Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Torah scroll brings life, blessings


It almost felt like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai to give the Jewish people their first Torah scroll. Close to 400 people poured into Chabad Jewish Center of Laguna Beach in anticipation of a newly written Torah scroll in honor of Esagh "Isaac" Lahijani by his son Kaveh and Kaveh's wife Larissa Lahijani and family.

Life in Iran for todays close to 1,000 Jews is extremely difficult as there is little to no freedom and Jews are constantly under surveillance. About 28 years ago, the father, Esagh, upon going to work, was spirited away by the Iranian police, without a trace. Two years ago, after 26 years of painful uncertainty, the family learned that Esagh had indeed died, although how, they do not know.

To commemorate his life, the good he did, and the family he left, Kaveh Lahijani, a member of the Chabad Jewish Center and a contractor in Laguna Beach, commissioned a "sofer," a scribe to write a Torah scroll in his father's honor.

The scroll was begun in America a year ago and transferred to Israel where much of it was completed, as it was in ancient times on 60 pieces of cow's skin sewn together. Three hundred and one thousand letters are each hand printed, as are all Torah scrolls. The completed scroll is rolled into two sections and read regularly, as it is un-rolled and re-rolled in its new position, progressing from beginning to end, through the Five Books of Moses. The ends of the rollers are decorated with silver and the Torah is placed into a hand sewn velvet mantle to give it a royal appearance.

A Torah scroll is the most precious object in Jewish life. Even though the first Torah was given to the Jewish people over 3,289 years ago, the new scroll is identical. The scroll, came to Laguna Beach to be completed at the celebration as honored guests were called up to watch the scribe, with ink and pen, complete the letters on the parchment.

When the ink dried, the festivities began. The new scroll, like a bride, was held under a "chuppah" canopy and danced to its new home, the ark in which it will reside with three other Torah scrolls. Accompanied by music, singing and dancing, the crowd happily led the new scroll in a festive procession into the sanctuary, holding it lovingly and kissing it periodically, where it became a part of the congregation.

Although Chabad already has three scrolls, the idea is that everyone in his or her lifetime needs to contribute to the writing of a Torah scroll and that every time a scroll comes into existence; it brings new life and blessings. Afterwards prayers were said and a sumptuous Iranian buffet added to the joy of the occasion.

Through the ages, the Torah has been, and continues to be, the single common thread by and through which the Jewish people define themselves. It is learned at every hour of the day and night and begun at the New Year and completed before the New Year.

The timing of this particular scroll was carefully thought out. The Jewish people are entering into the New Year, "Rosh Hashanah," which began at sundown Wednesday. According to the Jewish calendar, the day before the scroll's completion was the Birthday of the World, the First Day as it was in Genesis. The scroll was completed on the second day when light came into the world, symbolic for the Lahijani family of no longer being in the dark about their father, but basking in the light of his goodness.

Chabad Jewish Center is led by Rabbi Elimelech Goorevitch and his wife Perel. The center is located at 30804 South Coast Hwy., across from the Montage Resort and Spa. Information: or 949-499-0770.

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