Davening at Yavneh Academy on the morning of Yom HaShoah took on a very special meaning this year. Against the background of the horrific terrorist attack a few days earlier on the last day of Pesach in Poway, California, which the heroic Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein referred to as the re-enactment of “Vehi She’amda” from the Haggadah, new life was infused into the aron kodesh at the school. Through a meaningful and magnanimous gesture by Rabbi Dr. Sam Frankel, as he is about to retire from nearly 30 years at Yavneh, he and his wife, Sharon, restored two sifrei Torah that had been dormant for 70-80 years. The sifrei Torah were adorned with elegant mantles dedicated to past and future generations, and added to the two sifrei Torah currently read from at Yavneh.
The story began in 1997, when Rabbi Eugene Kwalwasser, then-principal of Yavneh Academy, entrusted the then-social worker Sam Frankel with teaching limudei kodesh at the school. Several years later, Frankel was assigned the oversight of the beit midrash where he led the students in their daily davening. Over the years, Frankel was puzzled by the presence of two sifrei Torah at the back of the aron kodesh that were never used. He learned that they had been donated to the school by a congregation in Paterson that had closed down, but were not fit for use as they were pasul, not kosher. As he approached his retirement date, Frankel, in consultation with his wife, decided to have these sifrei Torah restored so they could be used at Yavneh on Rosh Chodesh and fast days, rotated with the other two sifrei Torah, and even lent out to local shuls for Simchat Torah. Mrs. Frankel lent her artistic bent to the project by searching for two lovely mantles with which to adorn the sifrei Torah. The mantles, which she commissioned from Israel, bear colorful and artistic representations of the 12 tribes. The Frankels then decided to embroider the mantles with dedications. One would be dedicated to the memory of their parents, Milton and Dorothy Lapidus and Anita and Alexander Frankel. The second would be dedicated to their children and grandchildren. Thus the sifrei Torah would represent the legacy of the past and the hope for the future.
As the sofer, Rabbi Brunner, checked the sifrei Torah through computer scanning as well as the human lens, he discovered the roots of the Torahs. The larger of the two was written in Russia approximately 125 years ago. It traveled through Europe, surviving two world wars, and arrived in Paterson where it was put aside as it was pasul and eventually donated to Yavneh. The second Torah was written in Iraq in 1939, making it approximately 85 years old. It survived the Holocaust and was sent to Paterson as well where it lay dormant and eventually was also donated to Yavneh. Despite its Sephardic origins, the Iraqi sefer Torah was written on poles.
Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, principal of Yavneh Academy, in planning the dedication, realized that hosting the event on Yom HaShoah would be a loud and emphatic defiance of the intent of the Holocaust to wipe out the Torah legacy of the Jewish people. In concretizing this concept for the middle school students, Rabbi Knapp had the Torahs, held aloft by Dr. Frankel and Joel Kirschner, executive director of Yavneh, carried to the sefer Torah housed in a glass case in the hallway of the school that survived the Holocaust and is revealed once a year on Yom HaShoah. The students marched behind the sifrei Torah and were noticeably moved by the reunification of the three sifrei Torah. The melodious and heartfelt renditions by the students and faculty of “Seu Shearim,” followed by “Acheinu Kol Beis Yisrael,” and the aforementioned and highly relevant “Ve’hi She’amda” created a serious yet celebratory spirit.
Rabbi Dr. Frankel expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the three “Ks” who facilitated this highlight in his life. He thanked Rabbi Kwalwasser for believing in him, Joel Kirschner for enabling the restorations and Rabbi Knapp for implementing the ceremony on Yom HaShoah. He is honored to know that he and his wife will be leaving a legacy to Yavneh that will ensure the continuation of our heritage through the study of Torah and its daily inclusion into the lives of the students.
By Pearl Markovitz