Irish Torah gets new home in Northern Virginia

Steve and Karan Robinson hold the family Torah at its new home, Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon.
Steve and Karan Robinson hold the family Torah at its new home, Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon. (Photos courtesy of Congregation Beth Emeth)

For a century, the Robinson Family Torah has bounced from synagogue to synagogue and crossed oceans and continents. This month, the scroll found a new home at Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon.

Steve Robinson’s family Torah dates back to the 1890s and was first used by a congregation in Ireland. Most recently, it was housed by Robinson’s father’s synagogue in Massachusetts. Robinson said the Torah was rarely used, so his father decided to pass down and loan it to Robinson’s synagogue, Beth Emeth.

“Torahs are no use to anybody unless somebody reads them, right?” said Robinson, 63. ”The reason my father gave it to me to install at Beth Emeth was so that people would get more use out of it. As long as it’s with an active synagogue, [the Torah] is going to last a long time.”

“It’s always a wonderful thing when a family has done this mitzvah of acquiring a Torah scroll for their family use and then the use of the congregation,” said Rabbi Michelle Goldsmith, of Beth Emeth.

She described the Robinson Torah as “tall” and said it was significantly bigger than the congregation’s other Torah scrolls. Its size makes it easier to read, but also heavier. The shamrock symbol on the cover makes it stand out. So does the scroll’s history.

“Its journey from place to place over a long period of time is quite interesting,” Goldsmith said. “It’s like a window into the history of not only this particular family, but the Jewish journeys that people have made with families leaving Europe. So I think it’s very exciting.”

The scroll originally belonged to Robinson’s great-grandparents, Barnet and Hya Robinson. Their Torah scroll, which Robinson believes was written in Poland in the 1890s, was purchased for a synagogue in Ireland that the couple helped found.

Robinson Family Torah
Robinson Family Torah

In 1907, the Robinson family immigrated to Roxbury, Mass., and the scroll found a new home at what became known as the Crawford Street Shul. There it stayed for 56 years until the shul closed.

Robinson’s grandfather, Gustavious Robinson, then brought the Torah to Beth Israel Synagogue in Quincy, Mass. There the scroll remained for another 44 years, until that congregation closed in 2008. The scroll was then sent to the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., for safekeeping. In 2012, Robinson’s father, William Robinson, loaned the Torah to Anshei Chesed of Cape Cod in Hyannis, Mass.

Robinson said over the years the Orthodox synagogue’s membership had dwindled and was then primarily made up of what Robinson’s father calls “the ancient and honorable.” As the heavy scroll was used less and less by the increasingly elderly congregants, William Robinson decided it was time for the scroll to have a new home.

Steve Robinson, his father’s oldest, was, in a sense, next in line for the Torah. So it was passed down to him. In August, Robinson and his wife, Karan, drove to Massachusetts to bring the scroll to Beth Emeth. The congregation held a dedication ceremony on Jan. 23.

The Torah was read during services and Steve and William Robinson told the story of the scroll, according to Goldsmith.

The Robinson Torah is the second family-owned Torah on loan to Beth Emeth. The Cerny Torah was commissioned for use by a synagogue in Skokie, Ill. It was loaned to Beth Emeth in 2013. Beth Emeth is also home to the 90-year-old Etz Chayim Torah. The congregation purchased it from the Tree of Life Congregation in Uniontown, Pa., in 2014.

The congregation is also home to one of the Czech Holocaust (Zachor) Torah scrolls. During the Holocaust, it was one of many confiscated by the Nazis and housed at the Jewish Museum in Prague. In 1964, the museum sold 1,564 scrolls to the Westminster Synagogue in London, which has loaned them to Jewish organizations around the world. Beth Emeth dedicated its Czech Torah scroll in 1997.

As for Robinson’s Torah, he says it will remain at Beth Emeth for the foreseeable future.

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