For two years, “Uncle John” Edelnand, a Holocaust survivor from Luton, England, dreamed about dedicating a Torah in memory of his parents. Days before its completion, he passed away, and the Torah was dedicated to his memory as well.
By Yehudis Bryski (nee Schwei)
I was a big eyed seven year old, standing at the bottom of the winding staircase in what seemed a mansion. It was an old house. A quiet house. But there was a special warmth. It was the warmth of an old man who had a sublime treasure in his heart, with a wide window for those around. His smile hid a life story like no other. “I remember finding the chometz with the spoon and feather as a child,” I heard him say to my father, with such pride.
That pride was visible again when he sat at our Friday night Shabbos table. From the moment he walked in, he was radiant with the energy of a twenty year old.
The way he watched my father recite kiddush looked like a son watching his father, as though he was reminiscing childhood memories. Conversations flowed comfortably and freely with Uncle John around and even when he described his challenging experiences coming to England with the Kindertransport, he always had a positive twinkle in his eye or comment to go with it.
It was fun to listen to his stories about his teacher Rabbiner Dr. Schlesinger, about whom he spoke with such awe as well as the pranks he remembered doing in class! Often he would recite verses from the Torah and quotes from the Mishnah that were etched in his memory from what he had learned eighty years before. He used to chant frequently the opening verses of his Bar Mitzva Parsha. To watch him sing “Oifen pripitchik” and other Yiddish songs with my father could easily bring one to tears.
A watchmaker and jeweler by profession, Uncle John noticed and complimented us on the jewelry we wore, stating his opinion that jewelry must always shine. I guess that’s a good way to sum up such an awesome man. He didn’t just live life, he made his and others’ lives shine. When he sat in shul, there was a warm ambiance around him. When he spoke about his childhood memories of Yiddishkeit, his eyes shone. He enjoyed my mother’s cooking, gave warm compliments, and always left us feeling uplifted.
The past two years, the excitement was tangible about a new project he wanted to do: donate a Sefer Torah in honor of his parents and sister who perished in the Holocaust. It was his passion and dream.
A date was set for the Hachnosas Sefer Torah in June 2020. However, owing to Covid, these plans came to a pause. Just as it seemed possible to plan it again and a new date was set for Lag B’omer 2021, Uncle John, passed away on the Shabbos before Lag B’Omer.
The completion of the Sefer Torah was postponed for several days – as Lag B’Omer was still during the week of his shiva- and then the Sefer Torah was completed by Rabbi Ahron Tiefenbrun on 22nd Iyar – 4th May 2021 in the merit of Uncle John – Shneur Zalman ben Yisrael a”h.
Although he did not see the completed Sefer Torah physically, Uncle John’s dream became a reality.
This was made possible by the persistent efforts of Rabbi Yossi and Rivkah Schwei and the Luton Jewish community, in particular Harvey Podgorney and Philip Kaye.
The Luton community is thrilled to be able to hear the reading of the Aseres Hadibros on Shavuos with a beautiful brand new Sefer Torah.
Shneur Zalman ben Yisrael is certainly proud.
John Salli Edelnand (Shneur Zalman ben Yisrael) was born in Halberstadt Germany on 5th December 1924 where he lived an active Jewish life with his parents Israel and Irene (nee Mischkowski) and sister Ida. He went alone on the Kindertransport at the age of fourteen to London England in the summer of 1939, a few days before the German attack on Poland. His mother gave him a bar of soap and his father gave him cutlery, crockery and a silver watch that he had made himself. Tragically, Israel, Irene, and Ida did not manage to escape from Germany. On 12th April 1942, they were deported from Halberstadt to the Warsaw Ghetto via Magdeburg. There their traces are lost.
John trained as a watchmaker and settled in Luton UK where he built a watch and jewellery business which he ran successfully for decades.
He passed away in Luton at the age of ninety six on 24th April 2021, shortly before his Sefer Torah was completed.