When Cantor Eli Perlman announced that Congregation Beit Shalom needed a kosher Torah scroll, the congregation didn’t hesitate: It took only a month to raise the $20,000 to fund the handmade scroll.
In fact, as the Monroe congregation dedicated that scroll on Aug. 11, Perlman announced that it is almost halfway to funding another one.
“My golden mishpocha blew me away and made me proud,“ Perlman said of the synagogue’s nearly 2,000 members, many of whom are residents of the township’s adult communities. “Today is the culmination of this amazing thing that this amazing congregation did. If anyone wants to know what Torah is, all they have to do is to look into the eyes of those sitting here today.”
Perlman announced last May, on Shavuot, that the synagogue’s seven Torah scrolls were in danger of becoming pasul, or unkosher, from wear and tear. While five could be repaired, two were so badly worn they will have to be buried according to religious law.
The new scroll was inscribed — but not completely finished — in Israel, where, Perlman said, scrolls are kept in stock and can be purchased at a lower cost and with much less turn around time. The purchaser then hires a sofer, or religious scribe, to add the final words to complete the scroll. Beit Shalom’s sefer Torah cost $20,000.
Because modern scrolls are generally made from thinner parchment and their handles from lighter wood, they weigh less, making it easier for older people to lift them.
‘Blueprint for life’
A large crowd filled the sanctuary on Aug. 11 to watch as sofer Melech Michaels completed the last 43 letters of the text, each of which was “donated” by a congregation member. The scroll was then paraded around the parking lot of the Concordia Shopping Center, where the congregation is located, as music blared from loudspeakers, drawing a small crowd of curious onlookers.
Eileen Cohen, a resident of the Concordia community, took a turn carrying the scroll in the procession. “Did you see? I held a Torah,” she told everyone she knew.
“It was my first time,” she told NJJN. “I felt honored and so happy. It was something I never believed would happen in my life. It was so beautiful.”
Jonathan Schwartz, the congregation’s ba’al koreh, or Torah reader, read from the scroll, the first new one in the 30-year-old congregation’s history.
“We’ve purchased some used ones in the past, but they haven’t worked out too well for us,” said Perlman.
Calling Torah “the center of Jewish life and tradition,” congregation president Maurice Mahler said that the community helped to create something that “will be used at life-cycle events by our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
Building on that, state Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-Dist. 14), said, “Torah is more than a piece of paper. It is our blueprint for life.”
Perlman said the Torah scroll drive was also sparked by the anonymous donation of a “beautiful” cover in memory of Floyd Kahn, the synagogue’s longtime house chair, who handled maintenance issues and upkeep of the building.
“I told the congregation now we needed a new Torah to put it on,” said Perlman.
The plum-colored cover was placed on the new scroll along with silver crowns donated 10 years ago in honor of the 90th birthday of Min Ludwig, who taught classes on Jewish subjects and Torah at Beit Shalom for many years. The plan was to place them on the new scroll in honor of her 100th birthday.
Sadly, Ludwig died two weeks before the dedication. “We now place these crowns on the Torah in her memory,” said Perlman.