03 Jan 2013

CTE Torah Donation

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Congregation Torat El

Sharing the Torah with the World.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Devarim 11:19

The Torah is living and should be shared with others.   It should not be put away into a closet, ignored and forgotten.  With this in mind, the Ritual committee of Congregation Torat El decided that we should find a loving home for a few of our excess Torot.  After our legacy congregations merged, we found ourselves in a unique position.  We had 22 Torot.  Having this many Torot afforded us the opportunity to do a world of good, donating our excess Torot to needy congregations and organizations around the world.

How we decided which Torah could be donated:

We reviewed the heritage of each Torah and if a Torah was identified as one “attached” to a current member family by a specific bequest or donation, that Torah was not considered for donation.  If a Torah was “attached”, it was only donated after receiving written permission from the family.

The process of finding worthy recipients:

A subcommittee was formed and the word was distributed using the internet via e-mails, listserves and word of mouth what we were going to do.  Members of the subcommittee are Myron Samuel, Marcia Sacks, Eva Wiener, & Neil Weitzenkorn. As responses came in from around the world the subcommittee came up with a list of questions to ask to help us determine which of the requesters truly had a need for a Torah.  These questions consisted of the following:

  1. What is the background/history of the congregation/organization?
  2. How many Torot do you have now?
  3. How do you deal with what you are doing due to your need of a Torah?  Do you borrow one from another organization/congregation?
  4. Some of our Torot are B’dieved Kosher (presumed to be kosher).  It’s possible that there might be an area on the scroll that renders it non-kosher.  Is this an issue?
  5. What will you be doing with the Torah? (using it for religious services, using it for educational purposes, outreach etc.)
  6. How big is your congregation/organization?
  7. How long has your congregation/organization been in existence?
  8. Are you open to receiving a non-kosher Torah?
  9. How soon do you need the Torah?
  10. Where do your practices reside on the reform-orthodox-conservative-reconstructionist label?
  11. Are you affiliated with an organization (ex: United Synagogue Conservative)?

The subcommittee reviewed and discussed the responses from the various organizations.  Addition background checking was done before the recipients were chosen.  After much study and deliberation, it was decided that the recipients would be:

  • Kehilah Petach Tikvah in Israel
  • South Orange/Maplewood (NJ) Independent Minyan
  • Congregation Masorti Almere, Weesp, The Netherlands.
  • Congregation Masorti, Weiden, Germany
  • Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore

The subcommittee’s findings were presented to the full Ritual Committee where they were approved.   The next step was to present the information to the Executive Board and the Board of trustees where it was also approved.  The recipients would be responsible for any shipping costs incurred in delivering the Torah to them.

The Delivery of the Torot:

Torah # 1 – Kehilah Petach Tikvah – Israel

Our first Torah was taken to Israel on our recent Congregation Torat El trip and personally delivered to Petach Tikvah and Rabbi Mychal Schwartz by Rabbi Schonbrun and the participants in the trip.  Members of the Kehilah were traveling 2 hours round trip each time they needed a Torah which was loaned to them by another congregation in Israel.  Having their own Torah meant they would not have to do their weekly schlepping.

Torah #1

Torah #1

Celebratory Dancing with the New Torah for Petach Tikvah


Torah #1 in use

Torah #1 in use

First time Kehilah Petach Tikvah used their new Torah.  Rabbi Mychal Schwartz has the aliyah.

A Personal Note from Neil Weitzenkorn about the Petach Tikvah Torah:

My wife and I were on the trip to Israel and I had the honor of presenting the Torah to the members of Kehilah Petach Tikvah.  Moses and the Israelites wandered around before bringing God’s laws into the land of Israel.  The last time I was in Israel was in 1972.  I, too, wandered around before getting back into the land of Israel.  But being able to bring a Torah back to Israel on my return trip was a very moving and emotional experience for me.

Torah # 2 – South Orange/Maplewood Independent Minyan

The second Torah was presented to Lisa Small & Ilisia Kissner of the South Orange/Maplewood (NJ) Independent Minyan in September in time for the High Holy Days.

Torah #2 presentation

Torah #2 presentation

Rabbi Schonbrun presenting the Torah to Lisa Small of South Orange/Maplewood Independent Minyan.


Torah #2 Presentation Attendees

Torah #2 Presentation Attendees

Torah Presentation – Left to right: Al Levitt, Marcia Sacks, Phylis Unger, Myron Samuel, Rabbi Schonbrun, Alissa Kissner, Lisa Small, Alan Stern, Neil Weitzenkorn, Joel Shulman, Madeline Shulman. Mark Engle was behind the camera.

