New Torah Scroll Links and Inspires Embattled Long Beach, L.I., Jewish Community
by Nancy Hochman – chabad.org
There are few acts of vandalism or theft more traumatic to a Jewish community than the loss or destruction of a Torah scroll, so when two scrolls were stolen on the very same day that Chabad of the Beaches moved into its new synagogue a year ago, the community was in shock. A congregant later recovered a bent Torah crown, but that was the only remnant of the break-in. The scrolls were never found.
Although each Torah scroll is unique, and in that sense cannot be replaced, the bringing to life of a new Torah has been redemptive for the Beaches Jewish community—a means of taking old pain, and from it, building a joyous new legacy, said Rabbi Eli Goodman, who directs Chabad of the Beaches with his wife, Beila.
Many in the Chabad of the Beaches community agree that the united effort to write a new Torah scroll over the past year has strengthened their resolve for greater Jewish involvement, all of which came to fruition recently when the community celebrated the completion and dedication of the new scroll. Heightening the sense of community involvement, the scroll was the first to be written by the congregation’s own chazan (“cantor”) and baal korei (“Torah reader”).
“The community Torah not only links us to the 160 families that contributed to its long, meaning-filled gestation,” said the rabbi, “but to all those, living and gone, to whom these letters, pesukim (‘verses’), parshiot (‘weekly portions’) and entire books of the Torah have been dedicated.”
“Our community was there together from the inception of this Torah, and we celebrated its completion together,” added Beila Goodman.
That community solidarity and resolve were again evident in recent weeks when they were again challenged, this time by the local government of Atlantic Beach, which announced it intended to take over through eminent domain land that Chabad purchased last year. Chabad had planned to build a community center on the site the local council is attempting to seize.
“We’ve already gotten past many obstacles, and are confident we’ll get past this one as well,” said Rabbi Goodman. He reflected that the difficulty of the challenge is often commensurate with the reward that challenge brings, in this case, to the entire community.
Linking Together a Community and Its Scribe
The new scroll got its start in the rabbi’s garden at a farbrengen (community celebration) following services on Shavuot 2021, when the congregation had to borrow a second Torah for services, recalled Dr. Doniel Buff, a founding member of Chabad of the Beaches.
At the time, Chabad was housed in the Goodman’s home, and they had one Torah scroll. Synagogues frequently use two Torahs, sometimes three. After discussing the need for a second Torah, Buff began a community campaign to finance an additional Torah.
“On the spot, four additional families committed to a healthy sum, and the community effort was born,” said Buff.
Furthering the spirit of community effort, the congregation commissioned its own weekly baal koreh and chazan, Rabbi Chaim Gourarie, who had recently finished his training as a sofer (“scribe”), to write it.
“We were happy to hire Chaim, and to provide him with financial support during his first year of marriage,” said Rabbi Goodman. Like all sofers, Gourarie wrote each letter by hand with a feather quill and specially prepared ink on parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal. Even a single misshapen, missing or “broken” letter invalidates the entire Sefer Torah and must be fixed.
“Throughout the days and weeks and months of lovingly writing each letter, and it was a bit more difficult than anticipated, I was in close contact with Rabbi Goodman, who was always a great source of encouragement and energy,” said Gourarie. “What could be a bigger honor than being asked to write a Sefer Torah for the community I have come to know and love?” he added.
The Chabad of the Beaches Community Torah’s adornments were intentionally designed to reflect the oceanfront community, in itself a spiritual place—a reminder of the grandeur of G‑d’s seas, said Rabbi Goodman. The ocean-blue Israeli stones on its crown and wooden handles took months to find, he added.
Additionally, the ocean-blue swirls on its handles are evocative of the sea. The front of the mantel bears the words: “Chabad of the Beaches Soul and Sea,” the same insignia on the outside of the Chabad of the Beaches shul. Below proudly sit the words “Community Torah.” On the back of the mantle, which is made of light-blue leather, is imprinted the names of many of the Torah’s benefactors.
Renee Azoulay, a congregant, also donated for the creation of the new Torah. “Being a part of this celebration and scribing of a community Torah was extraordinarily special.” She said that during the inscription of the final words, “I was able to stand close to the Torah and that feeling, each time we pray using it, is something I cherish and consider myself blessed to have.”
Buff had his hand securely on Rabbi Gourarie’s shoulder, while he inscribed the last word of the Torah: “Yisrael.” Jeff Rosner, a former congregant who lives in Florida and flew in for the event, was given the honor of Hagbah, raising the Torah aloft. As in all new Torah ceremonies, this Torah was paraded around town under a chuppah, and later brought into the synagogue to “meet and dance with” the other Torahs. There was also a celebratory meal. Everything about the occasion was reminiscent of a wedding. Indeed, celebrating a new Torah is a reminder of the marriage between G‑d and the Jewish people at Sinai.
For Buff, who dedicated a portion of the Torah in memory of his son, Moshe Chaim, who passed from cancer as a child, the Chabad of the Beaches Torah represents a means of bringing more deeds of goodness in this world: “It binds us all to the Torah reading and the mitzvahs. In honor of the mitzvahs done, may we have the zechus—the privilege—to see all our departed family and friends once again back in their physical bodies.”
This article has been reprinted with permission from chabad.org