Jews of Ahmedabad, India, welcome Torah scroll

The small Jewish community of Ahmedabad, India, where a store called Hitler recently changed its name, held a synagogue celebration to dedicate a new Torah scroll.

The community of some 125 Jews in this capital city of the western Indian state of Gujerat dedicated the kosher Torah on Sept. 9 after discovering recently that the Torah scroll in its synagogue, Magen Abraham, was not kosher.

Ahmedabad Jews also said they were happy to learn that the clothing shop in their city that carried the name Hitler had agreed to change its name.

“We stood up and roared like a lion,” said Esther David, a well-known Indian author and a lifelong member of the Ahmedabad Jewish community.

“It is a kind of early Purim,” said David Benjamin, a doctor in the community.

It was Jews from Ahmedabad, part of India’s Bnei Yisrael community, who first called attention to the Hitler store, bringing it to the attention of the Israeli consul general in Mumbai, Orna Sagiv. A synagogue delegation later met with the shop owner to convince him to change the name.

International media outlets picked up the story.

“Being a microscopic community of 125 people living in a city of millions, we do not like to stand out. This was the first public storm we have ever faced,” David said. “But it was clear that we could not stay silent.”

David added that the local Jewish community has never experienced any anti-Semitism.

“Like all Indian Jews, we live in absolute peace and tolerance with our neighbors — Hindus, Muslims and Christians,” she said.

Never Too Old to Write a Letter … of Torah

The Jewish Home for the Aging has never had a Torah it could call its own. Since the home first opened in 1912, synagogues or individuals have donated Siferei Torah to the senior-living community, but the scrolls were often old and tarnished, with faded letters or finger smudges on the parchment. These Torahs are considered pasul, or unfit for public reading, but they were the only ones available to the home for religious services.

Now the Reseda-based home, which provides care to about 2,200 seniors through its in-residence housing and community-based programs, is in the process of creating its own kosher Torah — a “Torah for the Ages,” as the project is being called.

“It’s upsetting to this point we haven’t had our own Torah,” said Corey Slavin, vice president of fund development, who with home CEO Molly Forrest conceived the project.

Slavin said the $200,000 raised for the project more than covers its costs, and remaining funds will be dedicated to various programs and services at the home. The home expects its Torah, begun April 13, 2008, to be completed sometime in 2010.

Rabbi Shmuel Miller, who has worked locally as a sofer (Torah scribe) for 15 years, was commissioned to write the Torah, which will rotate between the home’s synagogues at the Eisenberg Village and Grancell Village campuses when finished. Officials hope the Torah will inspire its residents and their families to remain or become connected to their faith and community.

The Torah’s production is quite a community effort. In keeping with the 613th and final commandment mentioned in the Torah — “Now write this song for yourself and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19) — residents, family members, sponsors and anyone else who wants to may write a letter in the home’s Torah. Thus far about 100 people have written in the scroll.

Rabbi Sheldon Pennes, the home’s spiritual life director, said that writing in the Torah is considered the responsibility of each Jew.

During a writing session on Feb. 22, 101-year-old Cedelle Weiner found herself up close and personal with the Torah for only the second time in her life.

The first time was a year ago.

She said she did not feel very Jewish until coming to the home and found she was inspired to study with Rabbi Anthony Elman, who works at the home’s Grancell Village campus.

“This is a completely new life for me,” Weiner said as she underwent the ritual hand washing and said the appropriate blessings.

After sitting down next to Rabbi Miller, the scribe, Weiner put her hand on his and watched as he filled in a silhouetted letter from the word hamoftim (“wonders”) from the Torah’s penultimate sentence: “He had no equal for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants….” (Deuteronomy 34:11).

“The home is fantastic,” Weiner said when she was done. “I have been entertained, and now I’m getting a Jewish religion I have never had. At 101, I’m doing something different, and I am now writing [in the Torah], which I never did before.”

Rose Bentow, 86, almost couldn’t contain her excitement as she fulfilled the commandment. She was one of several Holocaust survivors who were sponsored by family members, community members or total strangers to come and write a letter in the scroll.

The moment harkened her back to her small Polish town, circa 1928. Her grandfather told her to stay out of a particular room because a man was writing the Torah and couldn’t be bothered.

Little Rose’s curiosity got the better of her, so she quietly opened the door.

“I said, ‘He’s playing with a feather. He’s not writing,’” she recalled. “I asked my grandparents, ‘Why can’t I go in?’ They said, ‘This is how you write the Torah.’”

Pennes, the home’s spiritual life director, said everyone experiences the moment differently.

“It looks like just someone writing letters on a piece of parchment,” he said. “But it’s a spiritual event. People feel it spiritually, emotionally. It’s hard to put into words.

“Children see it simply. But when you’re older, you appreciate it differently, especially when we recite the Shehecheyanu. The idea of living to this point is amazing. That process heightens sensitivity to the mitzvah that’s about to happen.”

For more information about the Torah for the Ages, visit

VIDEO: Torah dedication by Chabad of Thousand Oaks

Chabad of Thousand Oaks was honored to receive a Torah, generously donated by Rabbi Mordechai and Ethel Bryski in memory of their parents (great-grandparents of Rabbi Chaim Bryski, Rabbi of Chabad of Thousand Oaks), survivors of the Holocaust. This scroll was rescued from the Holocaust as well, and was painstakingly restored before coming to its permanent home at the Thousand Oaks Jewish Center.

Shavuot 5768: Praise for the scroll

In a knowledge world ruled by books and pages and digitized memory, why do Jews hold onto the scroll?

As Shavuot (with its focus on receiving the Torah) begins, I must ask: Could it be that rolled along together somewhere in our minds with the love of Torah is the love of scroll?

