Tuesday, July 14, 2020

“Hope” is what Gitty Kotlar took from the rescue and repair of the Holocaust-era Torah by survivors and philanthropists Cecile and Edward Mosberg, in memory of Harry, Judith, Sidney and Biana Wilf.

The dedication of the Holocaust-era Sefer Torah was before a packed crowd on October 13. The Torah was initially welcomed at the Bruriah High School for Girls, a division of the Jewish Educational Center.

Bruriah Principal Rabbi Joseph Oratz, emphasizing the words “write” and “right,” explained the last mitzvah Hashem gave to Moshe Rabbeinu was to “write” a Sefer Torah. “You have fulfilled the mitzvah if you help in any way. Every Jew is like Moshe Rabbeinu.” Announcing the celebration of a new member of the JEC, Oratz introduced the Torah that “has been ‘righted’; taken out of being lost and saved from the clutches of Eastern Europe.”

Kotlar, a senior at Bruriah, declared, “Seeing the Torah salvaged from the ruins of destruction was emotional and incredible… something you never thought you would have again, gives much ‘hope’ in this day with so much happening in the world.”

Twelfth grade teacher Peshi Neuburger emphasized, “It brings to life ‘We have not forgotten Your Name,’ and is a grand moment for the Jewish people. To lose everyone…dedicate their lives to preserving the Torah…[the Mosbergs are] great people.”

At the main JEC campus, other Torahs were brought out to greet the new one. The courtyard quickly filled with hundreds of Jewish children of all ages. Loud music from the Torah party truck prompted singing, freiliche dancing, and waving of flags.

Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, joining in the festivities, declared, “The dedication of a new Torah here in Elizabeth is always a great cause for celebration. It shows the religious freedom our country was built on.” With that, he smiled as he was pulled off by a crowd of boys to dance with the Torahs.

Ron B. Meier, PhD, Executive Director, American Society for Yad Vashem, understood, “What Ed Mosberg is accomplishing by reclaiming and restoring Torahs is the ultimate refutation of the Nazis. These kids are ultimate proof that the Jewish people live and flourish.” He credited the Wilf family, honored with the dedication of the sefer Torah, “for having done an incalculable amount to make that happen.”

After close to an hour of outdoor celebrating, as the Torahs were danced in under the chuppah, the joy in the room was palpable. Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, having attended a number of Mosberg dedications, remarked, “This was far and beyond the most exuberant.”

The life-size screen streaming the event was above the Aron Kodesh, hauntingly flanked by Holocaust jackets, as Mosberg and Rav Teitz placed the rescued and restored Torah in its new home.

In welcoming remarks Andrew Schultz, Director of Institutional Advancement, reflected that Simchat Torah teaches, “Who we are, where we come from and what will keep us an eternal people.” With that, he thanked the Mosbergs for their immeasurable contribution to the community, calling upon Ed Mosberg, “The man who made today possible…”

Emotionally, Mosberg declared that Harry Wilf took him into his business, where he learned to be a successful builder. Mosberg proclaimed, “As long as I live, I will never forget you, Harry.” Profoundly, Mosberg went on, “When the last survivor passes away, the JEC will still be able to say, ‘We have a survivor.’”

A video of his life’s mission then started streaming. Mosberg, shown wearing a Holocaust uniform, was carrying a Holocaust-era Torah. One of his three daughters, Caroline Karger, spoke about how hard it must have been for her father to make the March of the Living, “It shows he is a survivor and a fighter.”

Returning to the stage, Mosberg questioned, “How did I survive? I don’t know—just lucky,” and strongly encouraged everyone to make a March of the Living.

Born in 1926 in Poland, Mosberg was 13 when the war started. Sixty members of his family were murdered; his mother was in the first selection. Remarking that she was religious, he poignantly stated, “She would be proud of what [I’m] doing…”

While his wife survived Auschwitz, her brother and mother were murdered in 1944. He survived a few camps until 1945, when he was liberated. Mosberg took it as a sign—he was kept alive to tell the story.

