By Elaine Markowitz, St. Petersburg Times
Today (Saturday) brings a double reason to celebrate for the Leon Kreisler family of Tarpon Springs and the entire Pinellas County Jewish community.
Kreisler’s son, Max, who recently turned 13, is to become a bar mitzvah this morning in a traditional coming-of-age rite in Judaism. He also will be the first person to read from a new Torah, the handwritten scrolls containing the five books of Moses.
The new Torah was completed Sunday during a rarely seen event in Jewish communities.
A learned and well-trained scribe, Rabbi Yehudah Benchemhoun of New York, finished the writing of the Torah. The completion took place at the home of Rabbi Shalom Adler of Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County, a synagogue in Palm Harbor. A dedication ceremony followed at the synagogue.
“The day one receives a Torah scroll is a day of great significance to the community,” the black-clad Adler said. “We wear our Sabbath clothes for the occasion.”
The new Torah was written in Israel and contains more than 300,000 characters, 27 of which were intentionally omitted, and were completed in Sunday’s special ceremony witnessed by men, women and children.
The Torah was a gift from Leon and Denise Kreisler, among the founding members of Adler’s congregation. Kreisler, a Pinellas County businessman, said it takes about a year to write a Torah and costs up to $80,000 for a genuine scroll.
He said he is blessed to be able to perform this mitzvah, or good deed, for the synagogue and the Jewish community.
“It’s something my parents and grandparents would be proud of,” said Kreisler, who was born in Poland and raised in Israel.
As dozens of people crowded into the rabbi’s home to watch, Benchemhoun began the completion of the holy book. He first placed the scrolls between two wooden poles, tightly stitching each side around each one. A tiny bowl of velvety black ink lay nearby on the table.
Twenty-seven community members were honored, one for each character. Each honoree placed his hand gently atop the scribe’s as he meticulously inked the character onto the scroll. Waxed paper covered all but the small newly lettered portion.
Shouts of “Mazel Tov,” often translated to mean “congratulations,” followed the completion of the Torah. The scroll then was rolled up and carried to the synagogue beneath a chuppah, or traditional Jewish wedding canopy, symbolizing a wedding of the Jewish people to the Torah. A procession followed behind with singing, dancing and a clarinet accompaniment.
The final stage of the ceremony took place at the synagogue. There, in a show of respect and honor, the other Torahs were removed from the Holy Ark as if to welcome their newest member.
Today, that new “member” will become a fully functioning Torah as Max Kreisler, the youngest member of the family, inducts it into the Jewish community in the presence of family and friends.