We are fascinated with book forms that when opened, extended, unfolded or unrolled change shape before our eyes. In the scroll, we have a form that can also expand our minds.

Though the scroll is used in other cultures and religions, it remains a distinctive Jewish form, distinguishing it especially from early Christian writings that used the newer form—the Roman codex, or book, to record their writings. It is our handmade, not mass-produced form passed from generation to generation that we read, study and honor.

Seeing the words of the Torah scribed in perfect columns makes us think of a book. But as the parchment unrolls without a beginning or an end in sight, we think of a journey. You find your place in a book by turning the pages, moving through paper by the numbers. With the Torah, you turn and turn and move through place and time.

Grab on to the wooden spindles to which the Torah is attached, the etzai chaim. As your hands and arms move, you also move through time, places, names and law. As you cross the Red Sea, you cross the sea of context as well. As you scroll, and the portion is chanted, the physical action moves you inside the story: the sea parts, you hurry through, and are saved and ready to sing as you reach the other side.

Consider that in the Torah when the Ten Commandments are given, they are written on two tablets. From a book designer’s point of view, the tablets are two pages—a spread. Form-wise this is perfect—attention is focused only on the two tablets; nothing more is needed.

Yet the Torah is not contained on a series of tablets or pages, it is on a roll. So where is our attention directed?

Open the Torah scroll to a single column and that is what we see. Open it two columns, three, four, and our attention suddenly opens to the entire beautiful calligraphic panorama before us.

As time passes the scroll becomes more modern. As an information system, the scroll is a forerunner to many of our modern information systems that also work by revolving mechanisms: computer hard drives and DVD players. We scroll down our computers only reluctantly, hoping what we need is in the opening screen. But unlike the monitor, the Torah scroll encourages us by its form to scroll across—to continue to read, visualize and, week after week, make the journey’s end.

Our brains are wired mostly for visual experience. It‘s a visual system that is ready for more. As you scroll through the Torah, names and places pass by and the mind makes connections. The scroll encourages the particular form of Jewish study that requires skipping from passage to passage, and from book to book. (So, add Web surfing to the claims of Jewish invention). The form helps the mind hold together as one the words, the verses and parashot from throughout the Torah.

For those whose task it is to the find the place in the Torah for their congregations, the scroll can be a curvilinear calendar, the position of the reading being associated with season or date. Many of us know that if the left side is small, then the end of the Jewish year is approaching and it is time to send out your Rosh HaShanah cards.

Even our Shavuot readings remind us of the scroll’s circularity. On this holiday, many read the liturgical poem Akdamut, which pays poetic homage to the endlessness of Torah. The end of each line ends with the Hebrew letters tav-alef (image, right), the final and first letters of the Hebrew alphabet, reminding us that when we get to the end of the scroll we begin anew.

Our culture places high value on creating whole designed environments. In restaurants, hotels, theaters and homes, we surround ourselves with music, lighting, art and colors. We admire the seamless and the artful motif.

The scroll, the Torah, is a gateway to a whole environment as well. It unrolls in so many ways, and as it does, we can become enveloped by its words and texture, and understand that indeed everything is in it.

It is said that on the first night of Shavuot, at midnight, the heavens open.

This year, imagine they unroll.

Edmon J. Rodman, a book and toy designer, designed “Mitkadem” and “Jewish Holidays Building Blocks” and is the author of “Nomo, the Tornado Who Took America By Storm.” He is a Torah reader and occasional roller at the Movable Minyan. Rodman built a pyramid of matzah last Pesach

—Jewish Telegraphic Agency

On 27 May, 2007, 10 Sivan, 5767. The United Congregation of Israelites in Kingston, Jamaica, celebrated the arrival of a new sefer torah. The torah was carried by Rabbi Yitzhak Kimchi from Jerusalem. They were met at the Tinson Pen airport in Kingston. The rabbi and the torah preceded the motorcade through the city to the Jewish Heritage Centre in Kingston. The scroll was then taken into the synagogue Shaare Shalom. Rabbi Yitzhak Kimchi completed the writing of the torah. Then the sefrei torah were taken out of the ark and paraded in a semi-circle. The congregation exploded in joy with dancing and clapping of hands. This was followed by a service of thanksgiving.

Classnotes: Milken High School rededicates Torah scroll

A Torah scroll that twice survived extinction was ushered to its new home in the Lainer Beit Mirdash of Milken Community High School on Oct. 19.

The scroll was rescued from Eastern Europe by Shlomo Bardin, founder of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. In October 2005, the scroll survived a brush fire that struck Brandeis. Over the past year, faculty, parents, staff, alumni and every current student participated in restoring the scroll by sponsoring and penning letters on the parchment, under the guidance of scribe Neal Yerman.

At the dedication ceremony, Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Milken Upper School rabbinic director, passed the Torah along a line made up of upper and middle School students, faculty, administration and clergy.

“Our Torah of Milken is integrated and pluralistic, connecting Jewish learning and values to the wisdom of the broader world — to science and literature, history and technology, arts and basketball,” Rabbi Bernat-Kunin told the audience of more than 800 made up of students and faculty. “It is a Torah of passionate machloket, spirited dispute, bearing at least 70 faces, if not more.”

The ceremony included three aliyot: one for Stephen S. Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Eli Herscher and education director Metuka Benjamin; one for parents and temple leadership; and a final one for the school’s department chairs.

Three students — Maytal Orevi, Judy Reynolds and Marci Blattner — read from the Torah during the aliyot.

For more information visit

Grants for Growth

Eight Southern California day schools received grants from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) to aid in capacity building, increasing enrollment and striving for excellence.

Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills and Orange County’s Morasha Jewish Day School and Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received School Improvement Journey challenge grants. In the first year of the two-year grant, the schools will undergo institutional assessment by a national firm, followed by expert coaching to build a business plan from the assessment. The second year helps schools begin implementing plan.

“Receipt of the grant means several things to Kadima,” explained Dr. Barbara Gereboff, Kadima’s head of school. “That we will have the benefit of a national cadre of experts to guide our planning for the future; that our entire Kadima community will have the chance to really pause and reflect over a two-year period about our future direction, and that we will be given the tools needed to move our school to higher levels of excellence.”

The Jewish Community School of the Desert in Palm Desert and Valley Beth Shalom Day School in Encino both received Pipeline Grants that provide the schools with coaches to help increase recruitment and enrollment from early childhood programs into elementary grades.
The Southern California Yeshiva High School in La Jolla, a two-year-old boys’ high school, received a New Schools Grant for operational expenses and to fund a coach to work with the board and head of school on mutually agreed upon priorities.

For more information visit

Acting Classes …

The Jewish Children’s Theater is offering Sunday acting and drama classes at the Westside Jewish Community Center, starting this month, for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The classes are taught by Deena Freeman Brandes, who played April Rush on TV’s “Too Close for Comfort.”

Freeman Brandes teaches through acting exercises, theater games, improvisation and a commercial workshop. Over the summer one of her students shot his first TV commercial, and several were cast in plays and student films. For information call (310) 556-8022 or (310) 497-0437 or e-mail

… And the Production

The Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory for girls will premiere the first episode in its Camp B’nos Yisrael DVD series at a benefit reception on Nov. 6 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. Founded seven years ago by television and theater director Robin Garbose, Kol Neshama offers Orthodox girls an opportunity for artistic expression in a traditional yet professional setting.

This past summer about a dozen girls filmed “Inner Nature Hike” at Topanga State Park as a follow up to last year’s pilot of “Together as One,” a Wizard of Oz-esque saga at Camp Bnos Yisrael.

The benefit, open to women only, will honor Kol Neshama teacher and actress Judy Winegard, a former Broadway performer.

For more information, visit or call (310) 659-2342.

Ignorant No More

This month, tenth graders at New Jewish Community High School (NCJHS) became the first Jewish day school class to participate in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) workshop, “Confronting Anti-Semitism.”

“The ADL program had a strong impact on me and my friends, because we were still talking about it after we left the classroom. We couldn’t believe that things like Holocaust denial and questioning the right of Israel to exist still happens in our world,” said 10th grader Molly Williams.

The first part of the program explores the roots and history of anti-Semitism through to what anti-Semitism looks like in the post-Holocaust era. A follow-up workshop deals with how to face the anti-Semitism of today.

“The class made me realize that a huge cause of anti-Semitism is ignorance, and the easiest way to combat it is through education,” said 10th grader Simone Zimmerman.

Along with the NCJHS students, 40 Israeli students were there through the Federation’s Tel Aviv- Los Angeles partnership.

For more information, visit or call (310) 446-8000.

USC Trojans march for restored Torah; Backyard tashlich in Fairfax

Trojans Greet Restored Torah
When the Trojan fight song rings out at a Torah restoration ceremony, where else could you be but at USC?

About 100 people gathered Sunday under the shade of sycamore trees in front of the university’s Bovard Auditorium to witness the ceremonial completion of a restored Torah scroll that will become the centerpiece of religious life at the Chabad Jewish Student Center.
“It’s an honor just to be here,” said Kaley Zeitouni, a sophomore. “I really feel like I’m witnessing an important moment in this community’s Jewish history. Every time I see the scroll at services I’ll remember that I was part of this event.”
Rabbi Aaron Schaffier, one of two Torah scribes involved in the scroll’s restoration, said the scroll is between 70 and 80 years old and probably originated in Eastern Europe. Its long journey to USC included a layover in Massachusetts, where it was used for several decades at a synagogue that has now merged with other congregations.
The ceremony was particularly moving for Abe Skaletzky, who was visiting his daughter, Michele, another sophomore at USC.
“I’m a ba’al teshuvah,” Skaletzky said. “So knowing this scroll might help other people return to Torah means a lot to me.”
After the last details of the restoration were complete, Schaffier stitched the scroll to its wooden dowels with kosher sinew. Rabbi Dov Wagner carried the Torah from Bovard Auditorium to the Chabad House under a chuppah to symbolize the scroll’s new life.
And that’s when seven members of USC’s marching band brought the moment to life. They began the procession with a rendition of the Trojan fight song, prompting students in the crowd to hold up the two-finger sign for victory.
During its installation at the Chabad House, the scroll was dedicated to the late Sandra Brand, a Holocaust survivor who established a fund to support the restoration of Torah scrolls to be donated to college communities.
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer
Backyard Tashlich in Fairfax
For a few years on Rosh Hashanah — until the raccoons ate all the fish and the fishpond was turned into a giant planter — members of Ohev Shalom, a small Orthodox shul on Fairfax Avenue, gathered in my parents’ yard for Tashlich.
The “pond,” mind you, is about four feet in diameter and maybe a foot deep. But it’ll do for the landlocked mid-Wilshire residents who don’t drive on Rosh Hashanah and want to participate in the custom of Tashlich, which literally means to cast off.
Orthodox residents across the city seek out small bodies of water in which to throw bread crumbs, symbolizing their sins, as they recite atonement-related prayers on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless, like this year, it falls on Shabbat).
Tashlich is a custom, not a law, and can be recited anytime during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ideally, the water should be flowing and have fish in it, but that isn’t always possible, so a small reservoir — or my parents’ fish pond — works, too.
A small slab of the L.A. River runs through Beverlywood, some people gather there on Rosh Hashanah to toss their sins through the chainlink fence into the trickle of water muddying up the concrete cutout.
Maybe not quite what the rabbis had in mind when they based the tradition on the quote in Micah, “And you will all their sins into the depths of the sea.” But then again, if bread crumbs can symbolize sins, why not fish ponds as the depths of the sea?
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor


A for Achievement

Supporters of the Friends of Sheba Medical Center filled the ballroom at the Four Seasons last week to honor three remarkable women — Rita and Sue Brucker and Dr. Elizabeth Morgan with their prestigious Women of Achievement Award.Morgan gained national attention in 1987 when she went to jail rather than allow her daughter to attend court-ordered visits with her ex-husband who, Morgan believed was abusing her daughter. As a result, Congress passed two acts to safeguard children.

