November 6, 2003
One Powerful Parchment
Jono Wagmeister's bar mitzvah adventure started at a friend's bat mitzvah in Atlanta last April, and took him on a virtual journey across the world and through centuries of Jewish history.
It was in Atlanta that Jono first heard about the 1,564 scrolls the Nazis collected and catalogued for a future exhibit on the extinct race. In 1964 the decaying scrolls were transported to Westminster Synagogue in London, where they were repaired, catalogued and made available on loan to synagogues around the world through the Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre.
When Wagmeister returned to Los Angeles, he found out that University Synagogue, where he had attended Hebrew school since first grade, had just such a scroll.
"I thought, 'How come we have this special thing and no one knows about it?'" said Wagmeister, a seventh-grader at Harvard-Westlake School.
He found out that Rabbi Allen Freehling, rabbi emeritus at University Synagogue, acquired the scroll in 1974. Wagmeister continued his research by Internet and phone, and found out that the scroll was scribed in 1690 and was from Kolin, a small Czech town near Prague.
Susan Boyer, a resident of Los Angeles and a founding member of the Czech Torah Network, which links institutions with scrolls, helped him get in touch with Hana Greenfield, one of a handful of survivors from Kolin.
Greenfield, who lives in Israel, was deported to Terezin, then to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Her story is documented in her autobiography, "Fragments of Memory: From Kolin to Jerusalem" (Gefen Publishing) and she has been involved in Israel and the Czech Republic in educating children about the Holocaust.
Greenfield accepted Wagmeister's invitation to his bar mitzvah (he is paying for her ticket with the gift money he will receive) and will be called to the Torah for an aliyah when Wagmeister reads the Torah portion from the scroll from Greenfield's hometown.
"Now I feel that there's this connection between my synagogue and this scroll, and the synagogue that the scroll came from before the war," Wagmeister said. "I hope that every time people see this scroll in synagogue now, it will be more meaningful for them."
Hana Greenfield is speaking on Monday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255. For more information on the Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre, visit www.czechtorah.org .