Image: Save a Torah website. Credit: Saveatorah.org
Perhaps you remember James Barron’s April 30, 2008, feature in the New York Times about Rabbi Menachem Youlus of Save a Torah, who traveled the world, often at great expense and tremendous risk, to rescue Torahs. It’s a powerful account on an evocative subject:
The back story of how a Torah got from the fetid barracks of Auschwitz to the ark of the Central Synagogue at Lexington Avenue and 55th Street is one the pastor of the Lutheran church down the street sums up as simply “miraculous.”
It is the story of a sexton in the synagogue in the Polish city of Oswiecim who buried most of the sacred scroll before the Germans stormed in and later renamed the city Auschwitz. It is the story of Jewish prisoners who sneaked the rest of it — four carefully chosen panels — into the concentration camp.
It is the story of a Polish Catholic priest to whom they entrusted the four panels before their deaths. It is the story of a Maryland rabbi who went looking for it with a metal detector. And it is the story of how a hunch by the rabbi’s 13-year-old son helped lead him to it.
Does it sound too good to be true? Actually, it was.
Youlus, who called himself “the Jewish Indiana Jones,” was a complete fraud, according to federal prosecutors.
Questions about Youlus’ accounts were first raised by Martha Wexler and Jeff Lunden last year in the Washington Post.
The stories Youlus has told over the years resonate so powerfully because they meld this centerpiece of the Jewish religion with the cataclysm of the Holocaust, providing a reassuring sense of continuity and hope. As survivors, Youlus’s Torahs are brought out for Holocaust Remembrance Day, they’re used to teach lessons in religious schools, and for many people, such as Robert Kushner, they have become part of a deeply personal family narrative. Youlus says in a video on the Save a Torah Web site: “Every single Torah that I rescued has a story.”
The L.A. Daily Mirror and L.A. Crime Beat lovingly fashioned from Twitter feeds using Old World algorithms by the bots at paper.li. [Jada and Marc did NOT hook up, according to TMZ. I feel so much better now.]