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Torah's tale is kept alive

A Jewish seminary in L.A. helps spread the story of a scroll made from texts smuggled into the Yanov labor camp in occupied Poland.

November 07, 2008|Duke Helfand | Helfand is a Times staff writer.

The rabbi at first declined to buy the Torah, protesting that it was priceless. But astounded by Rit's story and eager to help him, Herman gave Rit a check for $250, emptying his bank account, then located benefactors.

A Jewish couple gave $750, but with a request that Herman tell the story of the scroll, rather than leave it in a museum. Herman spent the next 30 years taking the Torah to audiences around the world. Everywhere he went, he unrolled the sacred text and encouraged people to touch it.

In February, Herman died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Agnes Herman asked officials at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College to honor her husband's wish that rabbinic students pick up where he left off.

"It was like another child, and I had to make arrangements before I die," said Herman, a freelance journalist and retired social worker. "I'm almost 87 years old. I don't know how much longer I'll be here. I want this to continue to live."

During Thursday's ceremony at the college, Herman recounted the Torah's story one more time. Then, rabbinic students removed the scroll from a hand-sewn cover marked with a faded Star of David and unfurled it, displaying its script written by different hands.

After 100 guests recited morning prayers and the Torah was placed back in its cover, a faculty member cradled it and joyously carried it around the room.

One student, who will share the Torah with congregants at University Synagogue in Brentwood on Sunday, spoke of his own faith being strengthened by the sacrifices of the Yanov inmates.

As the ceremony drew to a close, Herman rose quietly from her seat, approached the scroll, touched it and kissed her hand, marking the beginning of yet another step in its long journey.

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duke.helfand@latimes.com

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