Torah Celebration Event – Congregation Torat El:

On Sunday, December 16, 2012 we had a ceremony at Congregation Torat El to celebrate the sharing of our Torot with the world.

Rabbi Schonbrun shared a story about a blank Torah that was used on a regular basis by a community who could not afford a Sefer Torah. They had a Ba’al Korei who read from the blank scroll from memory each week. In the same town there was another shul where there were many Torot that were ornate and fancy, but never used.  One day, the letters from one of the unused Torah scrolls decided that they had had enough neglect and the letters on the scroll revolted! They jumped off of the Torah scroll, and marched out of the ark- heading to the first shul where they knew that they would be read from, studied, danced with, and appreciated.

Rabbi used this story as an example of how the Torah should be used and not be stored away and ignored. The Rabbi then thanked all of those who participated for allowing our congregation to do this incredible mitzvah and giving us the opportunity to bring these Torah’s to life.

At the celebration, representatives including Rabbi Len Levin of the South Orange/Maplewood Independent Minyan addressed the congregation, telling us what having this Torah meant to them.

Torah #3 – Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore

The third Torah was then presented to Rabbi Elli Tuchman of the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore (YJS) by Gary Zimmerman.

Torah #3

Torah #3

This Torah, given with the approval of the Zwisohn family has a rich history to Congregation Torat El through legacy Temple Beth Torah.  In 1900, Theodore Zwisohn, then 13 years old, came to America from Europe carrying the Torah.   During the 1920’s and 1930’s he and his wife and children and extended family, lived in Point Pleasant Beach where they held services in the apartment above their butcher store.  Time passed and the Torah was put into storage.  We now jump to the 1950’s when Herman Zwisohn, Theodore’s son, saw an ad for a shul that needed a Torah.  He remembered his father’s Torah, got it out of storage and donated it to the shul.  This shul became Temple Beth Torah.  In the 1970’s the Zwisohn family joined Temple Beth Torah, reuniting with the family Torah and the grandchildren of Theodore read from the Torah at their B’nai Mitzvah. The Zwisohn family now live outside our area and are not members of CTE.  It is through the generosity of Mimi Zwisohn and her children that we were able to donate this Torah to the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore so that this Torah would remain and be used in the area.  Rabbi Elli Tuchman addressed us to express their gratitude for this gift.  Dr. Andrew Samuel, member of the Board of the YJS, also addressed us.  Dr. Samuel was a member of Temple Beth Torah and also could have read from this Torah at his Bar Mitzvah.  This Torah has a long and meaningful history to us and to YJS.  The Torah remains in Ocean Township, at the YJS, just down Logan Road from the former Temple Beth Torah building.

Torah #3 Presentation

Torah #3 Presentation

Front Row, Left to Right – Rabbi Elli Tuchman Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore (YJS), Mimi Zwisohn, CTE Torah Donor, Dr. Noah Gilson, Vice Present of the YJS Board, Rabbi Schonbrun Congregation Torat El (CTE), Gary Zimmerman President CTE

2nd Row, left to right – Dr. Andrew Samuel, Board member YJS, Rabbi Len Levin South Orange/Maplewood Independent Minyan (SOM), Margie Freeman, Board Member SOM, Lisa Small, Vice President SOM, Nikki Pusin, President SOM,

3rd Row, Left to Right – Myron Samuel Ritual Committee CTE, Neil Weitzenkorn, Chairman CTE Ritual Committee, Larry Ozarow Torah Reader SOM.

Torot #4 & 5 – European Masorti Congregations:

Later in the day on Sunday, December 16, 2012, Rabbi Schonbrun, Gary Zimmerman, Eva Wiener and Neil Weitzenkorn drove up to the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC to present the 2 Torot designated for the Netherlands and Germany to Masorti Olami representatives who would transport them to Europe and deliver them to their respective recipients.   This was done during the Evening of Tribute 2012 event held by Masorti Olami.  Gary & Neil were called up to the stage and presented the Torot to the European Rabbis who said a blessing and then handed them over to the representatives for transport.

In Conclusion:

The process of determining the recipients of our good fortune was a labor of love.  The love of the Torah, taking our unused and stored Torot and making them available to others to use, to read and to love is what the Torah is all about.  Sharing the words of the Torah is a commandment.  A mitzvah was certainly fulfilled in our efforts.  The Torah is meant to be used on a regular basis, not kept as a showpiece or as something unused left & forgotten in storage.

Many thanks to all those that participated in this process, for all the time and energy what went into making this a truly, once in a lifetime event that we can all be proud of.

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