How does a 60-pound Torah go missing for two weeks? Did it travel to New York or Amsterdam or Nairobi? Or did it remain in Boston?
Most likely, no one will ever know exactly what happened to the sacred scroll during those 14 days in August. For most of the 20th century, and up until two years ago, the Torah had stood in an ark in Temple B’nai Israel in Revere. During that time, thousands of Jews established a vibrant community there, with butcher shops, bakeries, shoe stores, and a JCC lining Shirley Avenue.
But two years ago, Revere’s last synagogue closed and the temple’s officers decided to give away its two Torahs to congregations. One went to a military base in Georgia, and the other was promised to a congregation in Ol Kalou, Kenya. The temple’s former president, Debby Cherry, was supposed to bring the Torah to Kenya in the summer of 2020, but COVID-19 put a halt to that trip.
Cherry decided to go this past August, and after researching the best way to pack the Torah she purchased a hard-shell golf case. On Aug. 11, she checked it in with Delta as she prepared for her long trip, which would take her to New York for a connecting flight via Kenya Air to Nairobi. But when she prepared to get on the Delta flight at Logan, the confusion began.
“I go to board the flight and they tell me I can’t because there’s some lack of communication between Kenya Air and Delta,” said Cherry. “As you can imagine, I was a little panicked because an hour and a half earlier I had deposited my luggage. And I said you can’t close the gate, I have to go! And they closed the gate.”
Cherry rebooked her flight for later that night. She would travel from Boston to Amsterdam on the Dutch airline KLM, and connect there for a Kenya Air flight to Nairobi. Those flights were uneventful, but when she arrived at the bag terminal in Nairobi, she stood for two hours waiting for the Torah. It was missing.
“When I landed in Nairobi, I got an email that said your luggage is on its way to Nairobi. So I filed a report and just decided to go back to the airport the next night. So I go back the next night and wait for my luggage for another two hours until 1 a.m. and there’s no luggage. And now I have no idea what to do,” she said.
Instead of bringing the Torah to the congregation in Ol Kalou, Cherry spent five nights in Nairobi dialing up Delta, KLM, and Kenya Air. All of the airlines were unable to track or locate the bag. “I was worried because I didn’t know where the Torah was. I have no idea where this bag is and nobody seems to know,” she said. “It was very unnerving to me. My concern was where is this Torah? Where is this piece of reverence?”
She didn’t see much outside of the hotel and the airport, and with no other options she got on a plane and flew back to Boston on Aug. 20. “When I arrived home, I talked to the people at Delta. They were nice but not helpful. I went back to the airport on Saturday and asked if they could contact Amsterdam,” she said.
On Aug. 22, nearly two weeks after she last saw the Torah in its golf bag, Cherry received a call from KLM. “They said ‘Your Torah is here at Logan.’”
Two days later, the Torah was delivered to her house, and it is now in safe hands.
Cherry has contacted Delta, KLM, and Kenya Air and asked for tickets to fly the Torah to Kenya where it can be delivered to the congregation. To date, the airlines have declined her request.
“This is not how the story is supposed to end,” said Cherry. “The plan is to bring the Torah [to Kenya] at some point in the future, but I have no idea when that will be. But we will get it there.”
Email Steven A. Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.