To­rahs find new tem­ples

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - CHRISTIE STORM

Tem­ple An­she Emeth in Pine Bluff closed its doors in June af­ter al­most 150 years as the spir­i­tual home of the city’s Jewish com­mu­nity, but the con­gre­ga­tion’s legacy will live on through the gifts of two To­rah scrolls.

A To­rah scroll is a hand­writ­ten scroll con­tain­ing the first five books of the Bi­ble, also known as the Five Books of Moses. One of the tem­ple’s To­rah scrolls was do­nated to a Jewish con­gre­ga­tion in Megiddo, Israel. The sec­ond is be­ing given to a Jewish con­gre­ga­tion in Gu­atemala City, Gu­atemala.

Rabbi Gene Levy, who served the Pine Bluff con­gre­ga­tion dur­ing its fi­nal years, and his wife Bob­bye flew Thurs­day to Gu­atemala City with the To­rah. Join­ing them were Karen Kahn Wein­berg and her hus­band Dan from At­lanta. Wein­berg is a Pine Bluff na­tive, and her fam­ily had been mem­bers of the An­she Emeth tem­ple for three gen­er­a­tions.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity to have peo­ple who were part of that con­gre­ga­tion hand it over to the next con­gre­ga­tion, so the mem­ory of the To­rah and the con­gre­ga­tion stay alive,” Levy said.

Wein­berg was to read from the To­rah dur­ing Shab­bat ser­vices, which be­gan Fri­day night and con­tin­ued this morn­ing, at Adat Israel’s tem­ple.

The date of the gift­ing of the To­rah has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for Wein­berg. Her fa­ther, the late Stan­ley Kahn, a well-known jew­eler, died Feb. 24, 2016. The op­por­tu­nity to ac­com­pany the To­rah on the trip and to read from the scroll in his mem­ory was one not to be missed.

“It was ex­tremely pow­er­ful to me to want to es­cort that To­rah scroll to its new home,” Wein­berg said. “I felt how­ever re­li­gious my par­ents and grand­par­ents were or weren’t, they re­mained mem­bers for­ever … they knew who they were.”

Rabbi El­yse Gold­stein of Toronto serves as the fledg­ling Gu­atemala City con­gre­ga­tion’s rabbi, trav­el­ing from Canada two or three times a year to lead ser­vices. When she’s not there, the con­gre­ga­tion is led by mem­bers.

Levy said he’s been talk­ing with Gold­stein on and off for about six months, while Gold­stein planned the ser­vice for the trans­fer of the To­rah to co­in­cide with one of her trips to the city. Levy said he’ll also have a short role in the trans­fer.

“One of the things I’ll be do­ing is giv­ing a lit­tle brief his­tory of the Pine Bluff con­gre­ga­tion, so that the peo­ple in Gu­atemala City have an idea of who their bene­fac­tors are,” he said.

The gift­ing of the To­rah was fa­cil­i­tated by the World Union for Pro­gres­sive Ju­daism. Levy said one of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s roles is to help con­gre­ga­tions that are clos­ing or those with To­rah scrolls avail­able to give away to con­nect with con­gre­ga­tions with­out a To­rah or those in need of a sec­ond one.

“Long story short, they matched this con­gre­ga­tion and this To­rah,”

Levy said. “The ques­tion was how to get it there.”

The To­rah sent to Israel was shipped, not de­liv­ered in per­son. The Levys de­cided to take the other one to Gu­atemala.

So how does one travel with such a cher­ished and ex­pen­sive re­li­gious text?

“This has been a deal,” Levy said.

Us­ing funds from the Pine Bluff tem­ple, a cus­tom-built

con­tainer was crafted for the To­rah. Levy checked in at the Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton Na­tional Air­port in Lit­tle Rock a few days early to find out the best way to go about trav­el­ing with the scroll.

He didn’t want it out of his sight for long. Be­cause To­rahs are hand­writ­ten in a la­bo­ri­ous process, they can be quite ex­pen­sive, rang­ing from thou­sands to tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

Wein­berg said she is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the makeup of Adat Israel, the Gu­atemalan con­gre­ga­tion,

which was formed by con­verts to Ju­daism.

“It’s so fas­ci­nat­ing to me, be­cause grow­ing up in Pine Bluff with painful me­mories of anti-Semitism … to me it’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing that any­body would want and choose to be Jewish,” she said.

Jean­nette Orantes, pres­i­dent of Adat Israel, said by email that the con­gre­ga­tion was formed in 2005. Mem­bers ini­tially met in homes and even­tu­ally the group rented a house for ser­vices, but they had no To­rah of their own, just one on loan.

She said Gold­stein told

them about the Pine Bluff con­gre­ga­tion that was clos­ing, and they con­tacted the World Union for Pro­gres­sive Ju­daism and the trans­fer was set in mo­tion.

Orantes said the group is hon­ored to re­ceive the To­rah.

“Say­ing thanks is too short, but there is no other words to ex­press,” she said. “We can just say toda raba (thank you) to all the peo­ple in­volved in this won­der­ful event.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.