Vintage Sefer Torah Gets a Home


sefer-torahIsadora Rangel reports in the Miami Herald: It took more than 110 years for a Torah written in the late 19th century, and which survived the Holocaust and more than 40 years behind the Iron Curtain, to get to a small town in South Miami-Dade.

On Sunday, members of the Jewish community danced down Old Cutler Road, prayed, sang Hebrew verses and lifted the 40-pound, 150-foot-long Torah scroll to celebrate its donation to the Chabad of Cutler Bay & Homestead.

The precious Torah will now be stored in an ark at the chabad, and will be used for the first time on Saturday. Previously, the temple used one Torah when the norm is to have at least two to read at special festivities.

“In Judaism, we have to read from two Torahs and we have been rolling ours back and forth,” said Rabbi Yossi Wolff. “This is incredible. It makes the synagogue more beautiful.”

Torah scrolls contain the five books of Moses, and are stored in synagogues in cabinets called arks. They are hand-written in Hebrew. If even one letter is missing, the whole Torah is deemed non-kosher, or invalid.

A new scroll can cost $20,000 to $60,000.

The torah dedicated on Sunday was written in 1899. It is not known how it survived the Holocaust in Romania. During the communist regime, it was kept at museums until the country’s chief rabbi, Moses Rosen, gave it in 1991 to Haim Wiener, the founder along with his wife, Gila, of the American Society for the Advancement of the Cantorial Arts, a group dedicated to preserving Jewish music and culture.

In the late 1980s, the group began touring collapsing communist countries in Eastern Europe, including Romania, to revive Jewish traditions that had been prohibited by their regimes.

“Unless we spoke to someone older than 50 years old, no one knew about Jewish traditions,” Wiener said. “We were speaking to people who were not allowed to open a prayer book.”

During one of the trips to the country, Wiener participated in a service to remember the Holocaust. Afterward, Rosen gave him two Torahs.

The Torah celebrated on Sunday was first dedicated to Wiener and his wife with the inscription zachor, which means “remember” in Hebrew, in reference to the Holocaust.

For years, he kept the two Torahs at his house in Miami Beach. He donated the other Torah to the Chabad Lubavitch Florida headquarters in Miami Beach. When he moved to an apartment, he decided to give away the second Torah.

“I thought the best thing to do would be to donate it to one of the new chabad houses,” Wiener said.

During the same time, the recently founded Chabad of Cutler Bay & Homestead was on the hunt for a new Torah. The chabad was established in August 2008 in Wolff’s living room, and in September 2010 it moved to a shopping center on Old Cutler Road.

“When we started, we had a miniature Torah loaned to us,” said Bruce Greenstein, a Cutler Bay dentist involved with the chabad who started the search for the Torah. The Torah ended up finding Greenstein and the chabad instead, he said.

One of Wolff’s friends, Rabbi Yochanan Klein, knew about Wiener’s Romanian Torah and tipped him and Greenstein to it.

Coincidentally, Greenstein’s grandparents came from Romania, and he decided to dedicate the Torah to them on Sunday.

“Is it a coincidence or a miracle that a dentist who lives in a little town, who insists upon finding a Torah for his local shul asks his rabbi, who has a rabbi friend who knows a man who is in possession of a Torah that was written in my grandfather’s country over 111 years ago?” he said to the audience during the celebration.

The Torah was damaged and was considered non-kosher. Klein, who is also a scribe, spent four months restoring it. He wrote each Hebrew letter on the cow-skin scrolls with a feather.

He left 84 letters to be completed Sunday during the ceremony. Members of the community could purchase a letter for $36.

After Klein finished drawing the final letter on the scroll, the group carried it outside on Old Cutler Road, where they celebrated. Back inside, the men danced around a table and passed on the Torah from shoulder to shoulder as they chanted and did the hakofot, which means going around in circles during the holiday of Simchat Torah.

“One of the commandments we have as Jews is to write our own Torah,” Greenstein said. “Participating in the effort of completing a Torah is as if we had actually participated in the creation of an entire Torah.”

Bernice Granick purchased the letter yod, which stands for the name of her son Joshua. who died last year of bladder cancer. “I feel connected with him now,” she said.

Greenstein’s father, Melvyn, purchased seven letters for himself and his family — his wife Irene, his son and four grandchildren. The seven letters together form the last two words of the Torah — “All Israel.”

Melvyn Greenstein refuses to believe the Torah finding its way to the chabad is a coincidence. “Everything in the world has the hand of God,” he said.

{Miami Herald/}