A film crew recently traveled to Northbrook, Ill., to capture footage of second-graders from Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago.
The children will be seen carrying a Torah that survived the Holocaust around a room during a daily prayer service. The scene will likely be shown during the credit lines of an animated film based on “The Tattooed Torah,” a book written by the late Marvell Ginsburg of Highland Park, Ill.
The film crew came to Solomon Schechter to capture scenes of children carrying the small Torah, a handwritten scroll containing the first five books of the Bible, during a prayer service Nov. 15.
“The Tattooed Torah,” which will be narrated by Ed Asner, tells the story of a Torah small enough for a child to carry. It was taken from a synagogue in what was then Czechoslovakia by Nazi troops as an artifact for a museum the Germans intended to build, said Marc Bennett, the director and co-writer of the film.
“It was going to be in a museum the Germans planned to build to remind the world of the people they wiped off the face of the earth,” Bennett said. “They tattooed Torahs like they tattooed people,” he added explaining how the movie and book were named. “They put numbers on everything.”
The movie and book tell the story of how the small tattooed Torah got from a warehouse in post-World War II Germany to Northbrook. More than 1,500 were rescued and kept in the Westminster Synagogue in London, said Brett Kopin, the film’s other co-writer and Ginsburg’s grandson.
In 1972, the Torah arrived at Solomon Schechter. Beth Kopin, a Highland Park resident who is Brett Kopin’s mother and Ginsburg’s daughter, said one of the reasons the scroll was brought to the North Shore was because it is small enough for young children to easily hold.
Jared Nathan, a Solomon Schechter second-grader, is filmed carrying the Torah around the room followed by some of his classmates.
“It was a little heavy, but I felt pretty proud and good,” Nathan said. “It made me feel happy,” he added, as he knew it was held and read by children long ago.
Turning Ginsburg’s book into a movie for children became a mission for Beth Kopin. She said her mother was an esteemed Jewish educator and worked as the director of early childhood Jewish education for the Board of Jewish Education in Chicago.
Beth Kopin met Bennett at a Judaic art fair at Moriah Congregation in Deerfield three years ago. He said he is an artist as well as a filmmaker. Kopin brought him her son’s screenplay and Bennett quickly agreed to join the project.
A third-year rabbinical student in Los Angeles, Brett Kopin is a Highland Park native and Schechter alum. He is also a writer but had never taken on a screenplay before. He wrote the first draft of “Tattooed Torah” so his mother could pitch the film to potential directors.
He said he felt like the project brought him closer to his late grandmother.
“I felt we were writing the screenplay together,” Brett Kopin said. “I always wanted to write something with my grandmother but never got the chance. I felt she was looking over me and I was thinking what would she think of it.”
While teaching a subject like the Holocaust to young children can be a challenge, Beth Kopin said children can understand the story because they have empathy for something they care about being taken away.
“Taking away a little baby Torah is like taking a teddy bear away,” Beth Kopin said. “That’s the feel.”