ONE TORAH’S JOURNEY
Every Torah tells a story. From the practiced hand of an expert scribe inking each letter to countless aliyot and reverent kisses of worshippers, every Torah has a history and a journey.
The journey of a Torah now gratefully embraced by Temple Solel in Fort Mill, South Carolina, started in New Castle, Pennsylvania, at Temple Hadar Israel, which has been engaged in planning with the Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP). JCLP is a resource for small congregations outside of metropolitan areas that have an aging population and dwindling leadership, and acts as a liaison between congregational leadership and a variety of partners to focus on short-term sustainability and long-term planning.
New Castle is situated in what was once a vibrant industrial part of Western Pennsylvania. Hadar Israel came into existence in 1997 as a result of the merger of the city’s two synagogues, both with long histories dating to the turn of the twentieth century. The Jewish population of New Castle began to decline in the 1960s along with that of the general population as children and grandchildren left the area in search of opportunity.
One planning objective of JCLP, which does not charge for its services, is to consider how to disperse ritual objects among appropriate recipients, including Torahs.
A founding member of Temple Solel, Al Rogat, initiated a request for a possible Torah transfer through Merry Lugasy, of the Union for Reform Judasim. David Sarnat, president of JCLP, received via Lugasy, a heartfelt letter written in mid-August from the leadership of Temple Solel. The letter articulated–through words and pictures—the need for a Torah to take the place of one that had been on loan to the young congregation. President James Fox and Vice President Shelley Pawlyk said in this letter that Temple Solel, founded in 2012, was growing and passionate about the practice of Judaism but the community was not yet able to afford their own Torah.
Sarnat brought the request to the attention of Temple Hadar Israel President Sam Bernstine and things happened very quickly. “One of our big concerns,” says Bernstine, “is to make sure the significant objects that have served us for 100 years can be shared with Jews globally.”
Quite coincidentally, Hadar Israel members Carole Schwartz Cohen and her son would be not far from Fort Mill when they drove to the Charlotte, North Carolina area over Labor Day weekend. She agreed to provide special transportation and her daughter Cindy, who lived in the area, would make the final delivery. The Torah was wrapped most carefully and a meeting point designated.
September 5th dawned bright and sunny. Emotions ran high among the receiving delegation from Temple Solel as they accepted the precious gift of their new Torah.
Pictured: Shelley Pawlyk, Carole Schwartz Cohen, James Fox and Al Rogat
Several weeks later, other members of Temple Hadar Israel felt the pull of the Torah just before they were to travel to Savannah, Georgia. More arrangements were made and a gracious lunch shared in Fort Mill. The liveliness of Temple Solel impressed the Pennsylvanians and they were especially delighted to see the Torah, which had been lovingly cleaned and preserved by Temple Solel congregants, in its new ark. “We can all feel especially proud for making this generous gift to a well-meaning congregation,” said Beverly Greenberg in an email to her fellow congregants. “We will be forever connected to Temple Solel and Fort Mill, South Carolina.”
They are all also forever connected to Beit Centrum Ki Tov in Warsaw, Poland, as this new Progressive congregation received the donation of a Torah from Hadar Israel last spring. “Thanks to the guidance of the JCLP, placing these Torahs with these congregations is our way of extending the life of Judaism in New Castle and keeping Hadar Israel alive,” says Sam Bernstine.
When they heard about the arrival of the Torah, Scott and Terry Lange of Temple Solel recalled seeing “The Precious Legacy,” a traveling exhibition featuring stolen Judaic treasures the Nazis had sent to a museum in Prague that they had hoped would be a propaganda center about an extinct people.
One photograph in the exhibit depicted Torah scrolls stacked like cordwood. “It was enough to make you cry,” said the Langes. “Many of these Torahs have been repaired and sent to new congregations so that the words inside might take root in a new generation of hearts and minds.”
“We are, after all, ‘People of the Book,’” he continued. Knowing there is an organization like the JCLP ensures Jewish history and Judaism are preserved for future generations.”
A welcoming and joyful Temple Solel dedicated their new Torah with a special ceremony on Rosh Hashanah morning, October 3. Al Rogat ceremoniously carried the Torah to the Bimah. Russ Cobe, Lay Leader, recited a blessing as honored members carefully removed the Tallit used to wrap the precious gift from New Castle. The young generation of children under the age of 18 was then called to stand under the Tallit, now held up as a Chuppah.
Next Generation of Temple Solel Children under the Chuppah standing in front of ark
“Having our own Torah means that we are truly a synagogue,” says new member Jan Rose. “I would have joined this temple whether or not it owned a Torah but now that we do have one of our own to read and study from and care for, it will bind us together as a beloved part of our community.”
The Monday and Weinberger families described how fortunate they feel to represent a three-generation family that calls Temple Solel home. “In the short time of our congregation’s existence we’ve already experienced such special milestones, including our daughter’s baby naming,” said Laurabree Monday.
“A Torah we can call our own will only make upcoming moments that much more special and memorable. Sitting in services with my parents and my children always warms my heart,” she enthused.
Laurabree added, “The JCLP’s mission is certainly coming full circle in our lovely little South Carolina temple. Thanks to them for sharing the gift of family, the gift of giving, and the gift of Judaism—all lessons we hope to pass on to our children.”
Temple President, James Fox, reading from the new Torah standing next to Russ Cobe, Lay Leader.
Multiple congregants expressed their deepest appreciation for this gift. Renee Feitelberg, one of Temple Solel’s founding members, and new member Jan Rose summarized the community’s appreciation by saying, “The people of Temple Hadar Israel understood the need for a synagogue to own a Torah and want us to carry on Jewish traditions long after they close their doors. They have given us a reason to do that by entrusting us with one of their Torahs. This act of gemilut chasadim—loving-kindness—is the most generous thing anyone could do for our growing congregation. The mere words ‘thank you’ don’t seem adequate to express our gratitude.