, the Jewish population numbered 123 people; in 1942, there were 110. At that time, Roudnice was a bustling town, just 40 kilometers west of Prague. Sadly, seventy-six members of the community are known to have perished in the Holocaust, while the fate of the remaining 34 remains a mystery.

Our Holocaust Torah comes from this once thriving Jewish community. Since 1983, this Torah has witnessed our children’s baby namings, our B’ritot Milah, our brides and grooms pledging their commitment to one another, and our B’nai Mitzvah and Shabbat services. This Torah has filled our hearts and souls with the identical messages it did when it lived in Roudnice, binding us together in a legacy of faith and values as a people who have lived by the precious words contained therein.

On Yom Kippur 2007/5768, Fred Schenk stood before our Congregation with deep emotion and explained the history of this Torah and how it became ours.

After the war, many Torah scrolls, along with other religious objects, were kept as a memorial to the vanished communities. These objects, ironically, were saved by the Nazis for their Museum of Jewish Extinction. The Torahs were found in a tattered and deteriorated condition, as they had been rolled up and unused.

In 1963, a British art dealer arranged for the scrolls to be acquired by a London businessman and philanthropist. Through his generosity, the Westminster Synagogue in London was selected to receive the scrolls. There were 1,564 scrolls, each numbered and catalogued with its history, including the community from which it came. One Torah scroll was numbered 747 (7+4+7=18 or “Hai”/life). That Torah scroll is the one that is proudly used by the members and clergy of Congregation Beth Am.

It was a vision of Beth Am’s founding rabbi, Rabbi Wayne Dosick, to have a Holocaust Torah scroll become part of the CBA family. The Westminster Synagogue approved our application, but help was needed for the purchase, fees and processes in order to bring it home to Beth Am. The rabbi called Lynn Schenk and Hugh Friedman, Beth Am members, and asked for their help. He knew that Lynn’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and having this Torah as part of the community would be a fitting way to honor him. On Yom Kippur, 1983, Torah scroll #747 joined our community, thanks to the generosity of Lynn and Hugh.

In 1989, Beth Am members Carol Davidson Baird and her family traveled to Roudnice, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Eastern Europe. After much driving and getting lost, the Bairds and Davidsons found the location of a Jewish cemetery. There, in the middle of what had become a forest, stood a building with a big Jewish star. It turned out to be a ritual building where bodies were washed and watched over until they could be buried. With a goal of recreating a part of that building on Beth Am’s campus, the travelers took not only photographs of the building, but scrap pieces of wood and stone which they brought back in their suitcases to present to Beth Am.

Realizing that pictures would not do, we enlisted the help of Michael Witkin, an architect and member. He traveled to Roudnice, took photos, and made a mold from the ruins that remained of the ritual building. The replica of the Roudnice wall is not only the gateway to our Synagogue, but also serves as a connection with a vibrant Jewish community and to a people who lived, prayed, celebrated and consoled each other; people who shared our same values, faith and commitment to Judaism; people who adhered to the same written words we do, words scribed on the very piece of parchment and rolled into the exact scroll which sits in our Aron Kodesh today. This Torah scroll is the bridge between that old, lost Jewish community in Roudnice and our modern, vibrant Jewish CBA community of San Diego.

May their memory help us to lead our lives to blessing.

The Peter Chortek Memorial Torah

In 2014, one of our Torahs was attacked by a bacteria which feeds on the vegetable-based ink used to scribe a Torah. The Torah unfortunately proved irreparable. We purchased an incomplete scroll and gave everyone in the Congregation an opportunity to be a part of writing this Torah.

The new Torah was dedicated in memory of Peter Chortek by the Chortek families and the Weisman family. Peter was a member of Beth Am from 1986 until his death in 2011. He and Elaine were active synagogue members since the day they married in 1955. In the 1970s, Peter z”l was President of Congregation Beth Tefilah.

Peter was fiercely proud of being Jewish and committed to making a difference. His passion and focus was Jewish education, believing quality Jewish education would help insure a vibrant Jewish future. For Peter, it meant being supportive of venues that would influence Jewish continuity, i.e., day schools, Jewish camps, Hillel, Birthright, March of The Living and the Jewish Community Center. As the foundation for Jewish education and communal Jewish life, this Torah is the perfect way to honor Peter for generations to comeDor L’Dor.