Chabad of Cutler Bay-Homestead dedicates its 19th Century Torah

By Lee Stephens….

Rabbi Yossi Wolff, spiritual leader of Chabad of Cutler Bay and Homestead — along with his wife, Mindy, and their four children — participates in adding a letter to the Torah with the scribe, Rabbi Yochanan Klein.

Members of the Chabad Jewish Center of Cutler Bay and Homestead, 20557 Old Cutler Rd., on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010, celebrated the dedication of the Greenstein Family Sefer Torah.

The Torah Scroll contains the Five Books of Moses, the Jewish bible scroll, which was handwritten more than 4,000 years ago. Today a highly trained scribe handwrites this entire Torah in Hebrew with a quill and special ink onto specially treated kosher animal skins woven together with animal sinews.

A Torah measures 150 feet in length and weighs approximately 40 pounds. The cost of a new one varies between $20,000 and $60,000.

The unique aspect of this celebration was that this Torah originally was written in the 19th Century in Romania, survived the Holocaust and more than 40 years under the communists behind the Iron Curtain.

On Dec. 19 members of this Jewish community synagogue prayed, sang Hebrew verses, lifted the Torah and then danced. Music played while the Torah was carried under the Chupah (wedding canopy) as members paraded down Old Cutler Road to celebrate its donation to this synagogue.

After the procession, it was returned to the synagogue where they celebrated by passing the Torah from shoulder to shoulder for the traditional “Hakofot” ceremony. This means going around in circles as is done on the holiday of Simchat Torah, but also is done at a special event to welcome the new Torah.

“The Torah is the physical manifestation of Hashem in our material world,” explained Rabbi Yossi Wolff, the synagogue’s spiritual leader. “The Jewish people are compared to the holy letters of the Torah.  In our tradition each letter is important with one letter being interdependent upon the others, for if even one letter is missing, the Torah remains non-kosher, invalid and incomplete.

“By participating in writing even one letter in this over 110-year-old Sefer Torah, one creates a sacred bond with his fellow participants and forges an eternal link with the Jewish community at large,” the rabbi continued. “It is a particularly auspicious honor to complete one of the final letters of a Sefer Torah and thereby become a sponsor.”

It is not known how this Torah survived both the Holocaust and the communist regime in Romania, but upon the country’s freedom, the government kept it in a museum. Romania’s chief rabbi and president of the Jewish Community of Bucharest, Moses Rosen, in 1991 gave it to Gila and Chaim Wiener, the founders of the American Society for the Advancement of the Cantorial Arts, a group dedicated to preserving Jewish music and culture.

After the collapse of the communist governments in Eastern Europe, including Romania, this group began touring these countries to revive Jewish traditions that had been prohibited by their regimes.

“For almost 20 years I kept this Torah in my house in Miami Beach, and I thought the best thing to do now would be to donate it to a synagogue,” Mr. Weiner said.

During the same time, the recently founded Chabad of Cutler Bay and Homestead was searching for a Torah, but could not afford a new one.

“When we started, we had a miniature Torah loaned to us,” said Dr. Bruce Greenstein, a Pinecrest dentist involved with this Chabad since its inception and who was involved in the search for a Torah. “The Torah ended up finding me and the Chabad instead.”

One of Rabbi Wolff’s friends, Rabbi Yochanan Klein, knew about Wiener’s Romanian Torah and told him and Dr. Greenstein of its availability. Because Bruce Greenstein’s grandfather came from Romania, he decided to have this ancient Torah’s letters refurbished, buy a new Torah mantel (cover) and dedicate it in his grandfather’s memory to Chabad of Cutler Bay and Homestead.

“Is it a coincidence or a miracle that a dentist who lives in a little town, who insists upon finding a Torah for his local shul, asks his rabbi who knows a man who is in possession of a Torah that was written in my grandfather’s country over 111 years ago?” Greenstein said to the audience during the celebration.

The Torah was damaged and was considered non-kosher, so Rabbi Klein, who also is a sofer, a religious scribe, spent four months restoring it. He left 84 letters to be completed during the ceremony on Dec. 19. Members of the community purchased individual letters for $36 each.

“One of the commandments we have as Jews is to write our own Torah,” Dr. Greenstein said. “Participating in the effort of completing a Torah is as if we had participated in the creation of an entire Torah.”

Bernice Granick purchased the letter yod which stands for the name of her son Joshua who died last year of bladder cancer.

“I feel connected with him now,” she said.

“It was a most humbling experience to witness such a monumental occasion for the Jewish community of South Dade,” said Chris Himmel, who represented Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez at the dedication. “Thank you, also, for inviting me to be a part of the letter writing in the Torah. It was an experience that I will never forget.”

Dr. Greenstein’s father, Dr. Melvyn Greenstein, purchased seven letters for himself and his family — his wife, Renee, in whose father’s name this Torah was dedicated, his son and four grandchildren.  These seven letters together in Hebrew form the last two words of the Torah — “All Israel.”

When asked, he said that he refuses to believe this Torah found its way to this Chabad by coincidence.

“Everything that occurs in the world has the hand of God directing it.”

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