The Fuerstenau/Hamburger/Kodmur Torah had a fascinating and extensive journey before making its way to a special display case at AlmaVia of San Rafael. Here’s the story:
This Torah, this sacred scroll, was possibly written by a scribe in Germany in the mid-1800s. It was entrusted to a small congregation in the town of Fuerstenau, a quaint village in the countryside of northern Germany. There were 56 Jews living in the area in 1846 and 22 in 1936. The Jewish community was so small that it didn’t have a synagogue. Mr. David Hamburger was the leader and president of the Jewish community and Jewish families would come to worship in his home.
In 1938 during the Nazi roundup of Jews, the infamous Kristallnacht, David was hidden in the local Catholic hospital. Eventually, he fled Germany with the Torah, avoiding certain death, and took a train to the Netherlands where his daughter lived. Dutch farmers hid him in the Dutch underground, where he moved from one farm to another.
At one point, he was hidden in the home of a Catholic priest for 18 months. Hamburger’s daughter and family were all captured by the Nazis in Holland and perished in Auschwitz. After the war ended, Hamburger stayed in Holland and, sadly, was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1958 at the age of 75.
After his death, Hamburger’s son, Siegfried, who was living in San Francisco, brought the Torah to the Bay Area. When Siegfried died, his son, Steven, gave the Torah to Rabbi Jerry Winston and his small congregation in San Anselmo. Before Rabbi Winston died, he entrusted the Torah to the care of his friend, Rabbi Alan Levinson in Sausalito.
The Kodmur family, descendants of David Hamburger, tracked down this very special Torah they called “the lost Torah” and asked to borrow it for their daughter Charlotte’s bat mitzvah in 2013. Rabbi Levinson realized it would be an incredible closing of a circle if the Torah was returned to the family that saved it. Charlotte was studying for her bat mitzvah with Rabbi Jerry Levy, who leads the Jewish congregation at AlmaVia of San Rafael. Charlotte completed her bat mitzvah in 2013, and the Torah now resides in a special display case at our community in San Rafael.
To quote Rabbi Levy, “Every time a sacred scroll is saved, preserved and passed down, not only from community to community, but also from teacher to student, from father to son, all of those things represent the strength of Judaism.”