United Hebrew Congregation dedicated its Pardubice Memorial Torah in September 1988, after acquiring the scroll on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in Westminster, England. Scott Skillman revisits the Torah’s story and will follow up in coming weeks with profiles of three more Torah scrolls from Pardubice, Czechoslovakia.
Rabbi Joe Klein considered UHC's Czech Scroll a symbol of Jewish survival
Three years after its arrival in Terre Haute, the Czech Memorial Scroll identified as MST #845 helped bridge the generations during a confirmation ceremony in the UHC sanctuary.
The Torahs were consolidated to Prague during the Nazi occupation. After the war, during the Communist occupation, the scrolls were placed in storage in the ruins of the Michle Synagogue basement.
In 1964, the scrolls were sold to the Memorial Scrolls Trust based in London. Upon arrival in London, the Torahs were carefully examined by soferim — trained scribes — and restored where possible and necessary.
Due to good record-keeping, we know many scrolls were saved from Pardubice. Four of those scrolls have been leased out to Jewish congregations around the world.
Rabbi Klein brings the scroll home
This is the story of the most recent phase in the journey of MST #845 from London to the sanctuary ark at UHC.
In 1988, Rabbi Joe Klein learned of the Memorial Scrolls Trust and its mission to lease the Torah scrolls around the world to serve as silent witnesses for victims of the Holocaust.
Rabbi Klein served at United Hebrew Congregation from 1978 to 1993. Rabbi Klein says he notified then-Temple board president Julius Loeser about the opportunity.
The Temple board approved and the process commenced. Rabbi Klein wrote to the Trust to inquire about placement of a Torah scroll in Terre Haute. After a series of back-and-forth communications, the Trust packed MST #845 in a crate and shipped it to Indianapolis.
Rabbi Klein remembers the drive to Weir Cook Municipal Airport, as Indianapolis International Airport was known at the time. He accepted the crate and placed it into the back of his station wagon for the ride to Terre Haute.
Upon arrival, Rabbi Klein carefully unpacked the Torah and looked upon it with awe. However, upon inspection, Rabbi Klein determined the scroll is not “Kosher.” Despite its precious status, the rabbi found a number of imperfections that render MST #845 inappropriate for weekly readings. It remains appropriate for use, however, during other meaningful events.
UHC welcomes MST #845 with a Shabbat dedication
The entire congregation celebrated the arrival of the scroll during a Shabbat dedication service Sept. 25, 1988. To this day, the congregation conducts an annual special reading of the Pardubice Scroll and recounting of its story.
Rabbi Klein recalls reading the scroll, inscribed in 1880, with his daughter Ellie and advising her, “This is likely the first time this Torah has ever been read by women.”
Ellie Klein (Goldman), daughter of Barbara and Rabbi Joe Klein, became one of four students to read from the scroll during confirmation ceremonies on Sept. 11, 1991.
Others included Sharon and. Harvey Seidenberg’s daughter Rachel (Salapka); David Halpern, son of Janice and Arthur Halpern; and Dan Atkins, son of Donna and Michael Atkins.
The Temple’s Czech Scroll arrived without a mantel (cover) and Rabbi Klein instituted a policy requiring the scroll to be displayed without a cover, furthering its unique status.
We retell the scroll’s story
We read from our Pardubice Scroll at least once annually and usually during the week of Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day. The older Sunday school children are educated about its history and encouraged to retell the story. Every time we lift the scroll from its place in the ark, we bear witness to the people of Pardubice.
Rabbi Klein has left a lasting mark on the Terre Haute community in many ways. His leadership in the community at large as well as his direct counsel to the congregation will be long remembered.
But perhaps more importantly, his leadership brought to us a method to bind our community from generation to generation, through the gift of the Pardubice Memorial Scroll.