It’s believed to be San Clemente’s first Torah as well.
San Clemente, CA — With the last few letters of Deuteronomy inscribed, a cheer went up – “Mazeltov!” – and a local Jewish congregation received their first Torah Sunday.
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It’s believed to be a first for San Clemente as well, which has never had a synagogue in town. For Chabad San Clemente, a congregation that began only three years ago, it was a milestone event attended by about 100 people. They met at the Best Western Casablanca Inn on South El Camino Real, where Chabad holds its services.
Having a copy of the Torah, Judaism’s primary holy text and known to Christians as the Old Testament, is seen as a major step in the growth of a congregation.
“This is a firm grounding of the community in San Clemente,” said Dr. Salem Claude, a Chabad member. “It means we’ve arrived as a community. That we have roots – not only individual roots, but that the community as a whole has roots in San Clemente.”
A Torah is written on parchment, usually made from the skin of a kosher animal, said congregation leader Rabbi Mendel Slavin. The thread is made from the animal’s veins, and the whole parchment is rolled up into two scrolls. It’s considered sacred, and can never be thrown out. After hundreds of years, when a Torah is beyond repair, it’s buried.
“Right now, the skin of that animal (made into parchment) is holy, and can never be discarded,” Slavin said. “That’s our mission, to take mundane things and turn them into holiness.”
Composed of approximately 600,000 letters (representing the 600,000 Jewish souls first created by God), the Torah can take up to a year to write. The work is done by a professional scribe and is an expensive undertaking: Chabad’s Torah, made in Israel, cost $23,000. A silver crown placed atop it cost several thousand. Slavin estimated the entire cost, plus the celebration, cost $30,000.
Torahs alone can range in price from several thousand to $40,000, Slavin said.
The purchase was initiated when member Rochelle Kaplan was attending services and decided the congregation needed its own Torah. Previously, they had borrowed a very old copy from a congregation in Laguna Beach.
She talked it over with her husband, who suggested buying one and making it a surprise – a lovely idea until they looked some up online.
“It was overwhelming,” Kaplan said. “We went online and I said, ‘Wow, I don’t know what to get,” Kaplan said. “There’s so many different ones and different prices, so I called the rabbi, and he said we’ll do it together.”
She helped purchase the Torah to honor her parents, which is considered a mitzvah – an act of great kindness – in Jewish culture.
Once someone initiates the purchase of a Torah, the congregation funds it in a piecemeal fashion. One person makes a donation for the crown; another for the ark, a ceremonial container for the Torah.
Many purchase pieces of text, Slavin said. The Torah’s passages correspond to the Jewish calendar, and some members bought the month they were married in, or the week they turned 13 and first read the Torah. Others just wanted to chip in, and bought phrases with their name in them, or even individual letters.
When the Torah was finished, the congregation marched down the street, symbolically bringing it into the community. Its first reading will be Wednesday, May 23 at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Casablanca Inn, 1601 N. El Camino Real. For more information, call 949-489-0723 or email email@example.com.
As part of the ceremony the torah is completed by a scribe, Aaron Shaffier from Los Angeles (right), as members of the community, Natalie and Marty Stein (left) along with their 6 year-old son Evan Stein, take part in the completion process. They do so by touching pen to parchment, making their mark for the scribe to start writing. The Chabad’s Rabbi, Mendel Slavin (center) looks on. Photos by Dominique Riley, For the Sun Post News