Larry Sokoloff with his family's Torah, which now lives at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto.
Larry Sokoloff with his family's Torah, which now lives at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto.

My family’s Torah was written in Poland about a century ago. It has a new home in Palo Alto

The Torah came into my family’s lives in the mid-1960s when my grandfather Emanuel Sokoloff bought it for the new sanctuary at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim in Southern California.

I like to think of it as one of the crowning moments of his life. He was devout, davening from the same seat in our Conservative synagogue at Shabbat services each week. Poppy, as we called him, wore a three-piece suit and tie, an impressive tallit and a black yarmulke as he sat next to my grandmother Fanny Sokoloff, in a Shabbat dress, hair covered with lace.

My own Shabbat childhood memories include running into morning services after religious school, getting covered in kisses by my grandparents, all while breathing in the heavy mothball scent that came off their clothes.

In early April, I brought the Torah to Palo Alto’s Congregation Kol Emeth, the Conservative synagogue my family has belonged to since 2007. The Torah is now in a place where Poppy and Fanny’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren can hear its words.

An appraisal in 2011 showed that the Torah originated in Poland and was written in the 1930s or earlier. The appraisal describes its writing quality as “very beautiful” and its weight as “heavy.”  We don’t know anything else about its history, including how or when it came to the U.S.

A view from the entrance to Kol Emeth's new sanctuary, looking straight at the Ark.
A view from the entrance to Kol Emeth’s new sanctuary, looking straight at the Ark.

I had two thoughts about Torahs as a kid. I was in awe of their grandeur. I was also afraid of dropping one. My peers told tales of how you had to fast for many days if you dropped it. No thanks! Fasting on Yom Kippur would be hard enough. But I must have successfully carried that Torah at my own bar mitzvah without dropping it.

My brothers and cousins — and eventually some of their own children — carried and read from the Torah at their own b’nai mitzvahs. When our daughter celebrated her bat mitzvah at Kol Emeth in 2017, we didn’t get to use it because there were modern-day concerns over insurance coverage if we moved it between shuls more than 350 miles apart.

Most recently the Torah was kept at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, also in Southern California. But Temple Aliyah merged with another synagogue, and the Torah needed a new home.

With the enthusiastic support of Rabbis Sarah Graff and David Booth of Kol Emeth, I began planning the Torah’s trek north. I searched online and couldn’t find halachah on transporting a Torah, but I knew it should be dignified. I vacuumed out the trunk and put down a blanket. The Torah was covered with a plastic bag. Its ornaments were bubble-wrapped and transported in two canvas bags.

My college-age daughter, Sasha, accompanied me on the drive. We stopped for lunch and met up with a cousin I’d found several years ago on 23andme, the DNA testing service. It was our first meeting in person, and I established my Jewish bona fides quickly. “I have a Torah in the trunk,” I told him. 

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The Torah made it safely to our Mountain View home at the end of March, and several days later I drove it to Kol Emeth.

The synagogue’s executive director, Risa Beckwith, and I unwrapped the Torah on the bimah and placed the blue mantel and silver ornaments onto it. I smiled as I attached the breastplate that read, “In honor of Mr. and Mrs. E. Sokoloff and family” — the “E.” for Poppy Emanuel. The Torah looked magnificent as I carried it to the ark. 

The Torah is now used for weekday and youth services. It was officially welcomed in the main sanctuary during Shabbat services on Aug. 5. Several cousins and I were honored with aliyot during the Torah reading.

L’dor vador, generation to generation. This Torah holds many memories. We are grateful that it has a new home. 

Generations of Sokoloff descendants live in the Bay Area now, including five great-great grandchildren of Emanuel and Fanny. The family of the oldest great-great grandchild belongs to Kol Emeth, and his bar mitzvah is scheduled for 2026. We hope he joins the growing list of family members who feel a connection to this Torah.

Larry Sokoloff
Larry Sokoloff

Larry Sokoloff is a writer in Mountain View.