Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is a proud caretaker of a Torah from the Memorial Scrolls Trust. Our “Czech Torah” (Scroll #790), which came to Ramah in 1971 and remains on permanent loan, is read every summer by members of the camp community. The Torah is regularly repaired by a Sofer, and this work is funded in part by campers making contributions in honor of their Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
The Scroll’s History
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is privileged to have one of the 1,564 Czech memorial scrolls which were taken from synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia by the Nazis during World War II. The Scrolls and other ritual objects were stored in a museum in Prague until twenty years after the war when a London philanthropist arranged through an art dealer to have the scrolls transferred to the Westminster synagogue. The scrolls were then numbered, examined, repaired and given to Jewish communities around the world.
Camp Ramah received scroll number 790 in 1971, the 25th anniversary year of camp. It has a Hebrew inscription on the bottom of the right aitz haim which reads: “This Sefer Torah belongs to the noble and devoted man, our teacher Rav Kolynomtus Eleazar Knobel, may he live (a long time) and his wife, the modest and devoted Sprintza, may she live. And they gave their money and wealth to repair and retrace this Sefer Torah.”
A Meaningful Celebration
Like many of his camp friends, Alex Schapiro celebrated his Bar Mitzvah when he turned 13. Unlike his friends, his Bar Mitzvah took place in Prague, in the same synagogue that Alex’s grandmother attended as a child.
Alex is the son of Tamar Newberger and Andy Schapiro, then the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Alex is a third generation Ramah camper – his mother Tamar and his grandfather Michael Newberger were both campers and staff members at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
The celebration was meaningful for the whole family on many levels. “To be back here not just as a Jewish family but also in the role of representing the United States, the country that gave my mother refuge and saved her life, surrounded by many members of both of our families, that was unforgettable,” Andy told the JTA in August. His Prague-born mother, Raya Czerner Schapiro, was 5 when Nazis occupied Prague. In 1939 she left Prague with her sister to join her parents, who were already in the United States.
Prior to his Bar Mitzvah, Alex practiced at camp using a very special Torah on permanent loan to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Part of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, the 150 year-old Torah was found in an abandoned synagogue in Vlasim, near Prague, and over 40 years ago found a new home in our vibrant camp community. Our campers read from the Torah three times a week throughout the summer. Alex’s tutor, Jon Adam Ross, said that he and Alex discussed the Torah’s provenance and “how we are informed by stories not only of time but also of place.”
Many of Alex’s camp friends joined him in Prague for the Bar Mitzvah. Jon was there too and reflected, “It was inspiring and emotional to see the shadows of history eclipsed by the simchas of the present.”