Touching the Past

It was, on the surface, a fairly typical sight: children greeting their grandmother, perhaps their great aunt, with flowers and hugs as she emerged from the plane at LAX. But Hana Gruna’s connection to these children was not one of blood, but of a Torah scroll. And the coincidences — some would say bits of fate — that brought them together weave a tragic and ultimately hopeful tale that traverses the time and distance between Susice, Czechoslovakia, 1945, and Santa Monica, 1999.

Every Shabbat and holiday for the last 16 years, Sha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue has chanted the 3,000-year-old words from a Torah scroll salvaged from Susice. The congregation’s quest to find a survivor from the town led them to Gruna, which led Gruna to physically touch a past once thought long demolished which led Sha’arei Am members to a connection to Jewish history more tangible than most are privileged to feel.

Sha’arei Am flew Gruna, 82, from her home in New Jersey to Los Angeles to participate in a rededication ceremony in May.