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Gift seals friendship forged in flames
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Gift seals friendship forged in flames

Bloomfield synagogue donates Torah scroll to northern kibbutz

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

As the Torah scroll was dedicated, Ronni Pressman, in tallit and kipa, chanted a passage with a yad she brought as a gift for Kibbutz Beit Oren. Photos by Randy Pressman
As the Torah scroll was dedicated, Ronni Pressman, in tallit and kipa, chanted a passage with a yad she brought as a gift for Kibbutz Beit Oren. Photos by Randy Pressman

A relationship literally forged in flames culminated last month when Bloomfield’s Temple Ner Tamid donated a Torah scroll to Kibbutz Beit Oren near Haifa.

The kibbutz sustained extensive damage in the December fire in the Carmel Forest. Jerry Krivitzky of Montclair happened to be landing in Israel as the fire broke out, on a trip organized through Jewish Helping Hands, a foundation run by Rabbi Joel Soffin, rabbi emeritus of Temple Shalom in Succasunna.

Krivitzky wondered how he and the others on the trip could help in the aftermath of the fire, which claimed the lives of 41 people and razed thousands of acres of forestland.

Rabbi Edgar Nof of Kehilat Or Hadash in Haifa, who had planned the group’s visit to a women’s shelter, arranged a stop at Kibbutz Beit Oren with kibbutz manager Ran Ronan and his wife, Imi, an artist.

After asking how he could help, Krivitzky said, he was expecting to write a check. Instead, he recalled, “Ran pauses, he takes a deep breath and replies, ‘A Torah. We need a Torah.’”

The secular kibbutz, with a synagogue run by Jewish Renewal Rabbi Ohad Ezrachi, had never had a Torah scroll of its own.

Nearly eight months later, Krivitzky made good on his offer, with a little help from his congregation, Ner Tamid.

As it happened, just before Krivitzky’s trip, Rabbi Steven Kushner of the Reform temple in Bloomfield had suggested that the congregation consider what to do with their additional Torah scrolls. After its recent merger with Temple Beth Shalom, which had been located in Clifton, the congregation, which already had six scrolls, acquired an additional five.

It didn’t take long for Ner Tamid’s board to approve the donation unanimously. After selecting the scroll — one that had been inscribed 110 years ago by a Yemenite sofer, or ritual scribe — they had it inspected and made arrangements for another trip to Israel. This time, Krivitzky would be accompanied by Ronni and Fred Pressman, also members of Ner Tamid. The Pressmans’ son, Randy, who made aliya 18 months ago, joined the group for the dedication.

Their July 20 flight to Israel was full, according to Krivitzky, and stowing the Torah scroll, protected in an oversized duffel bag on wheels, was its own adventure, requiring the indulgence of security personnel and the assistance of a senior flight attendant named Kenny Rubinstein. Rubinstein, from Nutley, was familiar with Temple Ner Tamid.

When they finally arrived at the kibbutz on a Friday night, Krivitzky immediately observed the renovations.

“The first thing I notice when I walked through the door is the smell,” he recalled in a long essay he wrote about the adventure and provided to NJJN. “It doesn’t smell like campfire anymore. Instead it is the smell of the Moroccan feast they have prepared: spiced chicken with couscous and stuffed peppers, the Sephardi equivalent to Ashkenazi brisket with kasha varnishkas.”

Early the next morning, July 23, they gathered at the Beit Oren synagogue, joined by about 80 people from the community of 170. Eventually, the group headed to a room where the Torah scroll was waiting to be carried to the Beit Knesset in a procession.

Krivitzky brought the scroll out and, he recalled: “There are shouts of joy, applause, and then the singing begins. ‘Ki mitzion, tetze Torah…’ The singing is followed by crying, laughing, kissing, hugging — first the Torah, then me, then each other.”

Krivitzky described it as “Simhat Torah times a million.”

After congregants danced the scroll to the synagogue, Ronni Pressman chanted from it, using a yad she had purchased as a gift for the kibbutz. In keeping with a Temple Ner Tamid tradition, she passed the yad to one of the children.

“The key to this trip for us was the concept of kehillah (community) and Hineini (Here I am!),” Ronni said, “as we heard the call of need and responded as our community from Ner Tamid.”

When the crowd dispersed, Krivitzky said, he asked Ronan, “Why did you ask me for a Torah?”

Ronan replied, according to Krivitzky: “I don’t know. That is not like me. I am a business guy. I would always ask for money. But, that day, when you asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I opened my mouth and the word ‘Torah’ came out. They were not my words. They did not come from me, but through my mouth.”

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