By Tim Funk – charlotteobserver.com
About 250 members of Charlotte’s Jewish community gathered Sunday to trace the final letters into their new community Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures.
Then, amid chanting, candle lighting and dancing, they dedicated one of those books – Leviticus – to the memory of a young rabbi and his wife who were among those recently murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, India.
Along with the bodies of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg, Indian authorities also found that a bullet had ripped through the Book of Leviticus in the Torah at the Chabad House run by the couple.
“We hope that this (dedication) will, in some small measure, make their Torah complete,” Rabbi Yossi Groner, who knew Rabbi Holtzberg, told worshipers packed into the sanctuary at Ohr HaTorah, an Orthodox synagogue.
The Charlotte synagogue’s new Torah – one of five now encased in its ark – was initiated by athletic equipment manufacturer Larry Schwartz, in honor of his late father, Israel “Lou” Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia who emigrated to the United States after being liberated from the Nazi death camps.
Others in the community also helped pay for the careful hand-lettering of the Torah, including children attending the Jewish Preschool on Sardis, who collected $1,800 in their tzedakah, or charity, coin boxes.
The lettering for the Torah – there are 304,805 letters in it – was done in Jerusalem, at a cost of about $40,000.
Except for the opening and closing sections, that is.
On Sunday, Schwartz, members of his family and others – each taking a turn – settled into a chair next to a bearded scribe from Brooklyn, N.Y., and traced a Hebrew letter the scribe had prepared onto the scroll with a feathered quill pen.
“Mazel tov!” Rabbi Moshe Klein, a fourth-generation scribe, told each of them when their work was done, signaling that they had satisfied a mitzvah, commandment from God, and participated in a sacred event in Jewish life.
“We live only by the Torah,” said Klein about the scroll that also contains the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. “It guides us from birth to death. And it is linked to Moses.”
The Torah is read at worship services three days a week at the synagogue, including on Shabbat, the Sabbath, on Saturday. And welcoming a new Torah is a time for celebration.
So, on Sunday, after all the letters were done, everybody filed outside. There, under a chupah, a Jewish wedding canopy, Schwartz carried the Torah scroll made in honor of his father, by then encased in a sheath-like mantle. As he paraded it around the front lawn, rabbis came forward to kiss it; others kissed their hands and touched it with affection.
Then, as the music box cranked up with joyful sounds, everybody danced.
“Welcoming, embracing the Torah,” said senior Rabbi Groner, “brings us together as a community.”