Beth Tikvah Completes Writing of New Torah

Beth Tikvah Completes Writing of New Torah

The commemoration also celebrated the congregation’s 36th anniversary.

President Deidre Kinoshita and her family under the chuppah after their letter writing.
President Deidre Kinoshita and her family under the chuppah after their letter writing.

On Sunday, May 5, Congregation Beth Tikvah completed the writing of its new Torah to commemorate the conclusion of its “double chai” year.

According to Deidre Kinoshita, president of Beth Tikvah, “This is a momentous occasion. Our congregation gets to make our own mark on a brand new Torah, emphasizing that this is a house of hope.”

The Kalina family adds their letters to the Torah. “People are filled with anticipation and reverence,” said congregant and photographer Jessica Kalina.

Congregants gathered at the shul to take part in adding the final letters to a Torah whose life began the Sunday after the Oct. 7 tragedy in Israel. The timing is certainly not lost on Senior Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner, who has been Beth Tikvah’s rabbi for more than 10 years. She and Carol Schemo, the Torah project director, have been the driving forces behind the new Torah.

“At Rosh Hashana, we will dedicate the Torah at a celebration in what has been an incredibly challenging year. The world feels so dark right now. We are aware of the challenges and hardships faced by many. This process has been so healing for our congregants, and they have gotten actively involved throughout the process,” said Rabbi Shuval-Weiner.

Carol Schemo and Rabbi Shuval-Weiner

The participation by members of the congregation was part of the plan from the beginning. Rabbi Shuval-Weiner shared the story of her first year at the temple when members would point out the specific tiles in the sanctuary ceiling that they had personally painted. Remembering their pride and sense of ownership, she decided this undertaking also needed the congregation’s imprint.

And that’s when Sofer On Site, based out of Miami, entered the picture. Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, a Torah scribe with the organization, has been on-site at Beth Tikvah several times since the project began. Members are able to write a letter or word under his expert direction. Using a quill dipped into ink, each congregant adds their portion to the new Torah. They sit with him during each session and learn about the writing of the Torah, about the specific letter they are writing and the part of the Torah in which it falls. Afterwards, a professional photographer takes a photo to record each family’s participation, and a certificate is presented to each family or person to mark the occasion.

Janice Liederman and volunteer Stephanie Joseph prepare for the Shechiyanu prayer.

“The Torah is the glue of a congregation,” said Schemo, who has helped guide the creation of this Torah and overseen the work of more than 125 volunteers since the project began. “Since Oct.10, 2023, there have been at least 25 volunteers at every writing session. The response has been amazing,” she added.

At the Sunday, May 5, final writing session, congregants were ushered into the social hall after writing their portion of the Torah and invited to participate in 10 educational stations, all set up and staffed by synagogue volunteers. Stations included a video on how a Torah is created; one where writers were able to make a blessing over wine or grape juice and recite the Shehecheyanu; an art station to create a decorative fabric ribbon to wrap the new Torah for the Rosh Hashana dedication; and a one-on-one chat session with Rabbi Shuval-Weiner.

Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner adds her letters to the Torah with Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, sofer for Sofer On Site.

“Each time we take out this Torah, I want our members to remember they had a hand in its creation. The mantle is being designed and stitched by congregants. The binder is also being made by members. And this year’s confirmation class will be dedicating the yad we will use during their ceremony. All this work and creation leads up to Rosh Hashana, when we will officially dedicate this special Torah,” said Rabbi Shuval-Weiner.

On the final writing session, a carnival took place in the temple’s parking lot, filled with slides, bounce house, Mexican food, desserts, and music from popular DJ Play It Again Sammy. The upbeat atmosphere reflected the congregation’s mood that day and their dream of hope, not only for their temple, but also for the Jewish community at large.

Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner adds her letters to the Torah with Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, sofer for Sofer On Site.

“Everyone who participated in this project connected to their Judaism. All of us are excited about this Torah being part of their family’s simchas and our future. We want this beautiful Torah to be a legacy and a source of continuing pride,” reiterated Schemo.

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