Solomon Reichert was a young boy when he attended a siyum (a completion celebration) at his grandmother’s home. It took place during the mid-1930s in a small Polish town near Lodz.
Reichert, 87, was a Gerrer Hassid. His widowed grandmother, Sura Leah, was the matriarch of the family and a prosperous business owner. She had commissioned a Torah for their shtibl (prayer house). The completion of the new Torah culminated with a siyum.
Fast forward 80-plus years to June 25, when Reichert, now a great-grandfather, attended another siyum. He had followed in his grandmother’s footsteps and commissioned a Torah for Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto.
About 90 family members and friends gathered for the festivities at the home of Rochelle Reichert, the eldest of his four children.
She and her husband, Henry Wolfond, hosted an evening of celebration. Family members who were given the honour of completing the last 12 letters of the new Torah were assisted by Rabbi Asher Abitbol, who’s a scribe. Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, the senior rabbi at Beth Tzedec, also spoke at the event.
When Reichert talked about the event a week later, he recalled the siyum he attended as a young boy:
“It was an afternoon. I was four or five years old. I remember being in a big room and there was a big table. People were coming and going and dancing and singing as they were signing in the Torah. It was such a nice feeling to be at the celebration.”
But this childhood memory also triggered a moment of sadness. His eyes teared as he spoke about his his widowed mother and five sisters who perished in the Holocaust. The Torah he commissioned is dedicated to their memory and inscribed with their names.
In 1942, the family was sent to the Lodz Ghetto. “My mother was a magician. She kept the family together until September of 1944,” he said.
They were put on the last transport from Lodz to Birkenau. “We had no idea where we were going. We were in a cattle car for 30 hours. When we got out, the German dogs were barking. Guns were going off,” said Reichert.
That was the last time he saw his mother and sisters. After that, Reichert was transferred to a subcamp, where he did manual labour. He later survived the death march and ended up working in a German airfield.
He was liberated by the Americans in 1945 and was one of the 1,000 children who were brought to Canada by the Canadian Jewish Congress. He was assigned to live with Seda and Wolfe Margolus in Edmonton.
Later, Wolfe Margolus put up the money to help Reichert purchase a small restaurant called Teddy’s Lunch.
Reichert repaid the loan from his adoptive father in 1955, he said, adding that he expanded Teddy’s and eventually opened several other restaurants. He also became a land developer.
In 1956, he married Toby Taradash. They lived in Edmonton until 2016, when they moved to Toronto to live closer to their four daughters and their families.
About five years ago, a Haredi cousin of Reichert’s who lives in Israel suggested that he commission a Torah.
When he realized that it would take two years to complete, he figured a way to expedite the process by dividing the work between two scribes. “I said, ‘I’m an old man. Two years is a long time,’ ” said Reichert.
It was an excuse to give both sides of his Hassidic family the opportunity to benefit from the $50,000 commission, he said.
But his cousins were reluctant to release the completed Torah when they learned that it was destined for a Conservative shul, which Reichert said was very upsetting to him.
Nothing about this Torah is an accident. After its long journey, we celebrated its completion with joy.
– Solomon Reichert
He said that the new Torah helps to replace the many Torahs that were destroyed during the war.
“Nothing about this Torah is an accident. After its long journey, we celebrated its completion with joy,” said Reichert.
“How amazing that we had our own siyium and Torah.… If there’s a heaven and my family is looking down, how happy and proud they would be.”