With song, dance, and a parade, about 350 members of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick welcomed its first new Torah scroll in its 32-year history.
The May 5 celebration was the culmination of the Conservative synagogue’s Mitzvah 613 project involving congregants from religious school students to adults in fund-raising and educational programs.
While Cantor Bruce Rockman was unsure of the exact total raised, he said it was enough to purchase the new scroll, repair five other Torah scrolls, “and put a little away” for future upgrades to the sanctuary.
The congregation was formed in 1981 by the merger of Congregation Sharri Shalom in South Brunswick, Temple Beth Sholom in Kendall Park, and the North Brunswick Jewish Community Center, all of which brought their own Torah scrolls.
Rockman said those scrolls are 80-90 years old and were from Eastern Europe, where it was typical to use heavier parchment and wooden handles. A new, lighter scroll would allow expansion of the list of those honored with hagba’ah, or lifting the Torah scroll.
“This is one of high spots of my adult life and the best is yet to come,” said founding member and Kendall Park resident Aaron Rosloff, 91, just before being called up for the first blessing. “I got the honor of writing the first letter in this Torah and am absolutely humbled.”
In a symbolic bridging of the old and new, Jonathan Peters of Dayton, who had become a bar mitzva the day before — and thus the last person to read from one of the old scrolls — became one of the first to read from the new one.
“It was pretty exciting to read from both,” said Jonathan after his aliya.
Mitzvah 613 cochair Ruth Anne Koenick, who, as the congregation’s gabbai helps ensure that services run smoothly, told the gathering about growing up in the Conservative movement when women couldn’t be called up for an aliya. As a result, she said, her involvement at the egalitarian B’nai Tikvah was especially meaningful.
Led by motorcycles with Israeli and American flags affixed to the handlebars, the Torah scroll — under a huppa in one of the procession’s several vintage cars (including a 1933 Cadillac) — was paraded for about a half-mile down Finnegans Lane as Rockman and the Sons of Tikvah band performed on a flatbed truck. The procession, including hundreds of flag-waving congregants, then circled in the shul parking lot several times.
As the band continued to play, people took turns holding the scroll as others danced in circles around them for almost a half-hour. The scroll was then unfurled and wrapped around the dozens of children present before everyone headed into the sanctuary to witness sofer, or ritual scribe, Rabbi Zerach Greenfield write the last few letters in the sacred text.
Rabbi Robert Wolkoff said while God’s commitment to Eretz Yisrael was made through Torah, God’s presence is felt through the making of a sacred community.
“It takes a village to make a Torah,” he told the gathering. “But as much as it takes a village to make a Torah, as Jews it also takes a Torah to make a village.”
Eleven-year-old Shayna Denlow of North Brunswick said this was the second time she had seen a Torah scroll dedication.
“My dad’s cousin donated a Torah in honor of his parents,” she said, “but I think this one is better because it’s new and it’s all ours.
“It was like a new mitzva was being born. There were kids all around, and we were all dancing and singing. Everyone felt it was very special.”