A penny saved is a penny earned, or in the case of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, a penny earned is a word of Torah saved.
As part of its Mitzvah 613 project to raise money for a new Torah scroll and to repair others, religious school students at the North Brunswick synagogue are hoping to collect 300,000 pennies, roughly corresponding to the number of letters in the Torah text.
“I think it’s very symbolic,” said Chai student David Juro, 13, of South Brunswick. “Pennies are a little bit useless by themselves, but if you gather them all together then you have something large. Just like the words in the Torah. They’re useless individually, but gathered together they have so much meaning.”
A young Torah reader, Daria Valan of South Brunswick, 13, found a spiritual connection in the penny project. “It really feels cool because the words I’ll be reading are the ones I helped to fund by helping out in this project,” she said.
The project will culminate May 5 with the dedication of the new scroll, currently being inscribed in Israel. A new scroll, hand written on animal-skin parchment, can cost $30,000 or more.
At Hanukka teens in the congregation baked and sold cookies, turning the profits into pennies. Ideas are now being floated for fund-raising projects for next month’s Purim carnival, said school principal Ann Ruth Nimberg, in whose office several large jars of pennies now sit.
“It is a fun way of connecting students to the project in a way that is interesting and engaging,” said Torah fund cochair Ruth Anne Koenick. “When the sofer [scribe] comes back next month, he will also spend time in the religious school. We’re always looking for creative ways to teach and engage children.”
At the Torah fair kicking off the project in October, there were a number of youth-centered activities.
Koenick also serves as gabbai, ensuring that services run smoothly at the Conservative synagogue.
“As gabbai I spend a lot of time with our Torahs, and it was very clear a couple of years ago that we needed to purchase a new one,” she said. “We are a combination of three different congregations that all came with their own Torahs. Torahs are made to last a lifetime, and ours have done that and more.”
The congregation was formed in 1981 by the merger of Congregation Sharri Shalom, Temple Beth Shalom, and the North Brunswick Jewish Community Center. Its building was constructed in 1983.
In the ensuing decades, the synagogue has repaired its scrolls, which, said Cantor Bruce Rockman, are between 80 and 90 years old, but has never purchased a new one. The scrolls are from Eastern Europe from a time when the people “were poor and dared not waste anything,” so they used thicker, heavier hides to make the scrolls last longer, said Rockman. The wooden handles were made of sturdier wood than is often used today.
“These Torahs are so heavy that many people can’t lift them; only the strong guys,” said Rockman. “One of our motivations in doing this is that we want women and men who are getting older to have the honor of lifting the Torah.”
As a Torah reader, Matthew Juro, 16, can attest to the urgency of the Torah project.
“I was reading the Torah on Yom Kippur and it had mold,” he recalled. “From a practical standpoint they need to be replaced.”