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Part 2 – Torah Scroll #279 Arrives at TAS

TAS Holocaust Sefer Torah
Talk presented by Maud Pincus Z''L, TAS Archivist, April 21, 2006

The date is February, 1978, 28 years ago, when the first letter of request from Rabbi Sheldon Moss was sent to the Memorial Scrolls Committee at the Westminster Synagogue, London. He was requesting a sacred Scroll which would reside within the congregation of the Bernardo Jewish Community, Poway, California - Bernardo Jewish Community, that was the original name of our founding congregation. Our small congregation then had a Torah scroll on loan from Beth Israel, which had requested its return. There followed many letter exchanges between Rabbi Moss and the Chairman of the Committee and to make a long story short, by December, 1978 a Paul Rosenblatt selected a Torah for us and a student at UCSD by the name of Solon Rosenblatt signed off as having received Scroll #279, and hand carried it from London to San Diego delivering it to Temple Adat Shalom.

Notice the name change - from the Bernardo Jewish Community to Temple Adat Shalom, Community of Peace - between February and December of 1978, the congregation affiliated with the then Union of American Hebrew Congregations now the Union of Reform Judaism, adopted a new name - Temple Adat Shalom, but still had an office in the Mercado for the Rabbi and Secretary and services were held at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation on Espola Road. With the Torah came the need to properly house it in an appropriate Ark. Alan and Laurie Rathsam donated a Portable Ark to house the Torah.  Alan spent over three hundred hours in the design and construction of the Ark with its walnut finished doors and solid ash letters symbolizing the Ten Commandments.

I wish I could give you information about our Torah's history. I sent several communications to the Committee asking for information about its provenance, age, from where our Torah came and any other information that could be contributed about our Torah #279, the answer to me was always the same. History unknown. Our Torah is referred to as an "orphan."

The story doesn't end here - who was Paul Rosenblatt who made the Torah selection? In 1978 he was working with the U.S. government in England. His son, Solon Rosenblatt, was a student at the UCSD who taught Hebrew School at TAS. Solon was going to London over the winter holiday break to visit his family and thus was authorized by Rabbi Moss to hand carry the Torah from London to San Diego.

As Solon was boarding the aircraft at London's Heathrow Airport to return to San Diego, he was asked to check the Torah into the baggage area. He explained that he would not do that because it was a priceless survivor of the holocaust not to mention its precious religious value. He explained that he was prepared to hold the Torah on his lap for the entire flight from London to San Diego despite the stops and changing of planes. In those years this did not pose a problem for the airlines. However, it surely was going to be a problem for Solon. He was anticipating a long transatlantic flight followed by a long cross-country flight. But he accepted the assignment. As the plane taxied out to the area waiting for instructions to take-off, a woman passenger suddenly started screaming that she was getting claustrophobic. After several unsuccessful attempts at quieting her down, the pilot called the control tower. A special truck with a stairway rolled up to the plane as it sat on the taxiway and the woman and her rather embarrassed husband were escorted off the plane. A stewardess offered Solon the seats just vacated. She informed him that there was now a seat for him and for his "friend" (as she called the Torah.)  Solon recounted that he and his "friend" flew on to San Diego without any further interruptions. Not quite!!

This wonderful story is not over.  When Solon landed at Los Angeles International Airport he was required to go through customs to declare all valuables. One should add that you are also subject to search and seizure. Solon had all the proper documents which valued the Torah at 400 British Pounds Sterling. As he was waiting in the customs line, a tall, stern police officer from the LAPD approached him and rather gruffly asked what he was holding. Solon explained the Torah in great detail. The officer said, "I think you had better follow me." Solon was nervous, uneasy and puzzled about where he was being taken. The officer led him out of the customs area escorting him directly to the area in the terminal where friends and family were waiting to pick up the passengers after they cleared customs. In this case, directly to his Aunt. The police officer said "Shabbat Shalom, I'll try to make it down to San Diego one day for services." It was at that time that Solon noticed the name tag that he was too nervous to look at before. The officer was Sargent Levi. Sargent Levi did come to Temple Adat Shalom for the ceremony inaugurating Torah Scroll #279.

Because of a Torah's centrality and sanctity in Jewish life, the donation of a Scroll or the providing for a Scroll are highly esteemed forms of philanthropy.  And so it is only appropriate that Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus be acknowledged as having provided for our Temple's Holocaust Torah ensuring that it is taken care of for future generations. To be acknowledged also is the contribution of the late David Desow and Paula Desow for funding the earlier work of restoration and repair.

When I began my presentation, I said that this evening we strike back at death by creating new life - that this evening we offer up love and life. I believe Torah Scroll #279 does just that. Torah scroll #279 found a very good home at TAS.  Our clergy honors the memory of the six million who perished by having each student read from our Holocaust Torah during his/her Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  Our Torah came to us as a symbol of tragedy but its life with us is a symbol of hope, love, rebirth - new life.

In concluding, the word "serendipity" dances in my mind due to a delightful accidental discovery having been brought to my attention: our Holocaust Torah #279, 2 + 7 + 9 = 18 ... Chai. Please join me in saying L'Chaim, to life!

Part I – Jewish Museum of Prague & Westminster Synagogue

Fri, April 12 2024 4 Nisan 5784