We are in the midst of Holocaust Remembrance Week, an annual event that somehow reimagines itself every year and often does so in surprising ways.

It turns out that two synagogues in Winnipeg – Temple Shalom and Shaarey Zedek – have two “Holocaust Torah scrolls” in their possession who were witnesses and survivors of Jewish communities in Czechia lost in the Holocaust. Our Torah was scribed in 1923 and celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, leading to a community event focused on these two Torah scrolls. The event happened yesterday evening and it was extraordinary.

It is one thing to think about the millions of people who died in the Holocaust and the far fewer that survived. But it is an entirely different thing to think about our Torah scrolls going through that same life-or-death experience. In the bible, the sanctuary housing the ten commandments was placed in the very centre of our camps while we travelled 40 years in the wilderness, and this has been our way ever since. Our Torah scrolls are the spiritual centres of our Jewish communities no matter where we live around the world. But the stories behind our Holocaust scrolls remind us that they too can experience joy and love and sadness and even death and destruction.

However, these two Holocaust scrolls, as part of a trove of 1,564 Czech Torah scrolls that were hidden and saved, had new chapters to tell, as survivors who moved around the world to write new chapters in their lives and as part of our lives. These scrolls remind us that spirituality is something we cannot take for granted. It can wax and wane and disappear entirely. But lessons from our history can guide us – that we are best served if we keep spirituality at the very centre of our lives and our communities, rather than on the edges where it can easily be ignored or crushed or forgotten.

Shabbat shalom,   Rabbi Allan