As one scroll closes, another opens
by Staff Writer
CONCORD – As Bryston Spivock holds up the Torah during his bar mitzvah, the light from outside shines through the worn areas of the scroll.
This Torah, composed by four hands, one from Arabia, one from Macedonia and two from Eastern Europe, has seen better days. Before finding its home at Temple Or Olam in Concord, it survived the Holocaust, while many of the communities that once read from its different sections did not.
The members of Temple Or Olam worked hard to keep their Torah intact. When Temple Emanu-El in Weldon in eastern North Carolina, closed its doors in 2004 due to a diminishing Jewish community, they donated the Torah to the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina, with two main conditions: share the story of Temple Emanu-El and provide maintenance to the Torah.
“To read from a Torah, requires all the letters to be in perfect condition,” says Temple Or Olam’s Rabbi Dr. Barbara Thiede. “It’s a lot of maintenance and care. It’s an organic thing, a living thing made of natural objects, like animal skins. It has a life span and can get damaged.”
As Spivock and his sister Emory chant from the story of Noah, during their bar and bat mitzvah held Oct. 20, they know this is last time a child will chant from this Torah as it reaches retirement. The first time Temple Or Olam chanted from this Torah, was Thiede’s son’s bar mitzvah in 2004, from the same story of Noah.
Because of the wear on the scroll, Neil Yurman, a nationally known scribe and artist, who did restoration work on the Temple Or Olam’s first Torah, found a newer Torah from a temple in Long Island that was closing.
This Torah was either written in Iraq or Iran, before Jewish communities were eventually driven out of existence in the area.
While a Torah can cost upwards of $18,000, this Torah had a price tag of only $12,000. That is still a lot of money to raise from a community of about 40 families.
So at this year’s high holy days, Thiede called on her temple’s members for help, by highlighting the need for the new Torah.
Within two weeks, the temple had raised around $6,000, with two contributions coming from non-Jewish friends. Another Christian friend of the community offered a loan of around $4,000 to help buy the new Torah.
Since Temple Or Olam meets at McGill Baptist Church in Concord, they do not have a place where the Torah can rest in optimal conditions. They are also raising funds to help build storage to keep both Torahs in optimal humidity and temperature.
On Nov. 18, Temple Or Olam will present the new Torah to its community with an event hosted by Yurman at the McGill Baptist Church.
The event will give members of all faith communities a chance to get up close and personal with the new Torah.
“I cannot tell you the kind of wonder you get on people’s faces when they get to see a scroll up close, not behind a museum wall, but up close,” Thiede said.
Yurman will also present a program on the history, traditions and creation of Torah scrolls.
Want to go?
Tickets to the Nov. 18 Torah presentation event cost $10 and children under 12 get in free. The money will go toward the funding of the new Torah and the storage for both. Visit www.or-olam.org for tickets and more information.