A Torah rescued from a burning synagogue during the Holocaust has finally found a home with the Jewish campus community at Boston College. The arrival of the Torah marks the end of a journey that began with a Torah scribe in Krakow in 1919, and the beginning of Jewish worship on the Jesuit Boston College campus.
While the Jewish student population at Boston College has been small, the recent revival of the campus Hillel, the creation of a multi-faith worship center and the establishment of the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning are giving Jewish students a better opportunity to explore and celebrate their Jewishness. Now, with the gift of BC's first Torah scroll, the multi-faith worship center can fully function as a synagogue.
The Torah was donated by Yale Richmond, a 1943 Boston College graduate, who was one of four Jews in his graduating class. While Richmond was working as a diplomat at the United States Consulate in Warsaw in 1960, he was visited by a local priest who had saved a Torah scroll from a burning synagogue in 1939. After safeguarding the Torah for 20 years, the priest gave it to Richmond to provide it a proper home with the Jewish community in the United States.
Richmond held onto the Torah for another 42 years until his alma mater created the Center for Christian and Jewish Studies. The rescued Torah highlights the relationship between Christians and Jews, Richmond says. "A Catholic priest rescued it, and sheltered it for 20 years," he explains. "Boston College sheltered me for four years, and gave me the bachelor's degree that allowed me to set out on a 30-year career in the Foreign Service."
The Torah was welcomed to Boston College in a festive ceremony, complete with klezmer music. Speaking at the event, Brian Lerman, student president of Boston College's Hillel, said: "There is no better time than right now for such an incredible gift for BC Hillel. Thanks to increased resources from Hillel, Jewish student life is undergoing great change. Hillel is more than a club -- It is a center for Jewish campus life. Jewish students more and more can call Boston College Hillel a Jewish home away from home, and the center for Jewish life at BC."
Last year, the Boston College Dean of Student Development gave Hillel the "Ever to Excel" award in recognition of its tremendous growth.