Affectionately known as “Bubbe the Clown,” Rita Brucker has decorated the faces of countless children with cancer and was recognized as “Mother of the Year” and “Volunteer of the Year” by Bezalel Hadassah Chapter, among her other honors. Brucker praised the work Sheba Medical Center is doing to ensure the health of newborns, urging everyone to continue supporting their efforts.Daughter-in-law Sue, wife of Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker, credited her parents with living a life of charity and service, setting an example she has embraced and passed on to her children.

“If my children, Lauren and Richard, and their peers are indicative of the next generation, I know we have nothing to worry about,” she told the attendees. Among her other honors and achievements, Sue Brucker has been feted by Hadassah of Southern California and is currently president of Temple Emanuel.Event Chair Ruth Steinberger and co-chairs Aviva Harari and Lynn Ziman called on writer/humorist extraordinaire and “Save Me a Seat” author Rhea Kohan to hostess the event. Kohan entertained the group with a humorous take on daughters, sons and living life in the middle-aged lane.

A boutique featuring a wide variety of items drew buyers before and after the luncheon — all designed to raise money for newborn screening at Sheba Medical Center. Seen wandering about checking out the boutiques were Beverly Hills School Board President Myra Lurie and her mother, Bess; Allison Levyn and her mother-in-law, Toni; Denise Avchen; Helene Harris; Marilyn Weiss; Lonnie Delshad, wife of Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Susie Wallach, Stacia and Larry Kopeikin; Amy and Noah Furie, and Nancy Krasne.

Aviva Brightens Bel Air

A misty day couldn’t dampen the spirits of Aviva Family and Children’s Services supporters last week when they gathered at the home of uber-philanthropist Robin Broidy for an elegant and successful benefit luncheon.

Broidy tented the yard in her Bel Air home for the delicious event, which was catered by Wolfgang Puck and featured a tempting Fendi boutique that contributed 15 percent of its sales to the charity — as well as the fabulous Fendi goodie bags.

The luncheon planned and executed by Broidy and underwritten by Susan Casden, raised more than $75,000 to support the worthwhile projects of Aviva. President Andrew Diamond updated the group and invited guests to tour the facility. The guest list was brimming with many of Los Angeles’ most charitable and giving women including: Linda May, Barbara Miller, Pamela Dennis, Lilly Tartikoff, Lola Levey, Diane Glazer, Jami Gertz and Annette Plotkin.

Founded in 1915, Aviva Family and Children’s Services provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

On the Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue-Beverly Hills held its “I Want It” event last week to raise funds for the Tower Cancer Research Foundation. Attendees, including Judy Henning, Bonnie Webb and Lillian Raffels, sipped martinis and nibbled morsels while wandering through the store trying to decide what to purchase with their $50 gift cards. The Henri Mancini Trio provided live music as fabulous frocks and jewels by designers such as Tony Duquette kept everyone mesmerized. The night was a complete success for cancer research and a fun shopping experience for guests.

Liberty for All

The first Torah scroll written exclusively to honor and memorialize members of the U.S. military was inaugurated in a ceremony Sept. 10 at the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center.

Known as the first letters of the Liberty Torah, it was inscribed by a Jewish scribe, or sofer, at the ceremony timed to coincide with the eve of the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 and marked by prayers for our military and peace in the world.

The Liberty Torah was initiated by Oxnard residents Dr. David and Edi Boxstein and their family to honor their son, Jonathan, who is currently serving in Iraq in the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

“The Liberty Torah gives everyone, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, the opportunity to honor all our soldiers who have served our great country throughout our history, and to pray for an end to all hostilities,” said Chabad of Oxnard director Rabbi Dov Muchnik.

The Torah was sent to Israel to be completed, and then will be returned to the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center for use in its holiday and Shabbat services.The event also featured live music, refreshments and a hands-on Torah writing workshop for children.

For more information, visit, or call (805) 382-4770.

Happenings I

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels was honored with a Peace Award from the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Comess-Daniels thanked the Beth Shir Sholom community for enabling him to “pray with his legs” in ways that result in this kind of recognition and he gratefully shared the award with Beth Shir Sholom.

Happenings II

Screenwriter author Nora Ephron (“Heartburn, “Silkwood” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally”) spoke to an overflowing crowd last Thursday night at the Writer’s Guild Writer’s Bloc event. Hosting Ephron and serving as moderator was megaproducer mogul Linda Obst, who offered insights into her longtime friendship with Ephron. Ephron entertained the audience with stories about her years in Washington, her experiences as a journalist and the agony of aging as chronicled in her new book ” I Feel Bad About my Neck.”

For more information about upcoming events, call (310) 335-0917.

Reflecting on a Great Cause

The UCLA Marching Band escorts Jewish Home Lifetime Award recipient Sylvia and Sherman Grancell into the gala Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The beat of the UCLA Marching Band announced the opening of festivities last week when almost 600 people attended the Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 dinner at the Beverly Hilton to benefit the Jewish Home for the Aging. A live auction hosted by Monty Hall raised $31,000 of the more than $500,000 total by offering blimp rides, a Wells Fargo box at Dodger Stadium, private screening with catering and Fox football studio viewing.

