Rabbi Berel Paltiel holds a yad, used to help the reader follow the text of a Torah, at the Chabad Jewish Center of Snohomish County on Tuesday in Lynnwood. This Torah will be read during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, through Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Torah saved from Germany’s flames of 1938 visits Lynnwood

LYNNWOOD — A boy salvaged a Torah from a burn pile almost 80 years ago.

Now, the scroll is touring Jewish communities around the world, including Lynnwood.

In November 1938, synagogues in Germany were set ablaze and thousands of businesses run by Jewish owners were destroyed. That violence is remembered as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass.

Isaac Schwartz, 14, pulled a Torah from the flames. The boy buried it underground during the Holocaust for safe keeping. His family later recovered the scroll and brought it with them to the United States.

A philanthropist recently purchased the scroll and donated it to the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, a New York-based organization that coordinated the global tour.

The Torah scroll has visited 36 communities so far with its most recent stop at the Chabad Jewish Center of Snohomish County. The timeworn scroll is kept in a soft, navy blue bag. Rabbi Berel Paltiel wrapped both arms around the bundle when carrying it.

This Torah could be more than 150 years old, Paltiel said.

It took 18 months to trace each letter and replace pieces of parchment that had been damaged or worn through. The scribe fashioned patches from animal hide. Each space and line of text is meticulous, mirroring scrolls going back more than 3,300 years, Paltiel said.

“You have to have patience from here to Texas,” Paltiel said. “According to Jewish law, if one word is scratched out, it’s not fit for service.”

The Torah is the most sacred object in Judaism.

“Every society has something — an object or a certain part of life — which is their focal point that’s indispensable,” Paltiel said. “For the Jewish people, it was always the Torah.”

It outlines values that people of the Jewish faith aim to live by. Paltiel’s 6-year-old daughter falls asleep every night with her teddy bear on one side and a stuffed Torah scroll on the other.

Though Jewish communities are scattered across the world, everyone reads the same passages from the Torah each Saturday.

“Some people survive because they all live in the same place and speak the same language. For the Jewish people, it’s not that way,” Paltiel said. “The only language we do all speak is the language of the Torah.”

Paltiel said the Torah that Schwartz saved from flames during Kristallnacht is a powerful symbol of continuity.

“We had a very turbulent history. The one thing that kept them was the Torah scroll,” Paltiel said. “It’s the foundation of who we are.”

Paltiel’s 79-year-old father grew up in Soviet Russia under Joseph Stalin. He worked in a bank and was careful to hide his religion from co-workers. He would read the Torah at his desk during Sabbath, then stay awake all night to catch up on his work at the bank.

“To be a religious Jew in communist Russia is miraculous,” Paltiel said.

He said the Torah has taught him that each person is here for a reason, and that is to make the world a better place.

Paltiel and his wife, Goldie, who is a co-director of the Chabad center, used to live in New York. Their neighborhood, Crown Heights, was the home of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a grand rabbi and leader in Jewish communities. One of the couple’s neighbors also rescued a Torah scroll during the Holocaust. He wanted it to be used, so he opened a synagogue in the basement of his home. He would stand outside on the street and invite people in to read the Torah.

The Paltiels moved to Washington five years ago to open Snohomish County’s first Chabad. The congregation is small, but growing.

Schwartz’s scroll arrived in Lynnwood just in time for Shavuot, a holiday celebrating the day the Jewish people first received the Torah more than 3,300 years ago. The holiday began Tuesday evening and continues through Thursday.

“There’s no question that the people who read this Torah in Germany are happy it is being celebrated and read instead of being put in a museum,” Paltiel said. “It’s a living thing.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com

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