From battle zone to bimaArea shul embraces centuries-old Iraqi TorahHere's a fuller version of the story of the recovery:
by Richard Greenberg
Associate Editor (Washington Jewish Week)
A battle-scarred slice of the Middle East has disgorged what is now one of the most coveted objects in Temple Isaiah's possession - a 400-year-old Torah scroll that endured an Indiana-Jones-like odyssey before arriving safely at the Fulton synagogue.
The find was made by a U.S. special-forces soldier who had relieved himself at the site moments earlier. While he was cleaning up after himself, the soldier recognized Hebrew writing underfoot and on the wall of the structure. He knew it was Hebrew because he's Jewish.I would still like to have a clearer idea of what the antiquities laws say about a situation like this.
"In the middle of all the craziness that's going on in Iraq, it's God's will that someone should find his Torah; and that person is Jewish," said Youlus. "It's an incredible irony."
The Torah, which was hidden beneath the floor of the structure, was soon unearthed by the soldier, whose identity has not been released by the military precisely because he is a member of the special forces. He was redeployed to Iraq about two weeks ago.
How did Youlus get involved? "That's the difficult part," he said, explaining that the soldier told his superior officer about his discovery. The superior officer then somehow got in touch with "someone in the government who knows what I do," and that person contacted Youlus, who declined to name the government official.
Enter Panoff, who had once informed Youlus that he was on the lookout for an especially distinctive Torah. He eventually determined that an ideal Torah "would speak to the experience of Mizrachi Jews," or those of Middle Eastern descent. "This would show how diverse and varied the Jewish experience has been."
When Youlus told him about the discovery in Mosul, Panoff immediately relayed the information to the synagogue's board members who promptly contributed $20,000 of their own money to cover the entire cost of the Torah rescue project.
Some of that money was used to pay what Youlus euphemistically called "fees" for "members of the Iraqi establishment" to allow the Torah to be removed from their country. However, possible exit routes through Turkey and Syria were barred because of fighting and other insurmountable geopolitical barriers. Israel was no option, as well, because Israeli law would have permitted the government to seize the Torah on behalf of Iraqi Jewry, according to Youlus.
The only way out was through Jordan, and that prodigious trek was made by a contingent of seven designated Torah-schleppers consisting of Iraqis, Jordanians and Youlus himself. The trip took six weeks. Torah in hand, they made their way via various conveyances - "some mechanized and some that I wished were mechanized," said Youlus, whose small band traveled by truck, on foot and by mule. "Have you ever ridden a mule?" Youlus asked. "My tuches won't forget it for a long time."