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Torah Rededicated by Synagogue

December 28, 1989|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For years, Cheri Dekofsky pored over her grandmother's photo album, haunted by a need to honor the memory of her relatives lost in the Holocaust.

When the Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks last week rededicated a 180-year-old Torah scroll that survived despite its seizure by the Nazis, Dekofsky got the opportunity.

Dekofsky helped arrange for her synagogue to receive the Torah, which is a handwritten Hebrew scroll that contains the first five books of the Old Testament and serves as the centerpiece of Jewish faith. The particular Torah that Dekofsky's synagogue is receiving was among 1,584 that were warehoused in Prague, Czechoslovakia, after World War II and later restored by the Westminster Synagogue in London.

"This satisfies something very deep inside me," Dekofsky said. "The Torah has always represented learning, tradition and survival."

Rabbi Shimon Paskow of Temple Etz Chaim, which has a membership of about 700 Conejo Valley families, said Torahs and other religious objects were seized from synagogues by Nazis who originally planned to destroy them, then decided to save the booty for a "museum to the 'extinct Jewish race.' "

Today, synagogues and other Jewish institutions can arrange permanent loans of the restored Torahs. Dekofsky decided to arrange such an "adoption" for her temple after learning that her childhood synagogue on Long Island, N.Y., had done the same thing.

"We said, 'We have to do this, this is the right thing,' " Dekofsky said, referring to herself and her husband, Michael.

In a ceremony similar to that of a wedding, the Torah known as Scroll No. 1181 was carried into the temple's sanctuary under a "chupah," or wedding canopy, and rededicated. Because it is brittle, stained and in many places illegible, the Torah will not be used during religious services but displayed in a Holocaust memorial, Paskow said.

The ceremony also marked the first night of Hanukkah, which is actually a minor Jewish holiday whose significance has been magnified because it falls near Christmas. Paskow said Hanukkah was an appropriate occasion to welcome the Torah because the holiday marks an ancient military victory by the Hebrews over the Syrians--another instance of Jewish survival.

Dekofsky's maternal grandmother, now 92, immigrated to New York at the age of 16. She worked as a seamstress in the city's garment district and sent money to her parents and three sisters in a Russian village.

But, tragically, she sent cash instead of tickets, and her family used the money for her sisters' dowries instead of to travel to this country, Dekofsky said.

"She cries, and says, 'If only I'd sent tickets, they'd be alive.' Who really knows? They all perished," Dekofsky said.

Although Torahs are usually covered in colorful, often ornately embroidered cloth, Scroll No. 1181 was dressed in simple black velvet, a nod to its sobering history. The cloth will be inscribed in the memory of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

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