dailytidings.com/Photos by Jyl Klein
Amid much dancing, feasting and procession through the streets of Ashland, the Chabad of Southern Oregon on Sunday celebrated the completion of its Torah scroll, which includes the sacred first five chapters of Moses and Judaism’s core belief systems to live by.
Chabad, located in the old Starbucks by People’s Bank, is one of three synagogues in Ashland and the city’s only Orthodox synagogue. Chabad members have been working with a borrowed Torah, but now have their own, a revered scroll to be used for ceremonies and teachings down through the generations, Rabbi Avi Zwiebel said.
“It’s like the (Torah is the) bride and we are the bridegroom, celebrating our merging with it. It’s written and whole now and, like us, we are only complete when we’re whole. It’s part of the renaissance of Judaism taking place now,” said Zwiebel on a short break from ritual dancing, as he marched the new Torah from the Ashland Community Center to the Plaza and back.
“The Torah is the cornerstone of our lives and it’s been our guide for thousands of years,” said Rabbi Chayim Mishulo of Portland, who came for the event. “It’s the laws and stories and is written by hand on parchment, with a feather pen, the same way for 2,000 years. Every point, every letter in it is the same around the world and each letter or word can teach us something. Any time a new Torah is brought into the community, it’s a joyous city-wide affair.”
Zwiebel opened with a slide show that showed the life of a Torah created by a scribe in Ukraine that survived through the generations, even with the Nazi invasion, and was hidden in a basement before being shipped to New York and displayed to people who understood it only as a work of art.
“The Torah is made on parchment or lambskin, traditionally and takes a year or more to write by hand,” said Chabad member Carol Tschuda. “I grew up in the reform tradition, but I feel so welcome here and am learning by immersion in this.”
Hadassah Dejack of Talent, a holocaust historian just back from research in Poland, underlined the importance of a new Torah as “something you don’t generally see even once in a lifetime, but I’ve seen it once before, so this is huge to get one finished in little old Ashland. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
She said she left orthodox Judaism years ago but has been missing it and this appeals to her “yiddishkeit,” or old traditional Jewish ways.
Faigy Zwiebel, wife of the rabbi, said, “It’s such a joyous ceremony, something that doesn’t happen very often. It takes years to write the Torah and we’re very honored now to have it.”
As the scribe finished writing the final words, many elders and members were called up on the Community Center stage to touch the pen and help it on its way to the last letter.