A Torah Moves On by Dan Butler

It's an old steel town, and in the dead of winter, on one those those grey windy days, it looks like a black and white photograph. Rusting hulks of dismembered factories set in seas of frozen mud, capturing for the duration, the form assumed on the last warm day. Here a tire track, there a footprint. Almost empty. Certainly quiet. No activity. No movement. A municipal coma. Silent gusts of wind make snowflakes carom across the windshield. Even with the defroster set at hot, it's too cold for them to stick, let alone melt. They skitter off the glass like Crisco on teflon.
There are two carloads of them. A quick look betrays that their purpose is not the physical security of their prize. Mostly older retired men-who else has the leisure time to spend the afternoon this way--the young rabbi led the way, improvising ritual where no recorded tradition exists.
The brothers were already there. The last identifiable members of the congregation. They hadn't needed a formal meeting, they both had seen it corning for years. Today just made the reality official.
The Rust Belt, littered with small impoverished grey towns-echoes of past industrial vitality. Their monochromatic faces are pocked with abandoned Coke cans. Here it is too late for recycling. At one time, maybe 70 or 80 years ago, even 30 or 40 years ago, these towns reverberated with the success of the steel mills they embraced, but greedy unions and Japanese dumping and air pollution restrictions had extinguished the fires that kept those towns warm.
Many of them had a functioning Jewish community with all the accoutrements that tradition required: Sunday School. Mikvah bath, ritual slaughterer, study hall. Of course, as the towns lost their populations and their purpose, their Jewish communities succumbed to ossification, assimilation, migration and the last remnants shuttered the windows, drained the pipes and disposed of the past.
The brothers had raised families there. They were the second of four generations who had preserved their unique heritage by regular attendance in that building. But regular prayer and study and social activities had faded away to infrequent visits more for reminiscence than prayer; prayer belonged to elsewhere now.
The treasures were in the unlocked ark-two of them. Neither brother remembered when they had been acquired. They had been the moral pillars of the town's merchants and peddlers, a lawyer. a tailor. They were alone now.
The brothers had decided to seek out the busiest synagogue for a hundred miles and give them the Torahs. They would be used. Others would hold them, and march with them and dance and study. But of course this transfer spelled the end for their synagogue, leaving them only with memories, only with the past.
Twilight came upon them. Somehow it seemed like a surprise. The young rabbi led the afternoon service. It was the first minyan on the premises in over a year. Nine older men. one young rabbi. The brothers saw it differently, of course. Long dead relatives, far away grandchildren, friends and their families, a shining gleaming past lighting up that gray day, beckoning to yesterday as they leaned toward the uncertainty of tomorrow.
Somehow it seemed appropriate for the young rabbi to say a few words. A melancholy occasion, he spoke of hope and joy. He quoted the Talmud that at the time of the Messiah all of the synagogues would travel with their congregants
to celebrate in Jerusalem. And he interpreted that each synagogue is a way station in that long process, as Jews hope and work toward that dream and he counseled joy in that process.
Somewhere steel clanged against steel in the wind as quietly, somberly, with little of the joy the rabbi spoke of, they filed out of the synagogue, escorting its Torahs to their new home, and like so many times in the Jewish past, in this and other lands, they locked the door behind them and moved into the future. Leaving behind a sturdy building with a star on it. And a thousand memories. Unaffected by the cold...