The Wandering Scribe

The arrival at Kent House of David Brand, the Trust’s only resident sofer (scribe), has passed into legend. The story has often been told of the knock on the front door of the synagogue, Ruth Shaffer’s reception of an elderly Orthodox Jew who asked in Yiddish, ‘Do you have any Torahs to repair? And her reply, ‘We have 1,564; come in!’. The friendship and respect between David Brand and the modern forward-thinking Reform Rabbi Harold Reinhart laid the foundation of the whole Scroll story. Mr. Brand (no-one ever used his first name) stayed to work on these rescued Scrolls for twenty seven years. Rabbi Reinhart obtained permission for him to remain and work in Britain and for his family to join him from Jerusalem. He was to be seen regularly at his work desk on the third floor, at a window giving him the best natural light, welcoming guests in his rapidly improving English, chatting to the children and showing them how he made his ink, sharpened his quill pens and lovingly attended to his sacred work.

David Eliahu Brand was strictly Orthodox in his approach to Judaism. Born in 1928, he came from a line of professional Sofers and had trained at a yeshiva in Paris before looking for work in Europe wherever he might find it. He would not partake of any food or drink at Westminster Synagogue, bringing his own refreshment and staying in London in a small flat found for him by Rabbi Reinhart. When introduced to the Lady Mayor of Westminster on the occasion of the opening of the Scrolls Centre in 1988, he would not take her hand in greeting, explaining with dignity that his religion did not allow it.

Ruth Shaffer was able to speak to Mr. Brand in Yiddish, coming to the rescue when it was necessary, for example, to explain how a fire extinguisher worked but he rapidly made himself at home at Kent House, valuing his new friends as they did him. When he returned to Jerusalem – the work being nearly complete – he kept in touch, returning from time to time on special visits, and Westminster Synagogue’s Rabbi Thomas Salamon visited him in December 2013.