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Oregon’s only Sephardic Sefer Torah

OLC: Members of Portland’s Jewish community danced in the street Sunday afternoon as they welcomed Oregon’s only Sephardic Torah to its new home at Congregation Ahavath Achim.?

After prayers and a ceremony during which the men carried Torahs — old and new — around the synagogue with songs and prayers while congregation members touched the covered scrolls and kissed their fingertips, the new Torah was paraded along Southwest Barbur Boulevard, which was partially shut down for the occasion. A congregation member cradled the silver-trimmed black case of the Torah in his arms as four young men supported the poles of the fringed velvet wedding canopy.

Nearly 100 congregation members, friends and lots of children followed and sang as a Portland police car led the group and four Portland motor officers rolled alongside. Young black-suited rabbis from Portland shuls danced in the heat with their kids around the canopy as the procession moved back to the temple, where the new Torah was replaced in the ark.

“This is a very joyous occasion,” said Rabbi Chanan Spivak from the Portland Kollel. “It takes a lot of time to raise the money to commission a new Torah, and the dedication is a celebration for the whole community.”

Considered a gift from God and the central document of Judaism, the Torah is the parchment scroll containing the first five books of Hebrew scripture. When age and wear render it less than perfectly legible, it must either be repaired or replaced with another Torah handwritten by a scribe called a sofer.

Rabbi Shlomo Truzman told his congregation the story of a young man who was shocked at how backward his people were to require the Torah to be written by hand in the age of printing presses and copy machine.

“But what he didn’t understand is that each scroll is a portion of Jewish heart and soul,” said Truzman, who is the congregation’s first full-time rabbi. “Each is a measureable portion of the life of a holy man whose work is sacred.”

The congregation is a Sephardic one, so when its three Torahs were examined and all found in need of repair, congregation members decided to repair the two smaller Torahs and begin raising nearly $40,000 to repair or replace the scrolls. They also decided to commission a Sephardic Torah, which differs from the Ashkenazi Torah in various ways, including being read in the vertical position and having a hard outer case called a bayit, or house.

As part of the ceremony, the congregation returned the Torah it had borrowed from Congregation Shaarie Torah for more than a year. “They really came to our rescue and never asked for a thing in return,” said synagogue President Richard Matza, who flew back from California with the new Torah on an airliner.

Matza also singled out members Jerry and Bunny Sadis, whose challenge grant of a dollar to match every two donated energized the fundraising campaign that made the new Torah possible

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