Chavurah dedicates Torah
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Chavurah dedicates Torah

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Moshe Klein, a sofer, completes the writing of the Chavurah of Northern New Jersey’s Torah. Courtesy Chavurah of Northern New Jersey

An 80-year-old Torah scroll written in Bialystok, Poland, has found a new home at the Chavurah of Northern New Jersey in Pompton Lakes.

On June 14, 90 members of the independent prayer group celebrated the arrival of the scroll, which was bought by its spiritual leader, Judaic educator Lorraine Litvin Mann.

“I had been borrowing a Torah from a local synagogue, and families made a donation each time it was borrowed,” explained Mann. “Then I decided, why not buy our own?”

Mann was directed to scribes and Torah brokers Yankel and Moshe Klein. The brothers showed her several Torahs they had acquired from defunct congregations. The final one had been written in the early 1920s in Bialystok and brought to the new world by a group of immigrants.

“I said that one was going to be mine,” said Mann. Her parents, David Borman and Dora Poniaczyk, had been born into chasidic families in towns near Bialystok. “Almost my entire family was killed during the Holocaust in a forest just outside the city,” she said.

Using about $14,000 of her own funds, Mann bought the scroll and hired a carpenter to make an ark for it in her office. “I take it out to practice with my students,” said Mann, who is tutoring close to 50 children for their b’nai mitzvah. “Every time I open it up, it’s like my fourth child.”

The chavurah was formed almost five years ago by a core group of six families and has grown to more than 50 families from Bergen, Passaic, and Morris counties. Along with her husband, Jerry, Mann, an experienced Hebrew school teacher and principal, founded the group.

“We had been active in a Reform temple and got tired of the politics,” she said. “So we decided to form a group and reach out to unaffiliated people or people who were unhappy with where they were affiliated.”

Services are held irregularly at members’ homes, with costs shared by those who participate.

“We’re not looking to start a synagogue,” Mann said. “We are an alternative. If it’s meaningful to the families and keeps them connected and feeling good about being Jewish, that’s what is important to me.”

At the dedication, held under a tent in the Manns’ backyard with refreshments provided by members, Moshe Klein scraped off the letters in the Torah’s last paragraph in order to rewrite them as the agent of the attendees – thereby helping them fulfill the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah. As he worked, Klein explained the steps involved in making parchment from skins of kosher animals.

“He spoke about how the parchment has to be prepared, which includes two weeks in salt and then a lime bath to remove the hair and skin,” Mann related. After the parchment dries on a wooden frame, the surface is smoothed with a sanding machine and then trimmed. A Torah usually contains 248 columns, requiring about 80 skins.

To further involve the chavurah members in the dedication, Mann asked for donations to be distributed to medical charities with personal resonance for the attendees.

More than $2,000 was contributed and divided among the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation for leukemia research; the FSH Society for muscular dystrophy research; the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network; the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; the New Jersey chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America; American Parkinson Disease Association; the NJ Sharing Network for organ and tissue donation; the Arc of Bergen and Passaic Counties for individuals with developmental disabilities; Special Quest, a program that provides volunteers to help autistic children; and the Fibrous Dysplasia Foundation.

“More money is even coming in now,” said Mann. “It is so heartwarming.”

For information on the chavurah, call (973) 835-4199.

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