SUMTER, S.C. — Remembering the Holocaust while connecting the Jewish community is the idea behind a new exhibit at the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center in Sumter. The exhibit follows a Torah scroll’s journey from where it started in Czechoslovakia all the way to here in the Midlands.
“It survived the Holocaust, to tell the story of the Jewish people,” Temple Sinai Site Manager Diana Roof shares.
Torah scroll 848 has found its home in Sumter at the history center.
“The temple has been here since 1895. The current structure since 1912,” Roof shares. “Though Jewish people here have been part of the community since the 1800s. A big vibrant part of it.”
Roof says a new exhibit, “The Story of a Torah Scroll’s Journey to Survive the Holocaust,” is bringing more attention to the temple as people come to admire the Torah on display.
“A lot of people in the community do not even know that there's a temple here. So with the history center being here it’s brought more awareness that we do have a temple and that we do have a small Jewish community.” Roof explains. “Just looking at the Torah coming out of the ark. It's sacred. It's, it just gives you…I don't know, it gives me a warm feeling when we actually bring it out and read from it.”
The Torah features the first five books of the bible handwritten by scribes on kosher animal skin. Roof says there are only about 30 in this part of the United States. As for the one in Sumter, “it started off in Czechoslovakia in a small bohemian town,” Roof explains.
“When Hitler took over, he closed down the temples and he decided to take anything that was in value. And they were sent to Prague, which was a Jewish museum and they cataloged them all. They put them in warehouses, and then after Hitler was defeated, the new government, which were communists, they gave all of the Torahs back to different synagogues,” Roof continues. “But then they decided that they were going to do the same thing. They closed all the temples down. They took all the Torahs away again. And then at some point, they realized that they needed money. So they tried to sell them and they were eventually bought by a man in england. They went to Westminster Synagogue, and the congregation there decided that they wanted to do a Torah scrolls trust program, where they sent them all over the world. There’s a little over 1,500 of them, and they would be on…permanent loan.”
And now those Torahs, including the one in Sumter, are reminding the Jewish people of all the hardships their community has endured.
“It's part that was saved from the Holocaust. So knowing that we have part of that here is…it's just really awesome,” Roof shares. “I don't know how else to put it. It's just, it's a really good feeling to know that we're able to take history and preserve it in this small community in Sumter, South Carolina.”
The exhibit will be on display until the end of January 2024. The history center is open Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. and then on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.