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Holocaust survivor presents Torah to Skokie synagogue

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:20AM

Eighty-eight-year-old Lincolnwood resident Marge Fettman will never forget the heart-wrenching experience of how at age 17 she and her family were forced into the Nazi Auschwitz death camp.

While she survived, her parents didn’t. Neither did the parents of her late husband.

On Sunday, in a rare and celebratory event, a Torah scroll Fettman had commissioned to honor their memories and that of her late husband, who also was a Holocaust survivor, will be dedicated at Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie synagogue.

The Torah, a handwritten parchment scroll of the five books of Moses — the basic text of Judaism — is the most sacred object of the religion.

“It makes me feel grateful to God that he gave me the thought to do this,” said Fettman with a smile. “I feel so close to God.”

As Holocaust survivors continue to age and pass on, events like this have become increasingly rare, noted Yochanan Posner, a rabbi at the synagogue, which is being given the Torah scroll. The last time the synagogue received such a Torah scroll was about a decade ago, and that Holocaust survivor died before it was completed, he said.

Fettman wants her Torah to be used to teach Judaism and Jewish customs to young people and future generations.

Creating a Torah is a meticulous process and can only be done by trained scribes, explained Posner.

“When the Jewish people traveled in the desert with Moses, he wrote down everything they had to know in a scroll,” Posner said. “Ever since then, we’ve been writing these scrolls by hand using the same methods, the same words, the same indentations — everything.”

To make a Torah scroll can take a scribe a year working full time.

“It has around 300,000 letters, and every single one has to be perfectly formed,” Posner added. “It’s written using a feather quill. The ink has to be kosher ink, and it’s made out of parchment, which means that you [take] the hide from a cow and…make the parchment. When it’s done, you have many, many pieces of parchment that have to be attached and sewn together into one scroll, so it’s a really big arts and crafts project.”

Fettman’s Torah scroll was made in Israel. It was brought to the United States by her granddaughter, Aviah Saltzman, 24, who grew up in Lincolnwood but now lives in Israel.

As Fettman recently sat in her living room and shared family photos, she said her late loved ones were very religious Jews and dedicated their lives to living in accordance with Jewish customs. Her decision to commission the making of the Torah scroll continues that tradition, she said.

“It’s such a holy thing that God gave us the Torah and wants us to go in the Torah’s way,” she said. “The Torah is honest, and God says love me and be kind to each other. I believe in that. We have to be kind to each other.”

The Romania native shared the story of how she was spared from the Nazis after she and her family arrived at Auschwitz — a time when many were far from kind.

At Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele — the infamous war criminal — cracked his whip and instructed some people to go to the right and some to the left. Fettman’s parents, a sister and Fettman’s 5- and 3-year-old nephews ended up opposite her. She said she approached Dr. Mengele and asked if she could go to the other side with them because she had the snacks for the children. She didn’t know that they were among a group who would be immediately killed.

“He said, ‘You’re stupid; you want to go there,’ ” and he wouldn’t let her cross over, Fettman said. And so her life was spared.

Her parents were Avraham Areyah Lanxner and Chaya Rachel Lanxner. Before the war, her father was a farmer and later ran a delivery business with the help of her mother.

Fettman’s late husband, Daniel Fettman, died in 2004 at age 83. He built a chain of grocery stores in northwest Indiana.

Her late husband’s parents were Yaakov and Faige Esther Fettman. The elder Fettman owned a general store, which his wife helped run. He also was a Torah scholar.

During the ceremony Sunday, which will start at Seneca Park, the last few remaining words will be added to the Torah scroll before it will be paraded into the nearby Lubavitch Chabad synagogue. The scroll, which cost about $40,000 to create, is an estimated to be 200 to 300 feet long.

It will not stay housed in its synagogue home.

“We’ll take it out to places where the Torah is not normally found and teach the Torah there,” Posner said. In accordance with Fettman’s wishes, he added, “It will be used to reach out to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to be exposed to Judaism and its beauty.”

Fettman thinks her family would be pleased, while her granddaughter believes her “Bubbie” or grandmother has found a unique, loving way to live what the Torah teaches.

“In the Torah, there’s a commandment you have to honor your mother and father,” Saltzman said. “My Bubbie, at a very young age, her parents were taken away. So, she couldn’t do that. Now she’s dedicating this Torah in their names, so every time it’s used, it’s like honoring them. After 70 years, she’s still able to follow the Torah.”


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