So I couldn’t help but think of that phrase as I was carrying a Torah with me TO Jerusalem. A case of coals to Newcastle?
Not exactly. My colleague, Rabbi Uri Ayalon, founder of Yotzer Or in Jerusalem, a most unusual start-up congregation, also serves a small Conservative congregation in Alicante, Spain. He visits Alicante, which sounds like a beautiful place, every few months, and does a weekly Torah study in Spanish with congregants at Alicante via web cam with audio link from his home in Jerusalem.
The synagogue in Alicante is also a startup. Jews who immigrated to the area from Argentina wanted to have a Conservative synagogue, because that is what they were used to in Buenos Aires. So they took the initiative to start a synagogue, and now Rabbi Ayalon serves them from afar. However, they desperately needed a Torah. Unfortunately, Torahs are VERY expensive. A kosher Torah must be written by hand with a quill pen on animal parchment. It’s a full time job for a year to write a sefer Torah. A new Torah costs anywhere from $22,000 to $50,000 making the cost prohibitive for a start-up congregation.
So Rabbi Ayalon put a call out on Ravnet, the email list for Conservative rabbis, to see if any colleagues could possibly donate a Torah.
I studied with Rabbi Ayalon during my year in Jerusalem (2000-2001) and thought it would be wonderful to help him help a new congregation. At B’nai Israel we had 7 pasul (not kosher) Torahs that simply sat in the ark all year, except when they are brought out (but not read from) on Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah. I figured we could get by with 6, so I proposed donating one of our pasul Torahs to the ritual committee and the board who enthusiastically approved the idea.
Hazzan Gloth and I took a look at the pasul Torahs and made an effort to pick the one that we thought was the best of the lot. My wife Lauri helped me pack it up in bubble wrap and I brought it Jerusalem, where Rabbi Ayalon has a trained sofer who will fix it and make it kosher and suitable for use before it is given to the congregation in Alicante.
It was interesting arriving in Israel. When I showed up with this big box, the customs people stuck it in the x-ray machine and asked "mah zeh? Sefer Torah?" What’s this, a Torah? He asked what it was worth, and I honestly told him I had no idea because it was pasul and I didn’t know how much work it would need to fix.
The photo above is the moment when I delivered the Torah to Rabbi Ayalon. My friend Marty, who took the picture, and I then escorted the Torah to Rabbi Ayalon’s car, as it proceeds on to the next stage in its journey — being repaired.
Assuming the sofer finds the Torah is in fact repairable, maybe we’ll get a few people from our congregation to go to Alicante to share in the joy of the dedication of their new Torah.
And when the repaired Torah leaves for its home in Spain, it will once again be a case of "Torah going forth from Zion."
And everyone at B’nai Israel in Toledo, Ohio, can feel proud that they made it possible.
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