Temple donates Torah to congregation in Belarus


Together, the congregation prayed in unison: The Torah is God's choicest gift to the House of Israel; Israel without Torah is like a body without a soul.

The prayer continued, explaining the importance of the scrolls and blessing a Torah that was to travel more than 5,000 miles. After two years of fundraising, the congregation of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation has donated one of its Torah scrolls to Temple Shalom in Lida, Belarus.

"We lovingly pass this scroll from our home to your home in a way that speaks of a bond that bands our people of the world together," said Senior Rabbi Sheldon Harr during the special service.

Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, who oversees all 13 congregations in Belarus, flew to the United States to pick up the gift. Housed in the Torah ark, the scroll was covered in a purple velvet casing topped with gold tassels, donated by the temple's Sisterhood.

For Debra and Michael Gill, reaching out to the Lida congregation was a way of closing a circle that began years ago. The couple adopted their two daughters from Russia, a country to which many Jews at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El trace their heritage.

"That country had given us these two wonderful girls, and this was our way to give back," Debra said.

Debra was approached by Associate Rabbi Noah Chertkoff two years ago about the project for that very reason. He had researched different synagogues in the process of rebuilding and found Temple Shalom, a congregation about a 10th of the size of their temple, but a growing one with young members and children.

In the last century, Belarus' Jewish population endured great suffering. Abramovich said that 6,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust in Lida alone. Then with the rise of communism, religion was driven underground. It wasn't until the late 1990s that Judaism made a comeback. Now, there are about 200 Jews in the city.

Debra started a committee to spearhead the project, and the congregation responded in a way no one had imagined. More than 100 families donated anywhere from $36 to $10,000. Beyond the Torah scrolls, the temple also gave $18,000 to Temple Shalom to fund scholarships for the younger members.

"That night was so much more incredible than I had ever imagined, it was amazing," Gill said.

When the Torah was revealed from the ark, Harr carried it through the sanctuary for the congregation to shower with kisses and a tap from songbooks. Holding it in his hands later, Abramovich said that the congregation in Lida was eager to see their scrolls.

Of the 13 congregations, 11 did not have Torahs to pray from. Through an outpouring from the global community, including Plantation, now all have scrolls. Nine of the 11 came from congregations in the United States.

"We cannot change history… but we can think about the future," Abramovich said to the Plantation congregation. "You truly finished this process."


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