Over four hundred community members recently celebrated a Siyum Sefer Torah at the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in Melbourne. The Torah was written in memory of the late Mr. and Mrs. Dovid and Ida Perlow, and dedicated by their children.
By Zalman Perlow
Photos: Izzy Goldman
Over four hundred community members recently celebrated a Siyum Sefer Torah at the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand (Yeshivah Gedolah) in Melbourne. The Sefer Torah was written in memory of the late Mr. and Mrs. Dovid and Ida Perlow, and dedicated by their children.
The Sefer Torah will have Yeshivah Gedolah as its home – Australia’s first and largest institute of tertiary Jewish studies. By hashgocho protis, the Siyum took place at a most auspicious time – the day before Chof Av, yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Reb Levi Yitzchok, who had mesiras nefesh for the study of Torah and the spreading of its teachings.
Rabbi Eli Gutnick, a former student and now a practicing sofer, was available during the preceding week for pre-Siyum letter writing at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Zalman Edelman.
The completion of the Sefer Torah took place at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Ari Schachter, where Rabbis Zalman and Avrohom Perlow wrote the last letters as family members looked on. This was followed by the traditional street procession to the Rabbinical College in Alexandra Street, East St Kilda where the Hachnosas Sefer Torah ceremony took place.
The weather held out to provide a beautiful atmosphere for the celebrations to be held. Men, women and children paraded along Alexandra Street to the accompaniment of Chassidic music provided by Yumi Rosenbaum. Special cards with pieces of the mantel cloth were distributed to children in the crowd.
At the college, Tehillim was recited after which hakofos and lively dancing took place. As a family member commented, “The atmosphere was like Simchas Torah!” Participants were treated to a buffet.
The college’s Executive Director, Mr. Avrohom Procel welcomed all the guests, and members of the Perlow family who had specially flown in from the USA and Sydney, Australia, for the joyous occasion. He spoke of the Perlow family’s long-standing connection with Yeshivah Gedolah since its inception.
Rabbi Shmuel Gurewicz spoke about how this sefer torah is different as it is really a replacement of another sefer torah which was one of eight sifrei torahs that were burnt in a fire at Yeshivah College in 1961. It belonged to the late Reb Dovid Perlow. He told the story of how the Sefer Torah was taken out of Russia in 1946 when the family escaped and eventually arrived in Australia in 1951.
“I leined in this sefer torah for 6-7 years. The sefer Torah was written by a sofer in Yeketrinaslav and had a connection to Reb Leivik whose yahrzeit is tonight.”
Rabbi Zalman Perlow recounted the danger that his father, Reb Dovid Perlow, went through to take the sefer torah out of Russia and the great zechus he had to do this. It was an absolute miracle. The Perlow family had the impetus and drive to write the new sefer torah to replace the “miracle sefer torah”.
Rabbi Avrohom Perlow, who was Yeshivah Gedolah’s first student when it started in 1966, addressed the crowd on behalf of the family. He has children (shluchim) and grandchildren studying at the college. After reciting the brocho shehecheyanu, he said that the writing of this very special and precious sefer torah has been sixty-two years in the planning. (See story below.)
“There was never a pesul in the old Sefer Torah and it was used every Shabbos in shul until the fire. So too this Sefer Torah should be used continually in Yeshivah Gedolah,” he said. We always dreamt that we should be able to write a sefer torah and today it has become a reality.
In the following week, Rabbis Zalman and Avrohom Perlow were given aliyos in the new Sefer Torah when it was used for the first time.
STORY OF THE MIRACLE SEFER TORAH
As is well documented, in 1917, the communists of Russia instigated an insurrection against the short-lived democratically elected parliament, and began a reign of terror and persecution against the entire population and especially against anyone and anything associated with religion. Particular emphasis was on the Jewish religion, by the establishment of a special department in the Soviet Secret Police called the Yevsektsia (Yevrey Sektzia – Jewish Section)
To prevent the population from fleeing the country under these terrible conditions, an ‘Iron Curtain’ descended upon the entire country, whereby no one would be allowed to leave/emigrate. Under these circumstances, the entire Russian Jewish population, and particularly anyone suspected of being religious, was in constant mortal danger of arrest, jail, deportation to Siberia, or even execution. One can only imagine the suffering and tortured lives of the Chabad Chassidim in Russia at the time.
After World War 2 ended, a slight split opened in the ‘Iron Curtain’ – the ‘Gesture’ by Stalin to allow all the Polish citizens who had fled during the war, from the Germans into Russia, to return to their homeland. (As recorded, there was an ulterior motive to this ‘Gesture’, which was to allow many Russian spies to obliquely infiltrate the free world).
The remaining Lubavitch population in Russia took this opportunity to declare themselves Polish citizens, leave Russia to Poland, and then continue on to a free-world country.
The exit city from Russia to Poland was Lvov, where all Jews making the crossing gathered, including my grandparents Harav Mordechai and Mrs. Baila Perlow, and my parents R’ Dovid and Mrs. Aidle Perlow. In Lvov, my father heard of a Sefer Torah that was hidden in a Shul, and decided that he would smuggle it out of Russia (obviously at great risk to himself if detected). The plan was that as soon as the ‘Eshalon’ (carriage) was readying to leave the train station in Russia for Poland, he would go to the hiding place, rescue the Sefer Torah, go to the train station, and board the train.
The plan went as intended. My father returned safely with the Torah to the train station and the family boarded the train. However, one of the malicious guards, always looking to make trouble for the Jewish passengers, demanded he get a permit to take the Torah out of Russia. My father left the train and hurried to the station house to obtain the necessary permit. Suddenly, without any prior warning, the train gave one loud whistle and pulled out of the station and left for Poland taking with it my mother and grandparents and leaving my father behind at the Russian border.
The rest of the story was etched permanently in my mother’s mind and she recounted it many times. She told us how she and my grandparents sat looking at each other in frozen horror at the gravity of the situation. They would be going to freedom and leaving my father behind the Iron Curtain. Furthermore, my grandfather was holding all the passports, papers and valuables. As they sat there unable to speak, the train suddenly stopped, reversed and headed back to the previous station. My mother recalled vividly their relief as they returned to the previous station and the amazing scenario they saw. An empty station with only a solitary lonely figure holding a Sefer Torah and looking totally bewildered. That was my father R’ Dovid. My father quickly reboarded the train, reunited with his family, and on the way to the eventual safety of the Free World. My father credited this miraculous incident with his saving the Sefer Torah as a protection as they fled from the Russian persecution.
According to my mother, she later heard that a train carrying wounded soldiers was on the same track coming in the opposite direction. As they had priority and it was a single track, the train they were on had to go back to the station to let the other train pass.
Subsequently, this Sefer Torah accompanied our family on their sojourns, to German DP camps, France, Italy, and finally to Melbourne, where it was placed in the Yeshiva College building on Hotham Street.
This Torah (together with another 7! Sifrei Torah, and many pairs of tefillin) was tragically burnt in the Yeshiva College fire of 1961.
Now, with gratitude to Hashem, we are honored to complete this Sefer Torah, in honor of our parents, which will act, to the best of our ability, as a replacement for our original Sefer Torah.