An 18th-century Torah scroll from a tiny seaside Jewish community is set to make its television debut this weekend.
The Torah from the 119-member Kehillat Kernow community in Cornwall features on “Antiques Roadshow” on BBC this Sunday, listed as a “local artifact of interest.”
Recorded last September at the county’s eco-attraction The Eden Project, the program agrees that, from a religious and historic point of view, the scroll is priceless. The community’s website writes: “Our little Scroll was treated like a VIP and we were all punch drunk with pride.”
In 1740, it was brought to Falmouth from Hamburg by Alexander Moses, known as Zender Falmouth. However, when the community closed 140 years later in 1880, it was offered to Hampstead Synagogue in London. They apparently sent it back due to the high costs of restoration.
Fast forward to 1892 and the scroll was presented to the Royal Institution in Cornwall; it stayed in the Royal Cornwall Museum until it was returned to the local community just nine years ago.
With the parchment torn and every letter needing work, it was painstakingly restored by Torah scribe Bernard Benarroch.
Community chair Jeremy Jacobson is thrilled at the attention, saying: “It’s so fitting to picture the scroll here at the Eden Project. It’s a place created out of nothing to build relationships between people and the natural world. It’s the story of Creation.
“This Sefer Torah is very special for our community. It’s our most sacred possession since it connects us to the original Cornish Jewish community. We see it as a neverending renewal of the past, the continuity of our community here, and the positive relevance of the Torah to the future. It’s one of the things that makes Judaism what it is.”
Legend has it that Jews arrived in Cornwall over 1,000 years ago. The county still has towns such as Marazion, which some say means “Jewish market” in Cornish. And Penzance boasts Market Jew Street. While the stories may be doubtful, it’s true that Jewish communities were established in the region in the 18th century.
The modern-day Kehillat Kernow community (Kernow is the ancient word for Cornwall) came into being in 1999. Associated with the Movement for Reform Judaism, it holds fortnightly Shabbat services conducted by volunteers and students from Leo Baeck College.
“The Antiques Roadshow” airs at 8 p.m. BST on Sunday, June 11 on BBC One. More information about Cornwall’s Jewish community can be found here.