Imagining Caleb

Our Torah portion devotes more than 60 verses to the census of the Israelites. After the counting is done, the Torah adds: "Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall die in the wilderness.’ Not one of them survived, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun" (Numbers 26:64-65).

We learn much about Joshua, his flawless character and heroic acts, in the book named for him. Moses had passed the leadership onto him. However we’ve known little about Caleb.

Until now.

This week, a new scroll was unearthed in an archaeological dig in the heart of Hebron. At long last, the Scroll of Caleb has been found. I am proud to print the opening chapter of this outstanding discovery:

I, Caleb son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah, am one of only two survivors of the 40-year march across the wilderness. My name simply means "dog," and I am loyal as one, as I told Joshua, "While my companions who went up with me took the heart out of the people, I was loyal to the Lord my God." Only I and Joshua were witness to all, the brutality of Egypt, the trials of the desert, the revelation of Mount Sinai and the crossing of the Jordan into this bountiful land.

Many look at me and ask, "Why him? He is neither more noble than his sojourners, nor more clever. He has not the strength of giants nor the dreams of a prophet." They see the power that Moses, that servant of God, bestowed upon Joshua, how Joshua split the Jordan river, brought down the walls of Jericho and made the sun stand still so the earth skidded through the sky as if on a slick sapphire pavement.

"But this Caleb," they say, "this old dog, what is unique about him? What magic does he possess?"

I have been a good man, none can contest that fact. I was one of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout the Promised Land. Ten returned to dishearten the people with fright of ferocious natives. Only Joshua and I brought a positive report, and it is written of me, "Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up and we shall gain possession of it.’"

I hushed the people when no one could, and quieted their fears. I told them the truth about that blessed land where every tree tumbled with bright, ripe fruit. I have proved myself to be a brave and strong commander, defeating the Anakim whom all else feared.

"These things he’s done," they say, "are admirable things. However, they are not nearly the same as making the sun stand still!"

And so, curious ones, I will answer your inquiry upon this parchment, and seal it here in Hebron, for a future age to discover and wonder about. I will tell you now exactly who I am, and why I merited entrance into the land.

I am you. Yes, I, Caleb son of Jephunneh, am you, you in the business suit, you in the summer dress, I am you when you were in the desert thousands of years ago. And I am you now. I am you when you look at yourself and see not the long shadows of the past but the blossoming future. I am you when you look at your neighbor and see no ugliness there but God’s radiant image. I am you when you feel not like a grasshopper beside the people you admire, but a worthy colleague, and equal. I am you when you hush your doubts about yourself, quiet your fears, and rise to your glorious potential. I am you when you pass your hand over the heaps of the world and find there the jeweled spirit just underneath the husks. I am you when you replace "I wish I could" with "Yes, I can." I am you when you walk into a roomful of strangers with your head held high instead of skirting the wall, afraid someone will see. I am you when you are a breath of love in the world. I am you when you stop worrying how people will consider your ideas.

It is true, I am no Joshua. I cannot make the sun stand still. But I did reach the Promised Land as he, because I was true to myself and loyal to my God.

And you, too, will reach your promise, when you are true to your highest self. You are as worthy as I, and you need not be afraid of your potential. You were created for a reason. No creature big or small is superfluous in this abundant garden. Just as I, from Egypt, reached the Promised Land, you, from whatever low place you think you are, can reach your promise, fulfill it and enter the living dream.

Zoë Klein is associate rabbi at Temple Isaiah.

New Torahs Mark Holiday Celebration

Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah, will be honored this month with special tributes by two area congregations. Figuring prominently is the holiest of all Jewish books, but each event has its own twist.

In a coming-of-age rite by one of the county’s youngest congregations, members of Congregation Kol HaNeshamah will dedicate their first Torah, a 150-year-old scroll with still-pristine script, along with the official presentation of their charter into the 900-congregation Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). The service will be held May 25 in Irvine’s Bommer Canyon Park.

Out of frugality and by conscious choice, the congregation’s 33 families convene for worship and religious school mostly in rented Irvine public park facilities. Its part-time rabbi, Raphael Goldstein, commutes from San Diego once or twice a month for services and holiday observances. Since the group’s founding three years ago, after the implosion of another small congregation, they have made do with a scroll lent for special occasions by Westminster’s Temple Beth David.

"For us, it’s been a godsend," said Howard A. Goldman, who is co-president with his wife, Pat.

As need arises, they keep the borrowed scroll in their Irvine home and ferry it back to Westminster for safekeeping. Goldman, also a religious school teacher, said lacking the Bible’s first five books in scroll form meant his students often felt insufficiently prepared for b’nai mitzvah. Often, he said, they would first see the vowel-free, calligraphy version of their Torah portion on the day they were expected to read to the congregation.

Kol HaNeshamah’s scroll was purchased at an antiquities book fair in Los Angeles with the aid of Rabbi Haim Asa, of Fullerton. Its calligraphy is in Arizal script, the most common style among Eastern European scribes.

"It’s ornate and artistic, with very nice flourishes. This was clearly a master," Goldman said of the scribe.

Given a culture self-described by Goldman as "do-it-yourself Judaism," fittingly two members volunteered to customize the Torah’s trappings.

Terry Kokin, a Costa Mesa carpenter, is making the scroll’s two wooden dowels, etz chaim, Hebrew for "tree of life."

Elizabeth Barak, a pharmacist and artist from Irvine, is working with Roberta Lange to design and execute a velvet cover, though they have yet to settle on a theme. Only its inscription is already agreed on: "It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it."

