In 1970, the leaders of HAD prevailed on the Hebrew Union College, in Cincinnati, to send a student rabbi to lead its members in participation in Jewish life. Douglas Goldhamer answered the call. Deaf Jews have historically been excluded from participation in the commandments of the Jewish community. In response, the Hebrew Association of the Deaf (HAD) was founded to meet the social and religious needs of Deaf Jews in Chicagoland. In 1972, the newly-ordained Rabbi Doctor Goldhamer, along with the members of HAD, founded Congregation Bene Shalom (CBS)—the first, and to this day, only full service synagogue serving the Deaf Jewish community in the United States. At the time, the congregation had 12 families and $125.00 in the bank. The temple moved into its own home in 1975. Since then, the temple has expanded—in the size of its building and its financial resources. The synagogue has been blessed with the Charles Pick Children’s Library, Kathryn Herskovits Resource Center, Nathan Cummings Sanctuary, Morris and Mollie Tannebaum Bima, Brian Glassenberg Food Pantry, and the Jack Levin Communications Center, helping to emphasize the temple’s place as a spiritual and social resource. The temple’s membership has also greatly expanded. The congregation’s growth has been among hearing as well as Deaf families, who, upon visiting the temple and experiencing the welcoming, friendly, intimate, and spiritual atmosphere, have chosen to become part of the CBS/HAD community.
On behalf of the Memorial Scrolls Trust with regard to Sefer Torah MST#118 from Bzenec, lent to Congregation Bene Shalom of the Deaf in 1973, thank you for your 44 years of loving care for this precious legacy of the lost Jews of Bohemia & Moravia.
Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chairman of MST:
Our long-term project is for the MST, in addition to caring for the Torah Scrolls, to become an intra and interfaith organization. The Torah is the one thing that binds all Jews together, regardless of their denomination. Torah is also the Old Testament of Christianity and the Al Tawrat of Islam. It would be wonderful if in some small way the MST could help people realize what they have in common rather than what divides them!
To start the project we hope to link over 1000 Torah Scroll holders to the MST and each other via our website: http://tbelancaster.org/welcome/holocaust-torah/
Cass Friedberg, member of Congregation Bene Shalom:
Over a thousand Torahs from various communities in Czechoslovakia were rescued from the Holocaust. The Torahs had been abandoned, and were discovered in a damp basement in Prague, in the early 1960’s. Someone from England brought them to the Westminster Synagogue in London. The Torahs were then examined carefully. Some could not be repaired.
The few Torahs that were salvageable went on to be identified by their respective communities of origin. The Czech Torahs were then distributed to synagogues all over the world.
Our congregation is fortunate to have one of these Torahs, and its origin is known: the small Czech town of Bzenec, about two hundred miles southeast of Prague. Bene Shalom received our Czech Torah in the early 1970’s, not long after the founding of our congregation.
The Jewish community had been in Bzenec for several hundred years. It was never a large Jewish community, numbering a few hundred individuals at its peak. There were fewer than 150 Jews in Bzenec at the time of the Holocaust. To the best of our knowledge, all died in concentration camps. We have a list of those who perished; we encourage everyone to remember them in our thoughts and prayers.