In these days of Kindles and smartphones, eBooks have come to be better sellers than their paper and ink predecessors. How then to explain the robust and extended celebration at League City’s Chabad of the Bay Area Jewish Center over a handwritten Hebrew parchment scroll?
The entire congregation, plus representatives from all area synagogues, gathered in the strip center parking lot along FM 518 as the new Torah, or five books of Moses, was reverently held under a wedding canopy by five enthusiastic men, flanked by a League City police SUV.
Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, Texas regional director for Texas Friends of Chabad Lubavitch, told those assembled that getting a new set of such scrolls was a metaphor for God marrying his chosen people, so the festivities would begin with this ‘wedding’ procession under the special chuppah, a canopy on poles used for Jewish marriage ceremonies.
After these few words of blessing and instruction, over 100 people slowly accompanied the scrolls along the 100-yard journey to its sacred ark, a wooden resting place at the front of Chabad’s meeting place. The excitement built as one man began to dance with his 4-year-old son. By the time the assembly squeezed back into the auditorium, many of the men were jumping, dancing, shouting as they circled and circled before the ark, many carrying children. The treasure, an exact copy, they explain, that is just like the 13 scrolls Moses himself penned after receiving the Ten Commandments.
“Its a great joy — beyond time — connecting us back over 2,000 years to Moses who wrote the Torah by hand,” said Rabbi Naftoli Schmukler, who came up from Corpus Christi, just for this occasion. “This is an exact, letter-for-letter copy of that. It brings great blessing as a holy object to this place and this community. We cherish and rejoice with the Torah.
The joy and excitement rose as the men circled the bimah, a massive central furnishing that will support the scrolls during their thrice-weekly readings as long a this place endures. Rabbi Yitzchok Schmukler began a twirling, ecstatic dance as he orbited the wooden podium. His Orthodox tassels flew outward as he spun.
It’s not the normal quiet service you might encounter on a typical Saturday here or in any of the other local synagogues. Torahs are prepared by hand in an age-old, painstaking fashion that results in both fine rarity and great expense. So few congregations possess a backup. Great care much be taken to avoid even touching the surface where the Hebrew, written without any vowels, resides.
“One can’t imagine a greater mitzvah, or good deed, than to be able to bring the Torah, as the lifeblood of congregation,” said Dr. Stephen Falk, who donated the scrolls, which were recently reconditioned after a lifetime of service in a synagogue in the Bronx borough of New York City. “I did it in honor of my late parents who were loving, giving people. We moved them from New York to Houston in 1978. They both lived to 100 so we had the great fortune to have them with us here for a long time.”
Next week in Our Faith: A new Christian radio station resides on the mid-county FM dial.