The Torah from Sibiu

March 28, 1994|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans.--At the end of World War II, American GIs in Europe discovered a warehouse full of Jewish religious objects. They had been looted by the Nazis from the synagogues of Eastern Europe, and were being stored for an eventual ''Museum of the Jews'' that the Nazis were going to build when they had murdered all the Jews.

Among these objects was the Torah from the synagogue in Sibiu, my home town in Romania. The Torah -- the sacred scroll on which the Bible is written -- is said to contain all the souls of the people living in the community. If so, the souls of my grandfather and grandmother and those of their mothers and fathers and many before them were contained within.

After the war, American Jewish congregations adopted many of the orphaned Torahs. The Sibiu Torah ended up in Dallas at the Shalom Synagogue. Last month its rabbi, Kenneth Roseman, invited me to help rededicate the Torah of Sibiu.

The rabbi gave me an affectionate tour of his modern Reform temple, an architecturally daring place of light and hope, which he had helped design. He was proud of this American building, with its active congregation, cultural activities and school.

But when he removed the ancient Torah from Sibiu from the cabinet in the chapel, time stood still. He removed the frayed velvet cover with its embroidered lettering and set it gently down. An ancient scribe had written the Hebrew letters of the sacred text in a beautiful hand. I touched the wood handles and felt the souls of my ancestors close in.

''We give this Torah to children to hold,'' the rabbi said. ''That way each one of them becomes responsible for the soul of one Jew from Sibiu.''

The first Jews came to Sibiu in the 14th century. They were decimated by pogroms, wars and dictatorships. And yet here are American children, caretaking their tortured European souls. Surely, that's a triumph of love over time.

But the story isn't over, not even in America.

Not long ago, Dallas Nazis sprayed swastikas on the Shalom Temple, and threatened to bomb it.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of ''Exquisite Corpse.''

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