Odyssey of a Torah

When one congregation could no longer use a sefer Torah, a series of people helped find a far-away congregation grateful to receive it.

by Ken Turkewitz

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The Av Beit Din Rabbi Chaim Weiner, Comunidad Judía de Alicante Centro’s President Armando Azubel, and Comunidad Judía de Alicante Centro’s Rabbi Carlos Tapiero with the Torah.

This is the story of the journey of a hundred year-old Torah scroll and of the efforts of men and women from Temple Shaare Tefilah in Norwood, Massachusetts, leaders from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, Masorti Olami, and a  small Jewish community in southeastern Spain.

The journey began when Shaare Tefilah moved into space at the Kehillah Schechter Academy in Norwood and the congregation found itself with a sefer Torah that was too tall to fit into the ark in the new sanctuary space. The search to find the Torah a new home began with contacting Conservative/Masorti communities in the United States. When this did not bear fruit we spoke with FJMC Executive Director Rabbi Charles Simon, who had been working extensively with Masorti Europe. Rabbi Simon immediately focused on the needs of a small congregation in Alicante, Spain, that did not have a Torah of its own.

With the help of Joanna Kubar, vice president of Masorti Europe, Rabbi Simon connected our synagogue with Comunidad Judia de Alicante Centro and orchestrated what in the end turned out to be a marathon journey.

The original plan was somewhat straight-forward. Shaare Tefilah congregant Bob Braitman, who was attending an editorial meeting of CJ, would carry the Torah scroll to the FJMC offices in New York City. From there a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary would bring it to the Masorti Europe headquarters in Amsterdam. From there it would be brought by Masorti leadership to a meeting in Alicante.

Sometimes the best laid plans blow up, and that literally is what happened in this case. The same day that the student was planning to fly to Amsterdam, Volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted in Iceland resulting in the grounding of all air travel in Europe.

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait for long. Rabbi Rivon Krygier, of Adat Shalom in Paris, happened to be attending a conference at JTS. He agreed to transport the Torah to Paris. From Paris it was brought to Alicante by Claude Machline, the honorary life president of Masorti Europe.

The Torah was re-dedicated as part of a Masorti Europe conference being held in Alicante. Armando Azubel, president of Comunidad Judía de Alicante Centro, wrote:

In Shacharit shel Shabbat Rabbi Weiner read from the sefer Torah and we had as many aliyot as possible. During Minchah we made the inauguration and welcoming to the new sefer Torah with seven hakafot [processions] where everybody danced with the sefer. Rabbi Chaim made a nice shiur [lesson] about some details of the sefer Torah. Considering the weight, the wood, the types and measures, he explained that the Sefer must be very old.

Rabbi Carlos Tapiero made a Mi Sheberach for Kehilat Shaare Tefilah and a nice speech thanking them for this generous donation. We, the Synagogue Beth Shalom of Alicante, board, friends and members, are very proud to hold and being the new home for such Anciane-Zaken-Sefer Torah. Let’s hope, B”H, that our Kehila and your Kehila continue to improve and stay active and creative for the next 120 years and more, and we can continue helping others and giving to others the chance of growing.

This donation is a kind of richness that Kehilat Shaare Tefilá will never lose.

Ken Turkewitz is the incoming president of the New England Region of FJMC and is ritual chair for Shaare Tefilah, Norwood, Massachusetts.