On September 18, the Fleetwood Synagogue community completed and welcomed a new sefer Torah. The event began at the home of Hallie and Nir Gadon. After Rabbi Yaakov Hoffman, the sofer, completed the final letters, the community danced with the Torah under a chuppah. A musical float led the parade down one of Mount Vernon’s major streets to the shul.
Fleetwood member Gabe Kleinfeld said: “We wanted another sefer Torah to have in circulation. We’ve had a number of Torahs passed down, but I don’t think this community ever had a new one commissioned. This shul is the combination of four shuls merging in the 1950s.
“In 2019, the community decided to commission a sefer Torah. It was a great opportunity for the community to do something together. In 2019, we set fundraising goals, and for three years, it’s been a slow endeavor. Between COVID and supply chain issues, it feels like this Torah has been on a boat from Israel since last year.” Kleinfeld explained that this will be the Torah this synagogue will use every Shabbat.
Andrea Horowitz’s family moved to the area in 1989, and now she is raising her own family there. She called the new Torah a new beginning, something to get excited about. “It’s something new for our community, for our kids to use and it will become part of their lives.” Horowitz noted that in 11 years, there will be a lot of boys using it. Fleetwood’s gabbai, Akiva Chase, living in the neighborhood for two years, is also looking forward to his young sons, Yosef and Asher, using this Torah. “We are really excited to have a new Torah.”
Rebbetzin Eliana Cohen said: “It’s so nice that they decided to wait for the new rabbi to have a new Torah. We really feel a connection and the warmth of the community.”
Rabbi Yosef Cohen, Fleetwood’s new rabbi, highlighted many sources throughout Tanach, Mishnah and Gemara of walking together with a sefer Torah. “When we bring out a Torah from the Aron every week, people make sure to walk with it,” he said “We read this past Shabbat, when the Jews brought Bikurim to the Beit Hamikdash, Jews would come out to sing and dance. In the Mishkan, David Hamelech would dance in front of the Aron.
“This process is a little like a wedding. We’re marrying the new sefer Torah; that is why we have a chuppah outside, with music and dancing. Once we arrive at the shul, the other sifrei Torah in the shul will come out to greet the new Torah.” Many local shopkeepers on Gramatan Avenue came outside to watch the musical procession.
After the new Torah was safely placed in the Aron, President Joshua Schickman remarked; “It’s been nearly three years since we kicked off our 12-month sefer Torah campaign. To say that a lot has happened since then would be an understatement. What hasn’t changed is that a shul does not get to this point without hundreds of hours of work from dedicated volunteers.” Schickman noted that the mantle says, “The Fleetwood Synagogue Community Torah.”
Schickman explained why this Torah project was unique. “Typically, anchor donors fundraise the entire sefer or a large majority of the campaign. A sefer’s name reflects that. While this shul received many large, generous donations, this was truly a community endeavor.
“Contributions came from current and previous Fleetwood families.” Schickman continued “As Rabbi Cohen said, this is not the ending of a process, but rather the opportunity for a beginning. Yes, we are finished writing this sefer, but we must look forward to leining from it on Shabbatot and Yamim Tovim for many years to come, and also as a representation of Torah, for growth as community, and the values of Torah u’mitzvot. Learn from it together. Follow the Torah together. Keep its mitzvot together.”
Rabbi Cohen, who started his new position this month, added: “Being able to add more Torah to our lives, more inspiration to our lives, and building a connection to Hashem is a way to focus as we’re approaching the new year. Welcoming a new sefer Torah, together as a community, we can work both on accomplishing our communal goals and our individual goals that together will make us a stronger community.”
By Judy Berger