Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pre-Holocaust Torah finally follows family to new life in Sydney

From The Australian, 29 Oct 2016:

After being buried in a Jewish cemetery in Nazi-occupied Hungary, a family Torah is about to complete a remarkable journey to Sydney.

The Central Synagogue, at Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s east, will soon receive its first pre-­Holocaust Torah, the final leg of a journey managed by property ­developer Danny Avidan.

The Torah will be flown from Israel to Sydney by his sister, Dorit Avidan Eldar, and her husband, leading Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar.
Before it is taken on to the plane it will have been carefully wrapped under the guidance of a rabbi.

In 1934 in Budapest, Mr ­Avidan’s grandfather, Haim Yacov Meir Bialazurker, was given a Torah by his 10 children to mark his 60th birthday.

But in 1944, amid the chaos of the Nazi invasion of Hungary, someone, without the family’s knowledge, buried the Torah in a Jewish cemetery in the hope it would survive.

As the war was ending, a man disguised as a Nazi soldier knocked on the family’s door — he had brought back the Torah, hidden in a potato sack.

Today, Yacov’s youngest daughter Susan lives in Sydney and is about to turn 90.

To mark her birthday, Mr Avidan — her son — will present the Torah to her at the synagogue on November 7.

Asked if she thought the Torah would survive the war, Mrs Avidan said: “We didn’t even think that we would survive.”

After the war, the Torah was taken to Israel, but it deteriorated to the point where it was no longer considered Kosher — which meant it could not be read from in a synagogue.

With the aim of presenting it to his mother, Mr Avidan had it ­restored, letter by letter, over many months. The Torah, which contains the five Books of Moses, is considered the central document of Judaism.

Mr Avidan began the project after reading a book by Susan J. Gordon, called Because of Eva: A Jewish Genealogical Journey, published in 2016 by Syracuse University Press, about his grandfather and the Torah.

“I had to find out more and I had to see that Torah,” Mr Avidan said. “I followed my feelings, went to Israel and found it.”

He said that for his family, who came to Australia in the 1960s with little family and money, bringing the Torah was “a way of bringing and planting our heritage in our country, Australia”.

“Having my mother still with us to be able to embrace that, and feel the satisfaction of knowing that for me, my children and great-grandchildren in years to come will always know the story of where we came from — and the Torah will be our family root, our family tree, and hopefully keep us practising Judaism in the manner that my grandfather did and the manner that we try to do, and hopefully future generations in our family will do,” he said.

“In 1944 people were worried about surviving, eating, and my grandfather was very active with the Wallenberg movement and the whole Swedish movement in saving his family’s lives and as many people’s lives as possible by handing out Swedish papers.

“I don’t think the Torah was a concern. As the war was ending in Hungary, a person disguised as a Nazi brought him the Torah and, as far as I understood it, my grandfather was overwhelmed that the horror, the dark night of the last couple of years, had come to an end.

“He died a couple of days later.”

The Chief Rabbi of the Central Synagogue, Levi Wolff, said even if one letter of a Torah was cracked it was deemed not to be Kosher.

Asked how he saw this story at a human level, Rabbi Wolff said: “At first glance, it may seem like a stretch to find common ground between Danny’s Hungarian grandfather, his mother who resided in Israel and his Aussie children,” he said.

“Different language, different culinary tastes and vastly different recreational activities and sporting teams.

“Yet it is a microcosm of the Jewish experience ... Often, by necessity, we’ve been scattered and nomadic. At its core, our unity is based on one truth: the Torah. The values and moral compass found within teach us life lessons that are lovingly passed down from generation to generation.”

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