Torah scroll welcomed with pomp, spectacle

Children wave as they sit on the back of an Oldsmobile during Ohev Sholom’s parade to dedicate its new Torah scroll. Photo by Howard Wilson.

Hundreds of people poured onto 16th Street on Sunday wearing paper crowns, waving flags and dancing.

Behind them drove a firetruck, an antique Oldsmobile, a DeLorean — a dozen vehicles in all. Hebrew songs blasted from a speaker and in the midst the happy scene, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, dressed in a bright gold frock coat, danced with the Torah scroll he had finished copying minutes before.

The spectacle was for the sake of the Torah scroll and to accompany it from Herzfeld’s house — where he had copied the words in ink onto animal skin — to Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue — where it will be studied, chanted from and revered as the word of God.

Leaders from other faith communities joined the parade and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser helped to carry the Torah.

“We’re celebrating the fact that we’re maintaining a tradition that’s eternal,”
Herzfeld said. “We were determined to have [all people] join with us.”

Herzfeld said he spent nearly 1,000 hours over six months transcribing the Torah. Many congregants kept him company during his work or made preparations for the Torah to be used in the synagogue. Congregant Rina Fruchter made the breastplates for the Torah.

Another congregant, David Balto said keeping the rabbi company and walking in the parade “uplifted my heart to places I can’t even imagine.”

Herzfeld said he had envisioned the parade led by a self-driving car transporting the Torah scroll belted into the front seat. But Ohev Sholom couldn’t arrange to get one, he said.

Instead the parade was led by a Hachnosos Torah Truck — designed for such occasions, topped with a crown and loudspeakers, and a rolling chuppah in the back. Congregants stood underneath the wedding canopy, taking turns holding the purple-clad Torah.

The celebrants were followed not only by the of vehicles, but a marching band, a Boy Scout troop and the Baltimore-based Kol Chayim Orchestra.

As the parade moved down the street, drivers stared. Many of the revelers said they had never seen a Torah dedication that was so large. “When [else] does this happen?” Emily Kahn said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

Eventually, the procession arrived at the front steps of the synagogue and proceeded into the sanctuary where a part of the Torah was read aloud. The scroll was then placed among several others in the ark.

“This is my community, Ohev Sholom member Seth Opert said. “It is good to celebrate.” 

Twitter: @SamScoopCooper

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