A Torah stolen by the Nazis will return to western Europe to finish its restoration process.
The Jewish Heritage Foundation, based in Boca Raton, announced today it is letting a group of students take the Torah to Poland as part of the group's March of the Living trip.
The Foundation's president says Nazis stole Torahs and other Jewish artifacts during the Holocaust. When World War II ended, Soviet forces took some of those artifacts. This Torah, and several more, have been sitting in a Russian library for the past 70 years. The Foundation is in the process of rescuing as many items as it can.
A sofer, or Torah scribe, estimates the Torah is about 120-years-old.
In a ceremony today at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, the Jewish Heritage Foundation announced the Torah will accompany about 80 Palm Beach County students on an annual trip to Auschwitz concentration camp and Israel.
March of the Living is a program where high school students and Holocaust survivors travel together to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, then to Israel.
"I think it's going to be an incredible, life-changing experience where you feel this tangible representation of history," says Daniella Wirtschafter, a senior at Donna Klein Jewish Academy who will be going on this May's March of the Living.
Organizers think this is the first time a group participating in March of the Living will carry a Torah stolen by the Nazis.
While the group is in Poland, four Holocaust survivors will complete the Torah's restoration by writing the word "Yisrael" on the last page. This will make it possible for the sacred text to be used in synagogues again.
"It's emotional, physically and spiritually, I'm looking forward to a good time," says Sam Ron, a Holocaust survivor who will be one of the four people to write "Yisrael" in the Torah.
He's been on eight previous March of the Living trips. He says bringing a Torah with this rich history will allow the high school students to make a better spiritual connection to their faith.
"Some of the kids have very little knowledge about Judaism, so it's very important we fed them spiritually," Ron says.
"Seeing the history of the Jews and the genocide and the awful treatment of the Jews, being able to feel that connection to our identity will empower me to have the chance to make a change. So that is something I'm looking forward to," adds Wirtschafter.
The group will bring the Torah back to Boca Raton after the trip.
The groups made the announcement today because it is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.