On the last night of Hanukka, a holiday marking the rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, members of a Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro held their own ceremony of rededication, welcoming back a refurbished Torah scroll.
The century-old scroll, one of two used by the Reform congregation, was donated about 20 years ago. It was cleaned of grime and restored under the supervision of sofer, or scribe, Neil Yerman.
Rabbi Shira Stern, the synagogue’s primary school educator, noted “the synchronicity” of completing both the scroll and holiday during the Dec. 18 family Shabbat service.
“Just as the Maccabees rekindled the ner tamid, the eternal light, in 165 BCE, after cleaning the Temple of all unkosher and inappropriate Roman symbols, we will light the nine candles and celebrate with our beautifully restored Torah,” said Stern, in an interview conducted before the service.
Religious-school students, who participated in the restoration every step of the way, were called up to explain the significance of the rededication and the holiday’s miracles.
The final touches were put on the scroll on Dec. 17 by Yerman with help from fifth- and sixth-graders. He guided their hands as they inked the final “crowns” on the letters.
The Torah scroll got “the Jewish spa treatment,” quipped Stern.
The history of the scroll — which was donated through a member’s relative whose synagogue had closed — was unknown until now, said Rabbi Donald Weber.
“Neil Yerman told us our scroll is of Persian ancestry, from either Iraq or Iran, and is between 100 to 110 years old,” Weber said. It had never been cleaned and was “really dirty.”
At one point, fourth- and seventh-graders were put to work by Yerman scrubbing the parchment with erasers to remove years of residue and grime.
“Normally we use a yad and touch the Torah so gingerly,” said Stern. “The sofer kept shouting at them to put more elbow grease into it and rub harder. I was so scared when they went over the letters because you don’t want to hurt the Torah.”
To her astonishment, decades of copper residue came off — enough for Stern to fill an entire cup — as a clean scroll appeared underneath.
Stern added that the scribe explained that “those who had lovingly written it over a century ago, as well as those who had chanted from its pages, were in the sanctuary now. He encouraged our students to feel the presence of everyone who had loved that scroll since its birth and told us we were now part of that chain of Jewish tradition.”
Fourth-grader Sydney Schoenholtz of Morganville said becoming a shomrei Torah, or guardian of the Torah, was “definitely the highlight of 2009.”
Seventh-grader Jack Langner of Marlboro said, “Now I feel I have a closer connection to God because I got to keep Judaism alive a little longer.”