In mid-May, Boca Raton resident Sibyl Silver was in the center of a group that concluded a three-year quest to restore Torahs stolen during the Holocaust back into Jewish use in synagogue worship.
The process started In 2012, when Sibyl, and her husband, Robert Silver, of Boca Raton, members of Boca Raton Synagogue and the Chabad of Boca Raton, heard a story about 113 Torahs that were stolen from Hungarian Jews and which were supposedly found in a library in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
Since then, the Silvers have become devoted to supporting researchers to restore and return these Torahs stolen from the Hungarian Jewish community by the Nazis and then taken by trophy units of the Russian Red Army.
On Dec. 27, 2014, Robert Silver died of small cell lung cancer, but Sibyl promised him that she would continue their quest.
From May 6-13, Sibyl Silver led a delegation (including her cousins, Marge and Dr. George Leventon of Houston, and Katherine and Peter Pike of Sarasota) to Russia and came home with a deal to return the first of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Torahs, that were stolen during the Holocaust and are still in museums, libraries and archives in Eastern Europe.
To help with the project, Sibyl Silver founded the European Jewish Heritage Foundation — which will focus on locating Judaica and other religious objects and communal assets stolen by Nazis and which remain in museums, libraries and other storage facilities in former Eastern European countries.
Silver is also working with Egységes Magyarországi Izraelita Hitközség (EMIH — Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregations) and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and the Confederation of Independent States.
She also is a vice president of the EMIH’s U.S. affiliate — Holocaust Torahs Foundation Inc., — leading the seven-person U.S. delegation that concluded the agreements in Russia a few weeks back.
About the whole process, Silver said: “I almost could not believe that we found the Torahs. It was a just a story until we started working ourselves with the Russian and Hungarian Jewish communities. Then the time came to get to Russia ourselves and to see the Torahs and to push forward for the deal that would bring the Torahs home. We had hopes. We had dreams. But nothing was certain.
“So, we went to Russia during the week of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Sure there are tensions between Russia and the West (especially the United States). But, Russia saved these Torahs and for that we should show them our respect and gratitude for opening discussions regarding the transfer of all these sacred religious objects — Torah Scrolls and items used in synagogues and Jewish communities — that were stolen by the Nazis and which have been preserved these past 70 years.”
Before Silver’s group left Russia, 10 Torahs were taken from the library in Nizhny Novgorod and were restored to the Chabad in that small town, while two of the Holocaust Torahs were transported all the way to Moscow to be placed in the Aron Kodesh (“Holy Ark”) in the Chabad of Moscow.
Silver said: “In my opinion, the discovery of these Torahs is the greatest discovery of stolen sacred Judaica in more than 70 years. Getting these Torahs back to Jewish hands is nothing short of a modern-day miracle. These Torahs have not been in an Aron Kodesh for more than 74 years and it is amazing and a blessing to have had a part in being able to return them.”
Commented Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, senior rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue: “Sibyl and her husband of blessed memory, Bob, have been working to redeem these Torah scrolls for a number of years and I feel honored and privileged that in the last few years they have included me in their efforts.
“Redeeming a captive is among the greatest and most noble mitzvahs (‘commandments’) in our tradition. These precious Torah scrolls were violently stolen from the Jewish community of Hungary and held ‘captive.’ Their return to our people and their restoration and return to use is a fantastic affirmation of the resiliency of Judaism and how Torah and its messages remain timeless and relevant.
“These Torahs are the story of the Jewish people themselves. Sometimes displaced and even worn out — but never gone. We look forward to participating in the celebration surrounding the return of these Torahs, and please God, many more.”
Silver would like to get more people in South Florida involved in her efforts to help get the Judaica and other communal assets stolen by the Nazis, which remain in other countries, returned to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.
For more information about this Torah restoration project, call 561-571-0622.