Monday, December 29, 2008

Family donates Torah to Chabad

When Greenwich resident Leon Gandelman grew up in Lvov in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and '50s, he was not allowed to practice his religion in public.

His parents gave him as traditional a Jewish upbringing as they could, but it was not until after 1991 that he could openly worship, said his daughter Anya Gandelman.

So yesterday, when he donated a historic torah scroll, the holiest book in Judaism, to the Chabad of Greenwich during a ceremony, it had a special significance to him, she said,

"It's really heartwarming for my father," she said.

More than 30 family and friends gathered as Gandelman, along with Rabbi Yossi Deren, dedicated the scroll to his parents.

"This is a very special and important occasion," said Deren.

A new torah scroll is a big celebration within the Jewish community. It takes an expert scribe more than a year to complete since it is done just as Moses had done more than 3,000 years ago - handwritten in a calligraphy on parchment paper, sewn together with sinews to form one long scroll, according to Deren.

It is approximately 52 pages and has 600,000 words, and if even one word is misshapen or a letter missing, the document is not considered kosher and is not used, according to Deren.

"This is a very important thing for the Jewish people," said Gandelman, a businessman.

Anya Gandelman brought the document from Tel Aviv to Greenwich for the dedication. A new torah scroll can cost approximately $30,000.

Gandelman wanted to donate the scroll, after learning that the Chabad of Greenwich only had two scrolls. It is customary to have three at every synagogue, according to Deren.

"It's a big occasion not just for his family, but for the community," said his friend Michael Chernomordin, who attended the festivities.

Following the dedication, friends and each member of the family, which included Gandelman's brothers and wife, Olivia, gathered around the table to fill in the last few lines of the text with the help of the scribe, Rabbi Moshe Klein.

Klein, a fourth-generation scribe, held the feathered quill as each person filled the letter that his or her first name started with. Then the document, which weighed more than 15 pounds, was rolled up and placed in a special protective cover.

At the end of the ceremony, attendees danced, sang and feasted on a four-course meal.

"It's a been a wonderful celebration," said Valentine Tropp, Greenwich resident and member of Temple Sholom, "It's an honor for us to be here."

Every Shabbat, the synagogue will read a portion of torah scroll, Deren said.

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