27 Elul 5773
By Sylvan Swartz
How many times have I stood to honor the Torah? How many times have you stood to honor the Torah? I know in my case it has been far too many to count or even remember.
When we stand we know that we honor the words and more importantly the meaning behind the words in the 5 Books of Moses. We honor God and the teachings we glean from the Torah. We also honor thousands of years of tradition the Torah represents.
Many of us at Temple Beth Sholom remember when we commissioned our own Torah to be written to honor Rabbi Donnell. We remember that a Torah is still written according to ancient traditions, with a quill and on parchment. A year long process takes place that involves dovening, chanting and prayer while carefully writing a document that will hopefully survive forever.
It is that process our Temple went through in 2003 and 2004 that often touches me when I am in a reflective mood. Not just for the process or the deep meaning that many of our congregants experienced when they had the honor of writing a letter or a word in such a significant document.
I also remember the deep meaning experienced when we donated one of our existing Torahs to a little congregation in Tula Russia. It had come to our attention that many Temples supported by theWorld Union of Progressive Judaism, in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, had no Judaica items at all, never mind a Torah. We as a congregation did something about that.
Many of our congregants attended when Rabbi Nellie Shulman, one of only 4 or 5 Rabbis to serve all of the former Soviet Union, was flown from Moscow to our Temple to accept our Torah for the Tula congregation. We remember that a separate seat was purchased for the Torah on the airplane so that it did not need to be put into a luggage compartment on the plane.
Barbara and I had the privilege of visiting the congregation in Tula in June of 2004 as did Susie and Bruce Amster, although at a different time. We were struck by how meaningful the Torah was to these people. Most of them had been classified as Jews by the Communist regime but were not allowed to practice their religion. Some met in secret in homes to pray from books and many simply lived their lives knowing they were Jewish but not really knowing what that meant.
None of the congregants had ever seen a Torah before ours had arrived. They knew what it was but buying their own was an impossible task. They truly cherished it and someone from the congregation would take it home after each and every service they had. This Torah would never be left alone.
As the High Holidays approach I think back to that little Russian congregation and the deep reverence they had for that Torah and for their faith. I also think of the tremendous act of kindness exhibited by our congregation by making other Jews whole. Tikkun Olam, that is our essence as Jews.