By Robin Miller/The Reporter
They were just teenagers. Three young men who, like teens everywhere, shared interests in sports, music, school, friends and family.
Then they disappeared.
Abducted last June on their way home from school, the three would be found two weeks later shot dead and left in a pit in the West Bank. All because, unlike teens everywhere, they were the targets of anti-semitic hate.
The deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, stunned Israel and sparked a global outpouring of sympathy, even the Vatican declared the act “despicable.”
Jews across the globe vowed the young men would not be forgotten with tributes of all sorts, including one now ensconced in Vacaville — a Torah on loan to Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County and already in use at its new Main Street location.
The story of the Torah’s arrival can’t be told without a trip down memory lane with local Rabbi Chaim Zaklos. To understand, he says, you need to know of the miracles that happened along the way to its arrival here.
And his arrival here as well.
First one needs to understand the importance of a Sefer Torah (hand written scroll) to an orthodox Jewish center like Chabad of Solano County. “You need one to read from and teach from,” explained Zaklos.
And they don’t come cheap. They are each hand written by scribes in Israel in a process steeped in tradition. A brand new Torah scroll can run upward of $50,000.
“There are 304,805 letters in the Torah and every single one of them around the world are exactly the same. They look exactly identical but they are not copied, they are hand written. You go anywhere in the world and look at the scroll and it will be the same in every detail, written by people who have to be specially trained.”
Because of that, it is not unusual for a community like Solano’s to borrow a Torah from a synagogue or individual who has one. And five years ago, as Zaklos and his wife, Aidel, prepared to move from New York to Solano County to begin the work of establishing the local Chabad, he knew he would be coming with one big important piece of the puzzle missing: a Torah scroll.
“So I was sitting in the synagogue in New York and I was distraught and a gentleman sitting next to me could see I was distraught and asked me what was the matter,” recalled Zaklos. “So I told him and can you believe it? He said his father has two scrolls on loan, one in Florida that has just become available again.”
Zaklos still shakes his head in wonder at the memory of it.
“How odd that I should sit next to this one man and how often do we really tell someone what’s on our mind, but I did and he just happens to know where we can get a scroll?” Zaklos said. “It felt so divine. It felt like God was sending me a message that I am going in the right direction.”
That borrowed scroll served the local chabad for three-and-a-half years before it needed to have a “check up,” said Zaklos, to make sure there were not problems with it and it was still in kosher condition.
The news was not great. It would need repairs and the estimated cost would be around $10,000.
Without the funds, and also in the midst of a building campaign, the local congregation decided it would be best to begin the hunt for another scroll to borrow.
A search online uncovered Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach, a project out of Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York which sees that Torah scrolls are re refurbished and loaned out to emerging communities like Chabad Solano County.
The organization, shortly after hearing of the Israeli teenagers’ murders immediately went to work having three Torahs named in honor of the teams and loaned out. One of those, is the scroll now on loan to the Vacaville Chabad.
The scroll’s cover is black velvet and inscribed on it in gold lettering is the story of the teens in Hebrew.
It arrived shortly before Rosh Hashanah, adding to the meaningfulness of it, said Zaklos.
When he first read from it, he said there were tears in the eyes of many of those who attended.
A congregant came to him and said “I feels like those kids are coming to life right here in our community,” Zaklos recalled.
“Those kids were murdered just for the fact that they were Jewish and terrorists want to kill Jews,” Zaklos said. “I didn’t know them but when I heard the story I was moved to tears.”
Honoring them or any Jew persecuted or killed — with the Torah, with prayers — “it is the least we can do,” said Zaklos. “We can stand up proudly as Jews and give at least our moral support … and not cave in to terrorism.”