A tale of two Torahs

A tale of two Torahs

FAIR LAWN – It was a last farewell to an old friend on its journey to Israel.

A sefer torah, resplendent in its white mantle and gold-embroidered lettering, made its final rounds in the sanctuary of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel on Aug. ‘3, carried in the welcoming arms of Rabbi Tsvi Landau of Kehilat Hakerem, the Masorti/Conservative Congregation of Karmiel, Israel.

Rabbi Ronald Roth presents a Torah to Rabbi Alexandre Leone, Centro B’nai Chalutzim, a new Jewish community in Alphaville, a suburb town of Greater Sao Paulo, Brazil, as Joseph Freedland looks on. This was the second Torah donated by the recently-merged congregations. photos by KEN HILFMAN

The Torah was one of five acquired by the Jewish Center as a result of the recent merger with B’nai Israel. When confronted with the additional Torahs in addition to the Center’s own 14, the board decided it could save space and perform a mitzvah at the same time.

"Both sides felt it was important to recognize the merger by performing a significant mitzvah and decided to donate two Torah scrolls," said Joe Freedland, co-chair of the shul’s religious committee.

The committee chose one scroll from each of the shuls to donate, and the responsibility of finding two needy communities fell to Freedland.

Rabbi Tsvi Landau walks around the FLJB/CBI after accepting the center’s donation of a sefer Torah.

Jeffrey and Roni Zerowin had visited the Karmiel synagogue for a bat mitzvah in March and "noted that they could use some siddurim and maybe some tallises," Jeffrey Zerowin told the Standard.

As a former board member of B’nai Israel, he knew of the many siddurim and other religious items now held by the combined congregations. After talking with Rabbi Tsvi Landau at the bat mitzvah, the couple brought word of the synagogue back to Fair Lawn.

"It was a very small congregation," added Roni Zerowin. "They were in need of a lot of things."

Freedland and the board decided to offer a Torah to the Karmiel congregation, which culminated in the Aug. ‘3 ceremony.

"We have many Torahs we’re not using," said Irving Sklaver, a FLJC/CBI vice-president, at the ceremony. "[I]t’s a mitzvah for us to do this."

Rabbi Ronald Roth of FLJC/CBI concurred, making an analogy to a baseball glove.

"Imagine a leather glove sitting on a shelf for ‘0 years, as opposed to using it every day. The sefer Torah is going home, and when we visit Israel in the future, we can see the Torah in Karmiel. This is a joyous event, and we are now far more connected with Israel."

"It’s a mitzvah," Landau noted, echoing Sklaver’s comments. "Many people talk about the Diaspora, and the land of Israel. I cannot think of a more meaningful way to make that connection firm, solid, and genuine than the knowledge of giving some object, like a sefer Torah, to Israel….The sefer Torah now being donated to us represents the importance and eternity of that connection."

Roth stated that part of the Jewish identity of American Jews is "very much tied to Israel." He added, "Now, we have an opportunity from the merger of our two synagogues to help something go the other way. From America, we can inspire Israelis in Karmiel."

The Zerowins were hopeful that the gift would create a new relationship between the two shuls.

"Many of our members go to Israel on a frequent basis," Jeff Zerowin said. "We’re hoping they’re going to go there to visit this Conservative temple."

Echoing the Zerowins’ optimism, Freedland said, "We hope to develop programs for the students in our religious school to communicate with other students there, and for tourists to visit when traveling in Israel."

For his part, Landau offered a standing invitation to the Fair Lawn congregants: "Come and visit the Torah."

Coinciding with a bar mitzvah celebration this past Shabbat was the donation of a second Torah, to Rabbi Alexandre Leone of Centro B’nai Chalutzim in Alphaville, a suburb of Greater Sao Paulo, Brazil.

About three weeks ago, a friend told Linda Lipson that the shul planned to hold the Torah ceremony on the day of her son’s bar mitzvah. Linda and her husband Robert decided the ceremony was "an amazing coincidence," because Zachary’s portion dealt with Moses instructing the Israelites on how to carry on without him.

"Everything happens for a reason, and the more we thought about it, the more we thought it was so amazing," she said. "That just added so much to the entire service. People came up to me and told me they had tears in their eyes."

During the ceremony, Freedland handed the Torah to Zachary, who in turn handed it to Leone.

"It’s kind of like when Moses was giving the Torah to Israel, I am giving a Torah to this rabbi," Zachary said Monday. "So it fell in perfectly."

Zachary’s father said he understood that some families would look at the added ceremony as an imposition on their child’s big day. But, he noted, he felt that the presentation only added to his son’s experience.

"I can’t imagine anybody not wanting to have this," he said. "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to physically hand off a Torah to another congregation that really needs it in another part of the world."

In last week’s Torah portion, Moses leaves instructions to the people of Israel on how to proceed without him. In a phone interview last week, Roth made a connection between the portion, the bar mitzvah, and the Torah donation.

"In the portion, Moses is telling the Israelites they should carry on," Roth said. "In a sense, the [bar mitzvah] student is accepting the[se] responsibilities, and those teachings are going to be further spread [through the Torah donation]."

Reached by phone shortly before Shabbat, Leone expressed excitement about his two-year-old congregation receiving its first Torah.

"In the Talmud it says that every Jew is responsible for the other," he said. The Torah donation is "a very practical way to show this."

The Conservative movement faces "a new frontier" with growing communities in Latin America and Europe that want to "integrate modernity and tradition," he said.

"When you see the American face of Conservative Judaism, you see only one side of it. There is a whole new development taking place right now in Brazil."

The 43-year-old Leone was born in Brazil but his family came from Venice, Italy.

"We are Italian Jews," he said. "My family, and other Jewish families were pushed out of Italy by Mussolini and the Fascists. Some came to America, but my family came to Brazil."

He attended the University of Sao Paulo before going to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He was the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Maywood before going back to Brazil in ‘005.

Later Saturday night, Leone was to receive a second donated Torah from a synagogue in Livingston.

Leone was scheduled to return to Brazil just before Rosh HaShanah — the first time his shul will use the new Torah. The symbolism of reading from a new Torah on the first day of the year is very special, he added.

"It will be used for the first time that very moment," he said. "We will open this Torah the first day of the year and read from it."

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