Presenting the charter is Rabbi Linda Berthenthal, assistant director of the URJ’s Pacific Southwest Region. Deciding to remain a family-style congregation means members "value intimacy as one of their primary values," said Berthenthal, describing Kol HaNeshamah’s size and service frequency as similar to other congregations of 50 or fewer families.

Initial objections to the group’s inclusion in the Reform movement, raised last year by other congregations, were amicably resolved, Goldman said.

"They’ll give us professional guidance, specialists in Hebrew school, everything imaginable in Judaism," he said.

Also in the weekend preceding Shavuot, congregants of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom will also prepare for the holiday by witnessing the first ink strokes of a new Torah undertaken by scribe Neil Yerman on May 23. Torat Sholom — Torah of Peace — is to honor the congregation’s 60th year and its rabbi, Shelton J. Donnell. After 13 years, he intends to make a permanent move to Jerusalem next year.

In a letter written in April, congregation president, Sylvan Swartz said, "Just as forward-thinking people created Temple Beth Sholom 60 years ago, we are creating something that will last for many years to come. Just as we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, Torat Sholom will be our loving legacy to new generations."

Yerman is one of only 60 sofers, or Torah scribes, in the United States — there are an estimated 300 worldwide. When agreeing to create a Torah, Yerman, 55, strives to help others also fulfill the 613th commandment from Deuteronomy: "And now write for yourselves these words, and teach them to your children."

The sages consider completing even one letter as discharging the duty.

Before supporting the hands of congregants putting quill to parchment, though, Yerman endeavors to summon a contemporary connection with Jews of antiquity by explaining the art, technique and spirituality of the scribe’s ancient tradition. Such a yearlong task of writing the Torah’s 304,805 letters can cost a synagogue $80,000, and Yerman plans periodic visits to Beth Sholom.

Strict rules guide a Torah’s reproduction. There are to be no mistakes in the scroll, which nowadays is often proofread by a computer after completion. Ink is made from the crushed outer bark of a wasp’s nest, a quill made from a turkey or goose feather and parchment made from a calf killed for food.

A former Wall Street commodity broker who loved to scribble as a child, Yerman began his second career in 1987. "I spend a great deal of time every day writing with a feather and thinking about things that seem to have no connection with modern life," he said in a 1999 interview.

To learn more the Kol HaNeshamah event, call (949) 551-2737. For more information on the Beth Sholom Torah, call the temple office at (714) 628-4600.

The Case of the Missing Torah

Did a rabbi steal the Sefer Torah? A Montreal resident claims that a Torah she loaned to a local senior home has illegally ended up in a Southern California synagogue. And now she’s on the hunt to find it.

The 60-year-old scroll was housed at the King David Senior Residence in Montreal, and in August, the owners say they gave it to Rabbi Simcha Zirkind to find out its worth, who then took the Torah to New York, where a sofer, or religious scribe, in Brooklyn bought it from him for $8,000. The sofer then allegedly resold it for a higher sum to a New York-based philanthropist who donated it to a baal teshuvah (newly observant) synagogue somewhere outside of Los Angeles.

The dispute highlights a disturbing trend of trading religious goods of questionable origins.

But Montreal resident Betty Malamud-Bloomstone disputes that the Torah ever belonged to the King David. Malamud-Bloomstone claims that her father, Shloime, donated the Torah to the Rabbinical College of Canada in the late 1940s, and that the College loaned it to the old-age home in 1974 because the residents needed a Torah for services. According to Malamud-Bloomstone, even though the residence has been sold five times in the years since, the Torah has always remained in the chapel, on loan from the college.

"The Torah was very precious to my father, and he would turn over in his grave if he knew that it had been sold," said Malamud-Bloomstone, who is now trying to locate the California synagogue to which the Torah was donated.

Malamud-Bloomstone admits that without the cooperation of the Brooklyn sofer, who has divulged no other details of the sale, finding the synagogue is like "trying to win the lottery."

Neither Malamud-Bloomstone nor Josie Solito, the owner of the King David Senior Residence, allege that the sofer knew the Torah did not belong to Zirkind. Solito told The Journal that Zirkind had offered her the money from the sale, but she refused it.

Solito lodged a complaint with the Montreal Police Department against Zirkind.

Rabbi Saul Emanuel the executive director of the Montreal Vaad Hair, the city’s Jewish council, told The Journal that the Vaad has issued a summons for Zirkind to appear and explain his side of the story.

Zirkind would not comment to The Journal, except to say that Solito’s story was incorrect.

According to Malamud-Bloomstone, Zirkind maintains that the King David donated the Torah to him.

Up to 100 Torahs are stolen every year from synagogues in Israel alone, says Rabbi Yitzchak Goldshtein of Machon Ot, a Jerusalem-based Torah identification service ( Torahs are handwritten by sofers on parchment and are worth anywhere from $2,000 for a nonkosher Torah (one in which letters or words are missing) to $35,000 or more for a new Torah.

Generally, synagogues wanting to purchase a Torah scroll will contact a dealer, who — budget permitting — will either negotiate with a scribe to write a new scroll, or will find a secondhand scroll for the synagogue to purchase.

Stealing and selling a stolen Torah can be relatively easy. Many synagogues do not have good security around the Ark where the Torahs are kept. And since people in synagogues basically trust each other, no one would necessarily question someone walking out with a scroll. Also, without its velvet covering, one Torah is almost indistinguishable from another to the untrained eye, so a thief can easily concoct a story about the scroll’s origin when he unloads it on a dealer.

