June 20, 2024
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Chabad of West Orange Welcomes New Torah

The newest “resident” of West Orange rested at the front of the room beside the crown and cover waiting to adorn this special member of the community. All around people gathered, eager for a peek and a chance to welcome the newcomer.

Those gathered weren’t waiting to greet a king or president, but to celebrate the completion and arrival of the new community sefer Torah to Chabad of West Orange. It was long-awaited, as the Torah was originally set to be dedicated last Chanukah—the fifth anniversary of Chabad of West Orange in its own space—but was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Sunday afternoon, several hundred people watched as the sofer finished writing the last letters of the Torah dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Eliyahu Green, the father of Chabad of West Orange shlucha Altie Kasowitz.

Guests danced and sang as the scroll was adorned with its mantle and crown, and then followed the new Torah outside to the chuppah where it was passed among the celebrants and carried around the shul building.

Kasowitz and her husband, Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, invited the community to fulfill the “very last mitzvah in the Torah,” the commandment to write a Torah, by a letter, a pasuk or perek or more.

“The word ‘community’ has the word ‘unity’ in it, and the Torah is the foundation of the world, and Jewish life, and it’s the way we connect to Hashem—and it really connects all of us together,” said Rabbi Kasowitz. “Through the writing of our sefer Torah we have become part of one extended family, connected to each other and to Hashem.”

Among those who participated in the Community Sefer Torah project was Rivka Moradi.

With her husband, Yaakov, approaching “a milestone,” his 70th birthday, and studying up on his bar mitzvah parsha, Parshas Pinchas, Moradi purchased the parsha in his honor. “I thought it would be the most-special present. This was two years ago, before COVID.”

According to Rabbi Kasowitz, Yaakov Moradi had no idea about the honor until he was called up on Sunday afternoon to write a letter in the Torah and learned about the surprise gift his wife had arranged for him a couple of years earlier.

In addition to her husband’s bar mitzvah parsha, Moradi also dedicated a pasuk that talks about passing the Torah from generation to generation in honor of her children. “I’m so excited that my family can be here,” she said, “and it’s very special and wonderful to be able to be a part of this.”

Rabbi Kasowitz said that seed money for the purchase of the Torah came from congregants Libby and Igor Joffe and their son, Boris. The family, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in early 1993, made the donation to honor Libby’s grandparents, Tova and Baruch Benzion Leikah.

As Libby Joffe recounted, her grandparents hid a sefer Torah in their home at great risk for many years. The Torah had belonged to someone else, but when that person had to flee, her grandparents took the Torah and hid it. In the early 1990s, they found someone to take it to Israel, but the Torah never made it there.

“So I dedicated this one as a way to return the Torah to my grandparents,” she said, noting that they have since passed away. “Hopefully, with this Torah all our hopes will be heard and fulfilled.”

At the ceremony on Sunday, after Igor Joffe wrote a letter in the Torah, Rabbi Kasowitz surprised him with his own tallit and tefillin, so he no longer needs to borrow ones from the shul. He also received matching velvet bags with his name written in Hebrew and English.

Jeffrey Wallach, whose mother was Rabbi Green’s cousin, came from Brooklyn with his family to attend the dedication. He recalled Rabbi Green as being very dedicated to his family and said this is the “perfect” tribute as his children are carrying on his legacy.

Rabbi Eliyahu Green was a Chabad chassid in Montreal. He passed away just after Pesach in 1994, at the age of 46, leaving behind his wife, Chava, and their 13 children. Altie was just 12 at the time, the ninth of the 13 children. Her bat mitzvah, held just one month before his passing, was the last family celebration her father witnessed.

“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to do something in honor of my father,” she said. “And when I got married, moved to West Orange and started our shul, I knew I wanted to have something here that he was a part of.

“If my father were here, he would not expect this [kind of gift],” Altie Kasowitz continued. “He wasn’t a limelight person. He was always on the other end, always doing, always giving to others, trying to make people happy. He was a smiling person. If you needed anything, you called him and he was there. The people in the grocery knew him, the people in the bakery, the crossing guards, everyone.

“Everyone in the community loved him, and as soon as we put out the call about writing a sefer Torah in his memory, people around the world contacted me dedicating a pasuk or a letter and sending me messages with a memory, a story, about my father. He was a Torah-dedicated person, and that’s what the Torah teaches us: to be there for others, to have ahavas Yisroel.”

Altie Kasowitz’s mother, Chava Green, was surrounded by seven of her children, their spouses and children, as the sofer wrote the second-to-last letter in the Torah. (Rabbi Kasowitz was honored with writing the very last letter.) Speaking just before the Torah was completed, she said that the West Orange community has people from all places, but who all share a respect for the Torah and that she hopes the new Torah, written in memory of her late husband, would bring an infusion of light from above down to earth, as well as be a hana’ah, a spiritual satisfaction, for her husband’s soul, Eliyahu Ben Avraham Aron.

“I’m sure my husband is looking down and feeling the pleasure, the nachas.”

By Faygie Holt

 

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