Celebrating a 100th birthday and having a long career as a surgeon would be legacy enough for some people.
However, Dr. Maurice Bakaleinik of Monroe now has another legacy — a new Torah scroll he donated to his synagogue, Congregation Beit Shalom in Monroe, in honor of hitting the century mark.
Bakaleinik, a native of Belgium — where he received his medical education and launched his career — left Europe before the war. He was a surgeon for many years at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton and has lived in Greenbriar at Whittingham adult community for many years.
The congregation, which serves seniors from Monroe’s adult communities, raised money to purchase its first new Torah scroll in its 30-year history in August. Soon after, they realized another was needed, and congregation president Maurice Mahler raised with Bakaleinik the idea of donating one.
“In early September,” said Mahler, “we had his birthday party and I thought, he comes every Shabbos with his longtime ladyfriend. So I sat down with him after kiddush and said, ‘Moishe, we desperately need a new Torah. We have no more Torahs that can be repaired.’”
Mahler said the two, who call each other by the Hebrew name they share, bantered back and forth about cost. Bakaleinik asked if his name could be on the scroll as well as his personal maxim.
The next day, Mahler said, Bakaleinik called and told him to come over so he could give him a check for $18,000. The congregation put in another $2,000 for the eitzei hayim, the two wooden poles around which the scroll is wound, and individual donations covered the cost of the decorations.
The new scroll’s cover is inscribed with Bakaleinik’s name and favorite saying, “If you pray to Hashem, Hashem will help you in a time when you least expect it.”
Although married for some years, Bakaleinik had no children and has been a widower for several decades. His companion, Mildred Trestyn, told NJJN, “We go to Shabbat every week and he kisses that Torah.”
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “He has read from that Torah. He is just so proud. This is his wonderful legacy, and he is just so happy he did it.”