Yet, synagogues can prove ownership of a Torah. Machon Ot runs the International Torah Registry, which assigns a unique code to each scroll and then enters it to a computer database. Machon Ot locates the code by placing a template of a line from the top of the scroll to the bottom in six different locations of the Torah, and then registers what words fall directly beneath each other. Since every Torah is handwritten, the shape and size of the words and letter differs slightly between each one, and no two would have exactly the same word alignment.

With a registry system in place like this (as well as other Torah registry system such as the Universal Torah Registry System, which uses a similar method of identification), any synagogue purchasing a secondhand Torah can get a reliable assessment of its provenance, providing it is registered. Many of the old Torahs in synagogues today are not registered.

In the case of the Montreal Torah, Malamud-Bloomstone says that she has evidence that the Torah was loaned to the old-age home and is now trying to recover the Torah. She has contacted the Board of Rabbis of Southern California to see if they could help her, and is considering placing ads in Jewish newspapers all over the state for anyone with information to step forward. The Board of Rabbis, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of California were unable to provide any leads. Once the Torah is recovered, Malamud-Bloomstone will consider hashing out the question of its ownership in the beit din (religious court).

"We just want to get the Torah back," Malamud-Bloomstone said.

A New L.A. Shtibl

Several people huddle around the Shtibl Minyan’s scarf-covered bima, rolling the Torah scroll to the day’s special maftir. There is some down time threatening to break the momentum, so Rachel Sheer grabs someone’s child to balance on her hip as she circles the room urging others to join her in a niggun, a catchy, wordless melody.

It’s not too difficult to get a niggun going in the Shtibl Minyan. After all, that is why the Shtibl Minyan, with between 20 and 60 people every Shabbat, was founded more than a year ago.

“There was a group of people who wanted a place to daven that had Chasidic davening and was egalitarian in a community that was politically committed and Jewishly learned, and saw all those things as being tied together,” said Aryeh Cohen, a professor of rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism, who founded the minyan.

The first minyan in January 2000 drew 40 people to the rented room in the Workmen’s Circle building on Robertson Boulevard, just south of Pico Boulevard. The next week saw 60 people. The numbers — way beyond anyone’s expectations — proved something that Cohen had long felt: There were many like him who were looking for a spirited, traditional and egalitarian service in a community dedicated to social action and Torah study.

The Shtibl Minyan is one of a few small traditional egalitarian prayer groups that have emerged in the mostly Orthodox Pico-Robertson area during the past few years. The Shivyon Minyan meets once a month at a local hotel, and a small Friday night service meets at someone’s home. Most recently, the Neshama Minyan, which like the Shtibl Minyan uses the tunes and style of the late Reb Shlomo Carlebach, started to meet Friday nights at Temple Beth Am last November and now has 80 to 90 people every week.

Daniel Greyber, a University of Judaism rabbinic student who founded the Neshama Minyan, believes there is a growing group that is looking for the “passion and spirituality of the Carlebach minyanim, but who want an egalitarian setting where they don’t feel like they are compromising their principles, where they feel like everybody is participating fully in the experience,” said Greyber, who is a rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am.

The Shtibl Minyan is entirely lay led, with a core group of about 25. Most of the members are in their 20’s or 30’s, both singles and families.

At this young stage, the members of the Shtibl Minyan are able to mold the ambience and content to their desires.

For instance, it was important to founders that children not be sequestered in another room, so they are able to float freely between the A Shenere Velt Gallery where the minyan meets and the library adjacent to it, where a rotation of parents keeps an eye on the kids.

“It’s a place that my daughter really likes,” Sarah Lansill said of 4-year-old Hannah. “Sometimes I like a more quiet, meditative experience, but it’s more important for me to have a place where I can daven with my family and where Hannah sees adults engaged in prayer,” added Lansill, who also davens at Metivta: A Center for Contemplative Judaism.

Like many other children who attend, Hannah joins in for the songs and dances.

And the singing is plentiful. Members take turns leading the davening in the Carlebach style, which leaves ample room for spontaneous participation and community singing. Taking the Torah in and out of the ark is usually a 20-minute affair with dance and song.

“In most shuls, if you chant a niggun for more than one round, it’s considered inappropriate,” said Philip Shakhnis, who was among the founding members. “I wanted something where there would be freer emotional expression, where the real love of the melodies could be expressed without any sort of embarrassment.”

It is also important to Shakhnis, who like many other Shtibl members attended or still attends Temple Beth Am’s Library Minyan, that there is opportunity for a full silent amidah and that the full Torah portion is read every week.

Shtibl members are also averse to the institutional bureaucracy that stifles innovation in many big congregations.

The Shtibl Minyan has no rabbi, no building and no dues.

“We have a constantly evolving notion of what it means to belong,” Cohen said. “Our notion of what would normally be called membership includes doing things for the Shtibl — laining, davening, setting up the chairs, going to the homeless shelter to prepare food, hosting Shabbat lunch, teaching class, taking a class — that is how we define belonging.”

Cohen teaches a Talmud class and gives most of the d’var Torahs, though others are welcome to.

“There’s a real absence of theatricality and rabbi-speak that can happen in big congregations,” Lansill said.

“We’re not about a building fund. That is the last thing that any of us would ever want to put our energies into,” Shakhnis said.

He added that members would rather put their money and time into other causes, such as supporting the janitors’ strike last year, when Shtibl members brought over bagged lunches and contributed to the janitor’s living-expense funds.

Every Thursday minyaneers are at P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless), cooking and serving dinner and tutoring homeless people. They visit Briarwood Terrace convalescent hospital, and last summer they demonstrated at the Democratic National Convention.

“We see all of that as an integral part of what it means to be a davening and learning community,” Cohen said.

Even the art gallery where the minyan meets happens to be decorated with an art installation about homeless people.

“The partnership with the Workmen’s Circle has been wonderful,” Cohen said, “though the irony of a Chasidic minyan meeting at a an organization founded by anti-religious socialists is not lost on anyone.”

