A Torah Story

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Our Torah scroll was acquired, according to Bev Warshai, at the time when the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah was about to celebrate our first bat mitzvah, the Warshai’s daughter Gal. Although Bev and her husband Yuval belonged to both the AA Havurah and T’chiya, a Detroit Reconstructionist congregation, they wanted Gal’s bat mitzvah Torah service to be here in Ann Arbor. However, the Havurah did not have a Torah scroll, an ark, or a table to use during a service. Around this time, in 1997, several members of the Havurah–Aaron and Aura Ahuvia, Deb Kraus and Danny Steinmetz (and their children Isaac and Jonah Ahuvia (3 and 1 years old) and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz (2 years old)–drove together to Kenosha, WI for a regional Reconstructionist workshop. There they met a member of a Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago that happened to have an excess of Torah scrolls. How does a congregation acquire an excess of Torah scrolls? Danny suggests that “Back in the day, giving a Torah was a big thing, whether or not the shul needed another one. The symbolism of dedicating the ultimate sacred object (since the destruction of the Temple) in memory of deceased relatives is so strong, if a shul was around long enough and had enough members with some money, collecting Torah scrolls was not unusual.” Bev also remembers that two congregations merged, creating even more of an excess of scrolls. Deb remembers the initial discussion, “I was in a workshop and someone was lamenting that they don’t always have Torah readers and I said, ‘at least you have a Torah,’ at which point a person from a Chicago congregation said, ‘Talk to me after this. We have an extra Torah.’”

Arrangements were made. Because the Torah was a gift to the Chicago congregation, they could loan it to us and give us responsibility to take care of it. Although Yuval’s subsequent communications with the Chicago congregation indicated that they have relinquished all claims to the scroll, out of an excess of caution, AARC will continue to care for it in trust. If we ever come into possession of any other Torah, we could decide to gift this one on, again, to another congregation in need. But back to the story!

Yuval and Harry Fried made the trip to Chicago to bring the Torah scroll back to Ann Arbor. Alan Haber made the ark, and other necessities and niceties for a Torah service were collected. In future blog posts I will write more about those objects, including our Torah covers and our yad. So far, we know nothing more about the provenance of our Torah scroll. Since we’ve had it, the scroll has been repaired twice at Borenstein’s in Oak Park, including new wooden spindles. It still has need of stitching repairs and there are many faded letters that can make it challenging to read.

AARC has a fund for repairing or replacing the Torah, though it contains only a fraction of the money needed. Board member Jack Edelstein is leading a new effort to figure out the best path forward. If you’d like to be involved in this effort, contact Jack. And if you’d like to donate to the fund, click here.