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St. Thomas Synagogue Celebration

A Remarkable Bat Mitzvah in St. Thomas

“To keep our stories and our traditions alive, we should tell them to our children and our children’s children. In that way we can pass on the wisdom they contain.”

Claire Datnow, The Nine Inheritors


There are a host of heartbreaking, yet heartwarming true stories about ancient Torah scrolls that have traveled thousands of miles through war-torn Europe to find sanctuary in far-away lands. These Torahs have miraculously survived the Holocaust. When they are restored and find a new home, they continue the circle of tradition for the next generation.

Holocast Torah in St. Thomas jpg
Recently, by sheer serendipity, my family and I were connected to a Holocaust Torah at the Bat Mitzvah of my youngest granddaughter, Ellie Grace, celebrated at the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas. This Synagogue bears the great honor of being the oldest in continuous use under the American flag and the second-oldest in the Western Hemisphere.

St. Thomas Synagogue Sand Floor
Sand Floor of St. Thomas Synagogue sand floors muffled the sound of Jewish prayers during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.)

As Rabbi Harvey cradled the Memorial Czech Scroll
in his arms, he told us that this special Torah had come from Budyne nad Ohri, a small town in Bohemia, Czech Republic, where Jews lived from the 13th century.
In 1942, the Rabbi continued, the Nazis began shipping sacred objects and other looted treasure back to Prague, from liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. Why? Because after the Nazi had exterminated the Jewish people they planned to use these treasures as exhibits for a “museum of the extinct Jewish race.”  In the final ironic, triumphant twist of fate the Nazi’s were completely defeated. Today the Jewish Museum in Prague has one of the most extensive collections of Jewish artifacts in the world.

St. Thomas Entrance
After the war, the St. Thomas Torah—one of 1,564—was rescued from the Holocaust and brought to London for safe keeping. In 1975, this particular Czech Torah finally found shelter in St. Thomas’s historic synagogue in Charlotte Amelia (thanks to the generosity of the Memorial Scrolls Trust a UK Charity). As Ellie proudly held the Torah in her arms, the Rabbi explained that it was now her responsibility to pass on the monumental heritage of the Jewish People to the next generation.
Strange to tell, a decade before Ellie’s Bat Mitzvah, I wrote and published a historical novel,
The Nine Inheritors—chronicling nine generations of one family and their ancient Torah scroll.

Interior St. Thomas Synagogue Charlotte Amalie

As I stood there, brimming with pride, listening to my granddaughter beautifully reciting her portions from the Torah, I wondered, what messages do the odysseys of these surviving Torahs send us through time and space? In my novel I write:
After surviving a long and turbulent history, the Rosen Torah would finally be laid to rest. Their patriarch, Samuel Rosen, wished for his Torah to be a living legacy used by his progeny, not imprisoned behind glass as a memorial. Still, when the fragments of the Rosen Torah are placed on display for all to see, Samuel will have fulfilled his obligation, as the ninth inheritor to keep it alive for future generations–symbolically, at least. And as long as there are Rosens to honor this heritage, their story will never end. 

Torah Collection Hebrew Congregation St. Thomas