PHOENIX — A non-Jewish couple from Arizona donated a 250-year-old Torah scroll recovered from the Nazis to Virginia Commonwealth University.
The couple, Martin L. Johnson and Olinda Young of Phoenix, are collectors of antiques and art; an interest in old Bibles led to them to acquire eight Torah scrolls.
In recent years, the two have donated Torahs to the University of Pennsylvania, Loyola University in Chicago, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the University of Arizona and Arizona State.
“I’m a plastic surgeon by training,” Johnson told JTA. “I appreciate beautiful things. Four or five years ago I had a cancer situation that has given me a different perspective on life. I’m transitioning now from being a beautician to giving back.”
The scroll donated to VCU, where both Johnson and his wife are alumni, was written in Romania around 1750, seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust and later inherited by Romania’s Communist regime.
Registration numbers and stamps confirm the provenance of the scroll, which was authenticated by an appraiser of rare books and manuscripts, according to a statement from the university.
Johnson bought the Torah from the Bible Museum of Goodyear, Ariz., which also authenticated its provenance. Its estimated value is $75,000.
“It’s quite possible that most students who take courses in religious studies at VCU, and even those who major or minor in religious studies, have never seen a Torah,” Jack Spiro, who teaches Judaic culture at the university told VCU News.
“Having a Torah on display with the ability of opening it and reading passages from it will be a unique opportunity for students to understand it from a visual and tangible perspective. In addition, it becomes an opening through which they can be motivated to study the Holocaust and all expressions of dehumanization in the world.”