Kol Katan gifts Holocaust Torah to Central Reform

From left, Sam Weigley, Arthur Litz, Sylvan Robinson, and Rabbi Susan Talve take part in a ceremony May 19 at Central Reform Congregation finalizing the gifting of a Holocaust Torah to CRC from Kol Katan, a longtime St. Louis chavurah/congregation. Robinson and Litz were past presidents and longtime members  of Kol Katan. For more photos from the ceremony, visit stljewishlight.com/multimedia.Photo: Andrew Kerman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief

Central Reform Congregation, which since 2001 has lovingly used a leased Torah scroll that was among more than 1,500 such scrolls to survive the Holocaust, has just received that scroll as a gift from Kol Katan. The chavurah/congregation flourished in St. Louis during the late 1960s and 1970s. 

“We have used this survivor of great tragedy for every bar and bat mitzvah, wedding and Simchat Torah at CRC,” said Rabbi Susan Talve, spiritual leader of CRC.  

Kol Katan, which means “Small Voice” was a “synagogue without walls, brick and mortar,” bringing together some high-powered local intellectuals. Members would gather not only to observe Jewish holidays and other occasions but also to discuss important issues and topics at the time. 

Kol Katan even boasted that it was the first local “synagogue” to elect a woman president — the late Merle Goldstein, who was a member with her late husband, Milton Goldstein. In addition, other active members included the late Jerry Sandweiss and the late Jerome Seidel along with Bob Diamond and Sylvan Robinson.

Kol Katan came into possession of the Holocaust surviving Torah scroll, which was able to be repaired for ritual usage.  The scroll was from the Holosov Synagogue, and was among some 1,564 Torah scrolls which had been damaged, desecrated and confiscated by the Nazis during World War II in the Nazi-occupied regions of Bohemia and Moravia. 

The scrolls were liberated by the Allies from a warehouse the Nazis had used to store them.  The scrolls were later shipped to the Westminster Synagogue in Rutland Gardens in London, England.  They had been largely forgotten when they were re-discovered in 1964, in boxes in the basement of the Westminster Synagogue.  CRC has a framed copy of a letter authenticating that the scroll was from the Holosov Synagogue in Prague.  Kol Katan was one of several American synagogues that took custody of the Torah Scrolls after their discovery.  The Holosov Synagogue in Prague was the original owner of the scroll; the synagogue has ceased to function, but Kol Katan and CRC have promised to return the scroll if the Holosov Synagogue is re-dedicated.

Robinson, who currently lives at The Gatesworth, said the Holosov synagogue scroll sent to Kol Katan was among those that had been sufficiently repaired to be fit for use in worship service.

As the membership of Kol Katan began to shrink, congregation leaders Robinson, Diamond and Judge Arthur Litz (the latter of whom was the last elected president of Kol Katan) decided to lease the Torah scroll to CRC, starting in 2001, because it shared similar values to that of Kol Katan, according to Robinson. Kol Katan would borrow back the Torah for use during the High Holidays. Prior to its transfer to CRC, the Torah scroll had been kept in the home of one of its members. 

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Later it was decided to make the scroll a direct gift to CRC with the earlier stipulation that if the Holosov Synagogue is ever re-dedicated and asked for the scroll, it would be returned to Prague. An official letter documents the authenticity of the Prague scroll as being scroll number 1,558 of the total number of 1,564 Torah scrolls in the entire lot.

Robinson contacted Nancy Weigley,  executive director of CRC, and a ceremony of transfer was set up for last Friday, at which Robinson, Diamond and Litz presented the scroll to Weigley, Talve and Scott Levine, CRC president. He signed the official legal document, which reiterates “the express condition that in the event the (Holosov) Synagogue is ever re-established as a viable synagogue, (CRC) will be obligated to return it to the re-established synagogue.”  


Contact Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Robert A. Cohn at 314-743-3667 or [email protected]