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The Ark Of History

The Ark Of History

Every year for the past quarter-century, Rick Landman has held the same Torah scroll during the hakafot dancing on Simchat Torah at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Greenwich Village. The sefer Torah belongs to him.
The 200-year old holy parchment, wrapped around 40-year-old wooden Etz Chaim rollers, was a gift from his maternal grandfather, a Holocaust refugee from Germany who serendipitously received the scroll during a visit to his homeland in 1946. Landman, who was given the Torah as a young man, first loaned it to the Bellerose Jewish Center in Queens and later moved it to Beth Simchat Torah, where he served as a board member.
Last week, on Kristallnacht, he held the sefer Torah here for the last time. During a ceremony at the synagogue, he handed his prized possession to Adrian Michael Schell, a representative of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Reform worship group in Munich to which Landman has given the scroll through the World Union of Progressive Judaism.
Beth Shalom, which meets in a rented space 15 minutes from where Landman’s paternal grandparents had lived before World War II, will use the gift for the first time this weekend, Parshat VaYetze.
“For me, this is the bashert tying together of all the aspects of my life,” says Landman, 53, a Tribeca resident who heads New York University’s real estate department.
Sent in time for Chanukah, the scroll “is a gift to all those new Jews in Germany” — mostly émigrés from the former Soviet Union — “who are rededicating themselves to Reform Judaism,” Landman says.
Chanukah means “dedication” in Hebrew.
Landman read about the new Munich congregation earlier this year in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency story. “They had no Torah. They needed it.”
“They,” he says, referring to Beth Simchat Torah, “have four Torahs.”
Landman decided to donate the scroll to honor his grandfather who “rescued” it after the war. In 1946 Landman’s grandfather, Martin Oettinger, was walking on a German street when somebody came up to him and handed him the Torah. “People recognized him as one of the few Jews they knew,” Landman says. A non-Jew, in whose safekeeping the sefer Torah had been during the Holocaust, knew where it belonged.
In all, only three family sifrei Torah turned up in Germany after the war.
Landman promised his grandfather he would take care of the gift and recently had it inspected and repaired by a Torah scribe. “My grandfather would be happy to know that Jews are living in Germany again.”
Landman couldn’t make it to Germany this week. He’ll probably go next year. “They want me to come over for Shavuot, for a ceremony,” he says. He’ll get to hold his Torah scroll again. “I’m sure,” he says, “they’ll give me some sort of aliyah.”

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