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Sacred, Ancient Scroll Is Welcomed in House

April 19, 1993|KATHLEEN HENDRIX

One of the newest residents at Beit T'Shuvah is Torah 772. Written in 1850 in Prague, it is one of 1,500 Czech memorial scrolls, sacred sefer Torahs --handwritten documents that record what believers consider the 5,000-year-old revealed word of God.

Confiscated by the Nazis and rescued by the Czechs during the Holocaust, the scrolls are being preserved and restored by the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London. Friends of Beit T'Shuvah, a support group, recently obtained Torah 772 for the halfway house on a 99-year lease.

The organization is "bringing the scrolls back to life," says Beit T'Shuvah Rabbi Marc Sirinsky. And at the Torah's dedication in February, the connection between the damaged and the restored Torah and the residents was on everyone's mind.

Residents and staff designed and built the ark for the Torah from recycled materials. And residents hung velvet curtains in the back-yard tent that serves as a synagogue, transforming it, however fleetingly, into a place of beauty and dignity.

Robin Coke, one of the few women to go through the program at Beit T'Shuvah, is now the assistant resident manager. Born to a Russian Jewish mother and American Indian father, Coke didn't feel a part of either culture as a child. She fled neglect and alcoholism, she says, and found acceptance on the street--as a dropout, heroin addict, drug dealer and prostitute. Eventually, she slept in MacArthur Park and lived out of garbage cans.

Beit T'Shuvah saved her life, she says flatly: "It's the first family I ever had." And as a "family" member, she welcomes the new addition, clearly identifying with it: "To know what that Torah has been through, and to have it rescued. . . . It came home."

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