“In another few years there will be no more survivors,” Mosberg impressed upon the attentive audience. “For the rest of my days my obligation and duty is to tell about the atrocities that were committed to my family and the Jews.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, associate head of school, applauded Mosberg. “Seventy-five years ago when my grandfather founded the yeshiva,” he noted, “the entire school would have fit in the first row, with one teacher and 14 students.” Smiling at the number of students filling the room, he remarked, “Moshe Rabbeinu tells the Jewish people before he dies that Hashem should increase you a thousand times over.”

Presenting Mosberg with an etched tablet, Teitz said, “The donation of the Sefer Torah is affirmation of everything Ed Mosberg believed during his suffering; the Torah keeps us in our darkest of times. You, the students, are the future of the Jewish people and the future leaders of the Jewish People. This Torah will be taken out every time Torah is read here so students can be reminded of what kept us strong.”

Taking to the stage, Rav Teitz announced, “In 1941, I was one of the students in the first row. Aside from my father’s vision, those who enable his plans today… that Torah not only be read and learned…but lived—that was his vision…Thanks to ‘Mr. 85454’—Ed Mosberg…who can now have a name.”

Turning his focus on Harry and his presence on the JEC board, Teitz reported, “He sat at meetings and said nothing.” After all the discussion, he would add, “It seems to me…” Teitz smiled, “What he said next is what passed the board. Never dictatorial, it was so obvious he was right.” Adding, “It is most fitting that the Torah contributed is in Wilf’s memory—our true revenge to a group that sought to annihilate us.” Before introducing Mark Wilf, Teitz said, “It is one thing to give and one thing to give with pleasure—the Wilfs always gave with pleasure.”

“Beautiful, beautiful day,” declared Mark Wilf as he thanked Ed and the entire Mosberg family. “As difficult as what you do—speaking about the Holocaust—is, what you do donating Torahs ensures the Jewish future.” Wilf stated his family, all survivors privileged to be in this country, taught: (1) never forget to remember what happened, (2) at the same time look forward, and that’s Torah.

Noting that they all went to the JEC, Wilf thanked Rav Teitz for Torah learning and what the school does. Schultz then took to the podium to thank the Wilf and Mosberg families once more “for making the magic happen here today.”

At the luncheon that followed, Steven Singfer, president, Board of Trustees, whose own mother was a survivor, and father a member of the Kindertransport, stated he was impressed on multiple levels. As an alumnus with close ties to the yeshiva, “to see the kids celebrate the dedication of the Sefer Torah…that level of joy, yet, listening to Ed’s gut-wrenching story…it was a very emotional day.”

Ezra Wisotsky, president of the Student Government Organization, expressed feeling a lot of happiness because “the Torah brings all Jews together …we can bounce back from things like the Holocaust. At these times there is nothing more important than being united and realizing what the Holocaust and Torah does.”

After the event, Armin Sommer, senior pastor at Grace Church on the Mount, wrote to his congregants that he had “never seen anything like this…not even when I’ve traveled to Israel. I was a guest at the Jewish Education Center in Elizabeth…While I was there the “Torah Truck” rolled into the parking area. It carried a Torah (elaborately adorned scroll of the Hebrew scriptures) that Edward Mosberg (93), a Holocaust survivor, was donating to the school and synagogue. Mr. Mosberg “rescues” Torah scrolls that the Nazis seized during the Holocaust. He pays exorbitant prices for them, restores and then donates them. One of the most impressive aspects of my visit was the obvious devotion that was exuberantly displayed toward the scriptures. Hundreds of people sang and danced around it for over an hour before everyone flowed into the synagogue. The speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of Torah in Jewish life. I was impressed.”

Outside after the event, Mosberg reiterated, “This is my duty and obligation as long as I live.”

By Sharon Mark Cohen