It takes many faiths to repair a Torah scroll

Clergy of various faiths practice writing Hebrew calligraphy in order to help repair Oseh Shalom’s 125-year-old Torah scroll. Photo provided by Oseh Shalom.

Some people bond over coffee, others over lunch, but what about over repairing a 125-year-old Torah scroll?

That is what brought 20 clergy, representing the three Abrahamic religions, to Oseh Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Laurel. The congregation began restoring its oldest Torah scroll in November and anticipates completing the project in May.

Rabbi Doug Heifetz said he invited the other clergy to learn about and assist with the Torah scrolls repair on Feb. 22 “to promote interfaith exchange and mutual support” during the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents and controversy over immigration laws.

Imam Mohammad Bashar Arafat, president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, who attended the gathering, said in a statement that it is important for groups to show solidarity with one another.

“It is very important to support one another. It is very important to focus on the commonalities that bring up together and bond us together,” he said.

Scribe Jeffrey Shulevitz gave the clergy a crash course in the basics of cleaning a Torah and writing Hebrew calligraphy. Due to its age the scroll is in bad condition, Shulevitz said. The parchment needs to be cleaned, holes have to be patched and letters rewritten.

The scroll was written in Galicia, a region that now is part of southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.

The Rev. Leanne Hodges, of Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, said the experience was enriching.

“I really appreciated that [Shulevitz] spent quite a bit of time helping us understand exactly how sacred the scrolls are. What it is made of, what can be used on it. It was a sense of being invited into something that was profoundly holy,” she said.

The Rev. William Au, of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Church in Baltimore, said this was the first time he had a close look at a Torah scroll and how it is repaired.

“I never had the opportunity to be a part of this kind of event. It was a very different kind of experience and a wonderful one,” he said. “It exhibited a deep appreciation for the word” of God.

Shulevitz, who grew up in an Orthodox home that taught him little about the other faiths, said the experience of having the three Abrahamic religions embrace his work brought him a happiness “that money cannot buy.”

Being a scribe “doesn’t pay the most, but the reward I got — if I had won a million dollars [that day], I don’t think it would have brought me as much satisfaction as bringing the three Abrahamic faiths together.”

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