Black Scroll

The story of the scroll, as outlined by Ena Black at Shabbat service in our Synagogue to mark the 40th wedding anniversary of Ena & Donald Black, on 11th November 1995. The scroll was read by their son, Rabbi Jonathan Black.

We are told that this scroll was written in the 1880s.

My father’s father, Sam Horwich, came over about that time from Vitebsk, and settled in Manchester, where he married. The family in Russia had been an educated and comfortable one. Their money came from breeding horses for the Czar’s army and the children had a modern education at the local gymnasium or high school. In the winter of 1902, at just about the time my father was born, my grandfather returned, to visit his dying father. On his return, he brought with him a Sefer Torah belonging to the family.

Grandfather belonged to a little shtibl in Manchester and there the scroll was lodged, for over 40 years, even though my grandparents spent many of those years in Dublin. In 1945, they settled in London to be near their three married children. My grandfather wanted the family scroll moved to London too and asked my father, his oldest son, to arrange it. Easier said than done – I was about 15 at the time and I well remember the traumas, trunk-calls, negotiations and manipulations and how the magic words “a hundred pounds” were bandied about. That was the huge sum that my father had to find before the shtibl would release the scroll to my family. But eventually, things were settled and the scroll was placed in the keeping of the Edgware United Synagogue where my father was a member, although my mother retained a lifelong Reform allegiance and I was brought up at Alyth Gardens – we were a very broad-minded family.

Donald and I married at Alyth Gardens in 1955 and shortly afterwards joined the fledgling Finchley Reform Synagogue. Donald was the Senior Warden and Principal of the Religion School and I started the Ladies’ Guild, which was fundraising furiously to buy the new community a Sefer Torah. We asked my father whether we could make use of the family scroll, which was sitting unvisited in Edgware Synagogue and received a very firm “no!”

In 1969, my father died. After some negotiating, we collected our scroll from Edgware. It was very beautiful, with ivory etz chaim and gleaming with little glass mirrors. We were so thrilled! However, when a sopher checked the scroll, he discovered that it had been written long after 1902, and indeed, had another family’s names and history inscribed on silver bands.

One morning, after several somewhat difficult months, we were handed a large, shabby, battered but beautifully written scroll, and assured that it was ours. The proof? A dirty scrap of a label stuck on one of the handles, with the letters “tz” still showing “Tz – Horowitz, Gorewitz – Horwich”.

I’m afraid we didn’t feel anything for it, but that was in 1970. Now it really is a family scroll. Our three sons read their bar mitzvah portions from it. So did 4 young relatives in Dublin. Its high holyday mantle is made from family wedding dresses. It has travelled with us to be used at RSGB southern region weekends, and residentials of the RSGB Executive. Most special of all – it was handed to our son Jonathan when he was awarded semicha by the Leo Baeck College. At that time we had a mantle made for it, and between us we chose the text from Deuteronomy to go on the front

Behold, it is very near to you. It is in your mouth and your heart to do it“.

Donald: It’s different now. All three of our boys have read their bar mitzvah parashot from it, and whether or not it ever belonged to the Horowitz’s, it certainly belongs to the Blacks. We now belong to North West Surrey Synagogue, where it has found a proper place in the Ark with four others. It has a High Holyday mantle made from my sister’s wedding dress and decorated with a pearl hanging from my mother’s wedding dress. We chose the yad in the Cardo in Jerusalem.