Early on the morning of Sunday, April 15, children from the Sunday school at Beth Chaverim in Ashburn were bent over five Torahs, studying not the words written on the parchment, but searching deeper for signs of history.
On the Sephardic Torah, used by Jews from Spain, Portugal and Africa, burn marks could still be seen along the top of the parchment, where it had been lit on fire and then rescued. The smell of smoke was still noticeable when the children leaned in closely.
"All five Torahs are survivors of the Holocaust and really serve as a map of the changing boundaries of Judaism," Sue Brady, vice president of education for Beth Chaverim, said.
Each of the five Torahs, all dating back more than 100 years and spanning locations from Poland, to Germany to Czechoslovakia, survived the Holocaust, the methodical killing of millions of Jews and others by the Nazis leading up to and throughout World War II.
The Torahs were brought to Beth Chaverim's Sunday school by Darrin Kafka as part of the synagogue's commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Kafka, the son of a Holocaust survivor, told the students the story of how his father, grandparents and an aunt and uncle, woke up to find their names listed on the front page of a German newspaper as no longer being German citizens.
"My father came to America at the age of 15, finished high school and fought in World War II on the side of the Americans," he said.
FOR THE PAST five years, Kafka has worked to locate and facilitate the restoration of Holocaust-era Torahs, so that they can be passed on to congregations around the world.
"When people found out that I had Holocaust-survival Torahs, many people wanted to buy them," Kafka told the students. "The Torah is still the heart of the Jewish people."
Kafka's main goal is to find a synagogue where the restored Torahs will be used actively and become a part of modern Jewish congregations.
"I am not really interested in putting any part of Jewish history behind glass walls," he said. "This is a way to bring their Torahs back alive and back in use."
Kafka said it is often easy to discover if a Torah survived the Holocaust because many bear strong crease lines, where they were folded and smuggled out of villages.
"Folding the Torah was a good way to shove it into a jacket and hide it," he said.
BRINGING KAFKA and the restored Holocaust Torahs to the Sunday school, Brady said, was a simple way to help the children learn about an important aspect of Jewish history.
"The Holocaust is too grand a concept for many of the very young children to understand," she said. "But it is something that the Jewish people will never forget. We want to make sure all children have it as some part of their religious education because it is so defining of who we are today."
Congregants and leaders from both the Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation and Congregation Sha'are Shalom in Leesburg put together a series of activities and events to honor those who died in the Holocaust and preserve their history.
"This is the first time that our two congregations are coming together for something like this," Renee Gupp, president of Beth Chaverim, said. "But we are stronger together. This is the type of event where we felt we should come together. It is greater than any one congregation alone."
AT SHA'ARE SHALOM Sunday afternoon, volunteers read the names of Holocaust victims in 10-minute intervals during "Six Hours for Six Million." The names were retrieved from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Lorraine Davis, president of Sha'are Shalom, said. Taken from a Biblical verse, Yad Vashem means "a memorial and a name."
"It's a remembrance day because in the Jewish tradition, it's a very strong part of the tradition to remember those departed," Davis said. "It is only a natural thing that there should be a remembrance day for the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust."
Davis said a majority of the names that were read came from people and families from Poland, where her ancestors who perished in the Holocaust were from, and from Hungary, where speaker Eva Shankman is from.
Shankman, who lives in Maryland, is the mother of Sha'are Shalom member and Leesburg resident, Rob Shankman. Eva Shankman wanted to speak to share her story of what it was like to live during the Holocaust, Davis said.
IN ADDITION TO remembering the Holocaust and honoring those who died, leaders at Sha'are Shalom and Beth Chaverim also wanted to shed light on the genocide that is occurring today in Darfur.
"We also want to tie it into the current-day Holocaust," Davis said.
Davis said Samam Emami, from Freedom High School's LEO club, would speak about her club's planned march to raise money to send to Darfur.
"Our motto is 'Never Again' and this is to try and make the world aware of what is still going on," she said.
Gupp said it is important for people to realize that while this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust, that the actions of genocide today must be addressed.
"To make it part of our remembrance shows that it's not over," she said.
"Unfortunately, hatred is not limited to one people," Davis said.