Riesenbach Family Torah
Letter from Ron Riesenbach to the President of Shaarei Tefillah Synagogue
Ron Riesenbach, MSc, Bsc, MBA, P.eng.
443 Davisville Ave.,Toronto, Ontario M4S 1H7
Ph: __________ Fx: ____________ Email: _____________
January 14, 1998
Mr. Ernie Marmoreck, President
Shaarei Tefillah Synagogue
3600 Bathurst St.,
Toronto, ON, CANADA, M6A 2C9
Phone: (416)787-1631 Fax: (416)785-5378
RE: Rededicating the Riesenbach Torah
Dear Mr. Marmurek:
I am writing this letter on behalf of my extended family: my father & mother, 2 aunts & uncles and 9 cousins. We are the extended family of the late Jacob and Ita Riesenbach who lived in Toronto from the early 1950s until they passed away in 1986 and 1991 respectively. The purpose of this letter is to provide you and your executive committee with the information you need to consider our request for the identification and rededication of a Sefer Torah which is in your Shul that is linked with Jacob & Ita Riesenbach.
Jacob & Ita and their children Joseph, Marion and Jenny are Holocaust survivors. They lived in the small village of Markowa, Poland until 1942 when they were forced to flee in the middle of the night just minutes ahead of a Nazi gang. Besides the clothes on their backs, the only possession they took with them was a Sefer Torah from the small room in their house that served as the community's synagogue. After weeks of hiding in the fields, they finally found a Polish family willing to take in all five members of the family.
The Polish family hid them in the attic & cellar of their tiny farmhouse. The war lasted longer than anyone expected and so they lived on meager food and in cramped conditions for a full 2 years. When they emerged, with nothing but their tattered clothes and the Sefer Torah, they found their home and village occupied by hostile Poles. They were forced to leave the country for their safety and their childrenï¿½s future. Between 1945 and 1948, they moved between DP camps in Europe until family in Winnipeg made arrangements for them to immigrate to Canada.
In September of 1948 they arrived in Winnipeg where, a few years later, my father met and married my mother. Soon after, my Aunt Jenny, moved to Toronto where she met and married Lou Wasser. Following their daughter, Ita and Jacob and my other aunt Marion joined them in Toronto where they settled and operated a restaurant at McCall & Baldwin from 1953 to 1963. During the time that Jacob and Ita lived in Toronto, their son-in-law, Lou Wasser, helped them find a safe place to keep the Sefer Torah, which they brought over from Europe. Lou contacted your Shul's Gabai, Lysa Rosenberg, who was Lou's friend. Lysa made arrangements to have the Sefer Torah kept and used at the Shul.
Over the years, since the death of my Zaydy and Bubby, this story of the saving of the Riesenbach Sefer Torah has been discussed amongst the family members. We have often talked about how important it would be to be able to find it and rededicate it in a meaningful ceremony that our children could attend. It would serve to connect their generation with that of their great-Zaydy and great-Bubby.
This desire became stronger a few years ago when we were fortunate enough to bring to Canada the great grandson of the family that saved the Riesenbach clan. I am attaching a Canadian Jewish News story about this visit for your information. At that time, some of us talked about how good it would be if we could take Wassic (the visitor from Poland described in the attached newspaper story) to the synagogue to show him the Torah that was hidden in his great grandfatherï¿½s home. But, alas, there wasnï¿½t time to contact you and make inquiries.
Recently, another event rekindled our desire to identify this important piece of family history. My Father, Joseph, has taken a leadership role in the City of Winnipeg's first Holocaust Resource Centre and Museum. This Centre, which was opened in September of this year, is housed in the city's brand new Jewish Community Campus. The Holocaust Education Resource Centre's mission is to keep alive awareness of the Holocaust and to promote and assist programs all over the Western Provinces in Canada. My father, and several other Holocaust survivors, give talks to school groups & conduct tours for visitors to the exhibits in this one-of-a-kind facility.
A location has been designated in the Holocaust Museum for a Kaddish Corner for the purpose of Yartzeit and other religious functions, where an Eternal Light will be placed. Unfortunately, the Centre does not have a Sefer Torah, nor do they have a budget to purchase one.
Therefore, Mr. Marmurek, on behalf of my family, I ask your assistance in two important and linked matters. Firstly, I would like your help in finding and rededicating the Sefer Torah that my Zaydy, Jacob Riesenbach, put in the care of your Shul. It is my hope that, if we are successful in identifying it, we could arrange a ceremony at the Shul that would be attended by my family and their friends from across North America.
Secondly, I would like the opportunity to discuss with you and your Executive a proposal that would see the Shaarei Tefilah Synagogue partner with the Winnipeg Holocaust Education Centre. This partnership would culminate in the donation of the Sefer Torah to the Winnipeg Holocaust Centre as a living exhibit and for use by the Holocaust survivors of Winnipeg.
I have enclosed various articles and pamphlets about the Winnipeg Jewish Community Campus, its Holocaust Centre and the history of my family for your information and for the information of other members of your Executive Committee.
I look forward to discussing this meaningful opportunity with you and your executive in the near future.
Ron Riesenbach, MSc. MBA, P.Eng.
on behalf of
Joseph and Ruth Riesenbach
Jenny and Lou Wasser
Marion and Sam Rosenberg
CC: Rabbi Stern, Shaarei Tefillah
1) CJN newspaper story about the visit of Wassic Barr to Canada
2) Information on the Jewish Community Campus of Winnipeg
Postscript (written by Ron Riesenbach in January of 2002)
Several months later, Joe Riesenbach visited Toronto and he and Ron arranged for a meeting with Rabbi Stern (the Rabbi explained that he was the right person to speak to about such matters). In part due to a scheduling misunderstanding, the meeting was held at the shul standing in the administrative outer office, while the Rabbi was photocopying. We were not invited to sit in his office to talk as he was late for a class. This gave the meeting a somewhat dismissive atmosphere.
Nonetheless, the Rabbi was sympathetic to our story but explained that it would be impossible to identify the Torah after 50 years. Torahs are intensley managed and maintained, with parchment panels replaced as they wear, Etz Chaim (the wooden rods) replaced and the Simla (the outer dress) replaced as well. The shul had dozens of Torahs, in various states of repair. The shul had just replaced all of the Simlaot of all of it's Torahs with a uniform material and look as a result of a donation. As older Torahs became worn, they were no longer deemed Kosher unless they were repaired. Sometimes, the cost of repair out-weighed the value of the Torah and it would be retired and burried, as is the tradition.
With no photo, no documentation and no living witness to the transaction (other than Lou Wasser), finding or reclaiming the Torah would be next to impossible. It wasn't the time to open the discussion of having a Torah donated to the Holocaust Centre in Winnipeg. So we took our leave of the Rabbi. No further action has been taken on this matter since that meeting.
I am content that while the physical Riesenbach Torah may be gone, the "Spirit" of the Torah is still be in the Shaarei Tefillah Shul.