Thursday was a special evening for the Jewish community in Richmond, for more than one reason.
Not only was it the night before Simchat Torah — a holiday that celebrates the end of a year’s worth of reading the Torah Scroll and the start of reading it again — the Chabad of Richmond was in possession of a very significant artefact saved from one of the most traumatic events in modern Jewish history.
At the heart of Thursday’s festivities at Grauer elementary, with Holocaust survivors among the guests, was no ordinary Torah Scroll — it was one that survived Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) or “Night of the Broken Glass,” as it’s known in English.
During Kristallnacht, in Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, hundreds of Jews died while their homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers and burned others to the ground.
The name comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, homes and synagogues were smashed.
Only a very few scrolls from that night are thought to have survived and only one, as far as Chabad of Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman knows, has been restored and is touring the world.
“This year, we had the opportunity to read a very special Torah from Kristallnacht, which, about three years ago, was rededicated and restored,” Baitelman told the Richmond News, adding that his Blundell Road congregation had been working for several months on attaining the scroll for this important week on the Jewish calendar.
“We received it through the Jewish Learning Institute; we got it in the last couple of days and we will have it here for a week.”
Baitelman, who himself has relations connected to tragic events in Germany, said it was a “miracle” that any artefacts survived the Night of the Broken Glass.
And although being in possession of the Kristallnacht scroll is obviously “very exciting,” according to Baitelman, he explained that feelings among many, especially Holocaust survivors, will be “laced with bitter sweetness.”
“We will be trying to emphasize the sweet, rather than the bitter,” he said before Thursday’s celebrations.
“We do have some Holocaust survivors in the congregation and some of them have never spoken much of their experience. So, it will be a very emotional evening I’m sure.
“Two dozen survivors will be there (on Thursday) and there are some very strong feelings attached to this.
“But we’re also celebrating the Torah and the Jewish culture...there will be lots of dancing.”
Thursday evening’s celebration was open to all members of the Jewish community, as well as the congregation from the Chabad of Richmond.