Time-share program puts sacred torah in Jews' homes

By
September 14, 2007 09:52

For a one-time gift of $1,800, members of a miami synagogue can keep borrow the Torah for a week.

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Time-share program puts sacred torah in Jews' homes

torah scroll 88. (photo credit: )

They call it a torah time-share. Most Jews see the torah only in their synagogue, and have rarely held the holy scroll. But the Temple Israel reform syngagogue in Miami is taking the unprecedented step of allowing its members to host Judaism's sacred text in their homes in exchange for a donation. For a one-time gift of $1,800 (?1,300), donors can sponsor a section of the scroll. Each year, during the week before that section is read at Shabbat services, donors can keep the torah in their homes - visits that have prompted families to host scripture studies, parades and dinner parties. "When it's brought into a house, it makes the house more holy," said Rabbi Mitch Chefitz, who came up with the idea. "If the torah's in your room, then you have an honored guest." Chefitz showed up at Sandy Grossman's house during Rosh Hashanah week with the torah in a wheeled black duffel bag. After dinner, while the children danced the "Macarena" and pounded on a bongo drum, he put it on the dining room table. Everyone's attention shifted. Chefitz took off the torah's white fabric covering, or dress, as he referred to it. He sat at the head of the table and began to slowly unroll it. "She's a she," he explains, "because she wears a dress." As for its age, the rabbi said you shouldn't ask a lady such a question. But, he confided, this torah is about 160 and is probably from Poland. It later was bought by a couple who dedicated it to their only son who died in World War II. The time-share project will help pay for the torah's cleaning and repair, patching holes and fixing lettering. About 40 of the 52 available weekly torah time-shares have been purchased at Temple Israel. Other people have given $18 (?13) to sponsor a single letter of the scroll; all five books have been sponsored for $18,000 (?13,000). All together, the project has raised about $325,000 (?234,000) for the temple, far more than the restoration cost. Chefitz has been at Temple Israel for six years. Before that, he served as the rabbi of the Havurah of South Florida, which serves Jews disconnected from formal synagogue life. Because they had no actual temple, members took turns taking the torah home with them, an experience that led to his idea at Temple Israel. Temple Israel's program is believed to be the first of its kind. Chefitz said it has since inspired a Tel Aviv temple to start its own. Last year, Chaim LieberPerson picked the torah up from the temple, put it in the passenger seat of his Volkswagen Jetta and fastened the seatbelt. He said he was giddy about taking it home. As a Jewish educator, he is used to handling torahs, but this was different. "Every time that a torah is opened, I'm like a young child again," he said. "Having it in your home is kind of like having somebody from TV or the movies or someone famous in your home." LieberPerson and his wife Jenni hosted a "Torah Tea Party" for their two children and several dozen others. They decorated torah-shaped cookies, made T-shirts with their Hebrew names on them and paraded around the mango tree in the backyard, singing, playing instruments, and hoisting the scroll. The family also hosted a more traditional adult study gathering, which Chefitz led. At night, the LieberPersons put the torah in a closet to protect it from two cats and two children. Because Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Jewish calendar year, the torah was at the end of its five books when it arrived at the Grossmans' home a few days before the holiday. Chefitz, with help from those at the gathering, rolled back through Deuteronomy, Numbers, Leviticus and Exodus, to the start, in Genesis. Along the way, as the 120 feet (37 meters) of parchment unfurled, there were lessons on its production and its content. Chefitz talked about the painstaking lettering, the way it is spaced and the stories within. When Grossman first had the scroll in her home last year, she had a gathering for friends and family. When the guests left, her 12-year-old daughter Bari Pasternack ran to the torah and kissed it, read from it, and she took it to her bedroom with her and chanted prayers. The mother watched. All her life, Grossman said, she never truly understood the torah. But that night, it came alive.


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