By Joy Cohan
A final celebration of Congregation Bet Haverim’s 50th anniversary — featuring the dedication of the new Torah that synagogue members have scribed hand in hand with one of the few female Torah scribes in the world — will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday in the sanctuary building at 1715 Anderson Road in Davis. The public is welcome to attend.
In addition to receiving a new Torah of their own, Bet Haverim leaders will present one of the congregation’s previous Torahs to Congregacion Adat Or Yisrael of Santa Maria. The 4-year-old central California synagogue counts mainly Jews of Hispanic origin among its membership; some have rediscovered Jewish heritage in their family tree, while others have chosen to become Jews. The congregation does not have its own Torah.
The dedication event will carry the theme of a wedding, as the festivities will represent the holy joining of the Torahs with the congregations. As is customary at Jewish weddings, a chuppah — a cloth canopy — will be erected above both Torahs during the dedication. Also, according to Jewish wedding tradition, the lay leadership of both Bet Haverim and Adat Or Yisrael will break a glass together toward the close of the ceremony.
Among the dignitaries expected to attend to offer congratulations to Bet Haverim, Yolo County’s only synagogue, are Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada and state Sen. Lois Wolk. Representatives of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region and the Union for Reform Judaism also will share in the occasion.
Torah is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). A Torah is written in Hebrew on sheepskin or cowhide by hand with a feather quill. It typically takes about a year for a scribe to write the more than 300,000 Hebrew letters included in the Torah.
At Bet Haverim, the process has involved approximately 500 members and their families, each hand-scribing a letter from the Hebrew alefbet (alphabet). As the lifespan of a Torah can near 100 years or more, it is likely that the congregants’ letters in the new Torah will remain a part of Bet Haverim history long after their lives have ended.
“The experience of putting quill to parchment to form a letter is not only a sacred moment, but it is an opportunity to connect with the future of the Jewish people,” Rabbi Greg Wolfe explained. “Jews who are not yet even born will read from this Torah, and connect with the history of our people through the letters that our families will have left behind in this Torah.
“The possibility that this Torah will be read at the time of Bet Haverim’s 100th anniversary is part of what made it seem to be such as an ideal way to mark our 50th year,” he said.
Bet Haverim leaders titled the Torah effort the “Tree of Life Project” and in the early stages decided that engaging a female scribe — known as a soferet — would be an important expression of the egalitarian principles upon which the congregation operates.
New York City-based Jen Taylor-Friedman, the first woman documented to have completed a Torah on her own, was commissioned for the work. She has made four visits to Davis since October 2011 to guide congregants in scribing their letters. In between visits, Taylor-Friedman has devoted herself nearly full-time to writing the Bet Haverim Torah in her home studio.
During the dedication, Rabbi Wolfe and two Bet Haveirm members will share the honor of scribing the final five letters of the new Torah with two leaders of Adat Or Yisrael. Those five Hebrew letters spell the word “yisrael.”
“It will be an emotional moment as the ink dries on the final letter,” Wolfe said. “Our 50th year will be history, and our next 50 years will have commenced. It will be as if to have a foot in the past and a foot in the future at the same moment.
“How fortunate we are to be able to share this incredible event in the Yolo County Jewish community with all who wish to join us.”
For more information about the Torah dedication, contact Joy Cohan, Tree of Life/50th anniversary chairperson, at 530-383-1814 or [email protected], or call the Bet Haverim office at 530-758-0842.