A Job You Can Only Get in Israel

… Hachnasat Sefer Torah vehicle driver.  Today not one but two Sifrei Torah, torah scrolls, were welcomed into a new home at Nishmat, a seminary I learned at last year and continue to visit.  They came by way of a trail of people dancing behind a truck bedecked with speakers, “Christmas” lights and a ticker of quotations about the Torah.

The head of the seminary, Rabbanit Chana Henkin said during her remarks that she had never seen both a Sephardic and Ashkenazi sefer torah under the same chuppah, the canopy that the scrolls in the style of the two major streams of Jewish customs following the exile.

This week’s Torah portion is Ha’azeinu, comprised mostly of a song that Moses sang to the Jewish people on the day he passed away.  He reminds them that even though they must be punished for what they have done wrong and that Gd is angry about their sins, they can always return to Him.  This concept of teshuva, or return, is what this High Holiday season is all about.

There are 3 basic stages of teshuvah/repentance:

  1. 1. Recognizing that you have done wrong
  2. 2. Regretting the error
  3. 3. Confession before Gd or your fellow man
  4. 4. Vowing never to do it again and not repeating the sin when placed in a similar situation.

And today we sang songs of joy and return.

The two scrolls dedicated to Nishmat were treated like a chattan and kallah, a bride and groom.  Guests wore nice clothes, sang songs, and danced around the scrolls.  We even sang many songs traditionally sung at weddings.

“The Sifrei Torah are the real chattan and kallah,” Rabbanit Henkin said, explaining that the unity of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews will strengthen the Jewish people.

The Torah scrolls will be used during Shabbatonim at Nishmat and at a new Ashkenazi minyan, prayer group that will meet three times a month.  The remaining Shabbat, services will be held together at the Sephardic synagogue right outside of the seminary.

We paraded three times around the Pat neighborhood, making a circle on Yaakov Pat and Berel Locker Streets.  It stopped bus and car traffic and was the attraction of all the neighbors.  Nishmat is on the edge of the tiny Pat neighborhood, which butts up against Bet Zafafa, an Arab neighborhood in southern Jerusalem.  The Arab neighbors, who run the businesses down the street from the seminary, looked on from the sidewalk or through the windows.  Passengers who were trapped on the number 22 bus that was stuck in the middle of our parade stood up to clap along to the music.  The bus driver was not as amused.

There were many moving stories shared about the scrolls.  The Ashkenazi torah was a donation from the now defunct Kehillat Bnei Yisrael in Brooklyn by Frieda Nack and her son, Daniel Nack, and Dr. Henry and Sally Hashkes.  Among the stories shared by the donors, was one of a childhood in Romania where there were no Jewish schools for girls.  Instead, they had to attend a public school, which was open on Saturday.  If the girls did not attend on Shabbat, they were beaten on Monday.  This woman did not go on Saturday, and she was subsequently beaten each week.

The Ashkenazi scroll is over 150 years old and has not been used in 35 years.  It’s been scrupulously examined for defect and ready for use.

Upon hearing about this generous donation, the Sephardic synagogue just outside of Nishmat’s gates, Hechal David, donated a Sephardic style scroll.

The rabbi of the Pat neighborhood, Amram Deri, who spoke with a great Sephardic accent that distinguished letters such as ח and ע, which are commonly undistinguishable among modern Hebrew speakers, expressed how Nishmat “lights up the neighborhood with Torah.”

Rabbanit Chana Henkin “did a 180,” according to Daniel Nick, in opening the doors of Torah to women in Jerusalem.

This blog is about Torah in Israel.  One of the many reasons for my aliyah, move to Israel, was that I know that Torah comes from and belongs here.  That’s what these donors believed, and it was an incredible opportunity to be able to participate in the welcoming of a Sefer Torah from Brooklyn to Jerusalem.

After bringing the Torah to its new home, the ark, in the Bet Midrash, the library of holy books where a large chunk of the learning and prayer take place, there was a lot of dancing.  Then classes continued into the night, leading up to a Selichot prayer service, in preparation for upcoming Rosh Hashanah.

As a note, the Ashkenazi and Sephardic torahs are exactly the same in content.  They are so scrupulously checked that a Torah has remained exactly the same, no matter what point in history or time zone.  It’s just the way that they are adorned and read that is different among the traditions.

I never went to a college or high school homecoming.  It always seemed silly to me.  Returning to Nishmat was returning to vibrant community that really felt like, and still is, home.

I felt a melding of worlds, of United States and Israel.  Of generations, of the women of the past who were unable to get a Jewish education and the women of today who are encouraged to excel, of Ashkenazi and Sephardic, of past, present, and future students.

עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאושר
“It’s a tree of life if you cling to it, and all its supporters are praiseworthy.”
[Tehillim/Proverbs, 3:18]


1 Response to “A Job You Can Only Get in Israel”

  1. 1 Nitzavim: Torah for All « Sit and Learn Trackback on September 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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