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Tiny Torah is man's big gift

September 30, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - A Torah scroll probably made about 175 years ago in Eastern Europe has found a permanent home at a Hagerstown temple.

Steve Warner of Shepherdstown, W.Va., donated it to Congregation B'nai Abraham in memory of his son, who died in a car crash three years ago.

Rabbi Fred Raskind said a Torah - a sacred text of Judaism's history and law - is rare and expensive - about $20,000 to $40,000 new, about $15,000 used. Torahs are handwritten, which might take a year.

Warner's Torah is more unusual; it's less than half the size of a typical scroll. The parchment is just 10 inches high.

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Congregation B'nai Abraham - which has three full-size Torahs - will use the small one for children's services and special occasions.

"Every Torah scroll has a story to tell," Raskind said during a recent service when the temple thanked Warner for his donation.

Warner, who is not Jewish, said he found the Torah as a teenager while working for a property manager in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.

The woman wanted him to get rid of items that tenants left behind. Warner knew what the Torah was, and received permission to keep it.

The Torah's story starts many decades earlier.

A rabbi well-versed in historic Torahs believes it's about 175 years old and from Eastern Europe's Carpathian Mountains.

The rabbi, Menachem Youlos, an owner of a shop in Wheaton, Md., wrote in an appraisal letter that corrections to the scroll likely were made around Hungary.

His letter says the rolls and Torah cover appear original, but the condition of the parchment is "particularly poor," and the scribe's handwriting is "not great."

Raskind said Orthodox Jews, who are strict adherents, might see the Torah as not kosher - perfect in accuracy, clarity and legibility - and therefore unusable.

But, for Congregation B'nai Abraham, which is of the more liberal Reform movement, "it was a real blessing," Raskind said.

Warner brought the Torah with him whenever he moved over the years.

After he tried for a few years to sell it or donate it to a museum, a friend suggested Congregation B'nai Abraham.

Warner, the president of a marketing business in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he liked that it would have "a home where it could be used and could be in honor of my son."

In May 2003, his son, Daniel, died in a car accident. He was 24.

Daniel and Warner's other son, Christopher, who is 23, were raised Jewish. Their mother, Warner's first wife, is Jewish.

The Torah's history before it reached Warner might remain a mystery.

He said a clue was political memorabilia stored with it in Georgetown. Some items indicated a connection to G. Mennen Williams, Michigan's governor from 1949 to 1960 and a descendant of the founder of the Mennen line of shaving products.

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