The small room with the checkered floor also has the haimish, informal quality that gives the minyan the intimacy of a shtibl — one of the small shuls that populated Eastern European villages.

While too much growth isn’t a problem yet, Cohen said he’d like to see the minyan stay small. In fact, he said, he’d rather see spin-off minyanim than a bloated Shtibl Minyan.

Minyan members seem to agree, treasuring the ambience a small group allows.

“There is a feeling in the room that happens when people are really engaged in prayer,” Lansill said. “And that happens there.”

The Shtibl Minyan meets Saturdays at 9:15 a.m. at the
Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd. For more information on the Shtibl
Minyan, visit or e-mail .

The Neshama Minyan meets Friday evenings at Temple Beth
Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Ave. Through the summer mincha is at 5:45 p.m., Kabbalat
Shabbat and maariv 6-7:15 p.m. For more information call (310) 652-7353 or
e-mail .

The Price of Freedom

To facilitate pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captive Jews from secular prisons) we are commanded to go so far as to sell a community’s Torah scroll. Yet it is hard to rejoice that Bill Clinton pardoned four chassidim from the village of New Square, N.Y., along with an alleged tax evader who donated megabucks to Israel. In contrast to the complex moral and ethical questions that grated pro-and-con during discussions over the possible pardons of Michael Milken and Jonathan Jay Pollard, there is something unequivocally outrageous in Clinton’s decisions to pardon the four Squarer chassidim and the international oil merchant whose dealings prompted the Justice Department to allege, among other things, tax evasion and trading illegally with Iran.

I come from humble roots. My Dad sold toys and stationery goods as a wholesaler in New York City’s Lower East Side, working six days a week for his brother. My parents did not go to college. We were not well-connected. We were not connected. When I wanted to go to Columbia for college, I had to figure out how to get accepted on my own, and I had to figure out how to pay my way through the Ivy League. No one helped.

Later, when it came time for Yeshiva University (YU) to place me after I had studied for smicha (ordination), I had no well-connected relatives, no big donors, no name rabbis in my family. So YU’s rabbinical placement office tried to farm me off to a synagogue in Christchurch, New Zealand. I could have been the grand rabbi of Christchurch. When I refused, they tried to sell me on Cape Town, South Africa. And then one last option: Wichita, Kan. They would not give me a shot at anything near a significant Jewish community, choice ground reserved for the chosen and the connected. So I had to find a big-city congregation on my own. And to me, that is the American dream: making it on one’s own.

Clinton came in as the “man from a place called Hope,” the ’60s idealist who could feel the pain of the little guy. Clinton’s dad had left his mom, and his mom had left him to be reared by a grandmother or an aunt while she worked long hours. When his stepfather threatened to punch out his mom, Clinton stood up to the bully. From such beginnings, he made it to Yale and then became a Rhodes scholar. It was a great story, much true and admirable. But over eight years, he closed the book on his own story.

Soon, he was renting out the Lincoln Bedroom as if it were his personal Motel 6 for rich donors. He abused his position of power, and now he has bequeathed a legacy stained by granting pardons to four crooks whose village grand rabbi effectively has been deemed to have delivered 340 votes for each pardon.

Similarly, Clinton has pardoned an alleged tax-evader who chose two decades of European exile to the alternative of arguing his innocence in an American court of law — and whose ex-wife helped raise some million dollars to Democratic Party candidates and causes, then beseeched Clinton for a pardon. Those four Chassidim defiled everything that is remotely holy in Judaism as they cheated society out of approximately $40 million dollars, creating a bogus yeshiva built on lies. But the grand rabbi had delivered a bloc of more than 1,300 votes to Hillary. And, as Hillary has written, “It Takes a Village.”

So Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy to America was the Square Deal. Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy was the New Deal. And, for all their posturing through the 1990s as populists for the little guy in the Roosevelt traditions, the Clintons’ legacy to America is the “New Square Deal.”

There should be a problem with the calculus that if I steal $10 million dollars and keep $9 million of the loot for myself but disperse the remaining $1 million to charitable causes, then I deserve to be guest of honor at an institution’s annual dinner dance. There seems something far more noble in the person who never gets honored but who awakes at 5:30 in the morning, lays tefillin, prays to G-d, goes to work, works hard and accounts for every penny, davens again, feeds a family honestly though humbly, comes home late at night, perhaps after finishing a second job because it takes two jobs to break even, then davens a third time and drops into bed from exhaustion after spending a few moments with the children to teach them values like love, honor, respect, honesty, loyalty, trust, devotion.

It really is horrible, just plain awful, when people who proudly boast that they do not read newspapers and who think that all non-Jews are reincarnated Chmielnitzki Cossacks and Russian pogromists, decide that it is OK to cheat and steal in the name of our Torah. The United States is a warm, kind, and generous country. There is no anti-Jewish head-tax here. And the only ghettoes in which Jews reside in America are those that Jews voluntarily create for themselves, while the only walls within which Jews are enclosed are those at the exclusive “gated communities” for which residents pay a premium.

This mess has become the first Great American Scandal of 2001, occupying the center of the nation’s news and gossip for two weeks. When one considers the extraordinary efforts expended by many American Jews to win mercy for Jonathan Pollard, as well as the efforts to gain forgiveness for Michael Milken after the setbacks in his personal life and all he has done for children and their teachers since paying his debt to society, it is humiliating and downright degrading that the outgoing President of the United States has saddled our community with this legacy of shame for the American history books.

We always speak of the “price of freedom.” Now we know that price in two forms of currency: cash and ballots.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Relations Committee and national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, practices complex civil litigation and First Amendment law at the Los Angeles offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.