On Sunday, November 13, hundreds paraded three-quarters of a mile along North Woodmere’s Hungry Harbor Road following the completion of a unique sefer Torah. What made this dedication so unique was that the funds used to commission the Torah were raised by redeeming New York State’s bottle and can recycling deposits over three years, one nickel at a time.
Organizers explained their inspiration came from a magazine article about people in Israel doing something similar—saving bottles and cans to use for different things. One organizer recalled, as a youth, his family put loose change in a jar. They explained, “We didn’t have a real game plan. Honestly, we never, ever dreamed that it was going to be this big ever nor this quick.” Once the project was underway, word spread to relatives and friends. “In the beginning, some considered it pretty weird. Others thought it was cute or a fun idea.” The organizers explained that initially only a handful of people were collecting with them, but word spread fast. As the project expanded, drop-off locations were started in New Rochelle, Brooklyn and the Five Towns.
Cheryl Scher led the New Rochelle effort. “I put the word out on the neighborhood chats to see if people were interested. People were so enthusiastic. They gave tons of bottles. This became a regular thing.” The bottles and cans were first picked up from New Rochelle weekly and later bi-weekly, each time completely filling a minivan. Scher found that bottles and cans were easy to collect during COVID as people were drinking many more water bottles and cans of soda at home. Most social events included individual portions. As COVID subsided, so did drinking from cans and bottles at home. The New Rochelle pick-ups spanned two years.
“Our community was so enthusiastic to participate,” Scher expressed. “I would walk down the street and people would ask when is your next pick up? What are we up to? How is the project going? I was even referred to as the bottle lady.” Scher added, “It says a lot about the community, always wanting to participate in tzedaka. Scher learned that many neighbors prefer LaCroix seltzers and Diet Coke.
When a significant amount was collected, a down payment was made. It typically takes a sofer about a year to actually write a Torah. Organizers describe how getting this Torah was a fulfillment of a dream. “I think the biggest thing was that so many people were involved, from all over, for so long,” Scher continued. “Week after week, every little bit, we saw it add up. We really noticed everybody was doing their own little piece, as they dropped off their bottles and cans. Participants would ask for updates and excitement grew as we got closer. People felt so much a part of it, making it so special.” They declined monetary donations, accepting just recyclables that were eligible for deposit refunds.
One supporter told them, “This is such a beautiful idea. I wish I drank, but we really don’t, but I’m going to tell my mother who drinks.” Many said, “I’ll do what I can, I’ll save my bottles. I’ll tell a friend.” Another friend would purchase bottles on Instacart for others just to drink and donate them. The organizers noted that “with togetherness, there’s almost nothing you can’t do. Of course, we couldn’t have done this on our own. Had we done it on our own, we definitely wouldn’t have done it so quickly.”
The new Torah’s mantel is embroidered with pasuk from Tehillim, “I rejoice in your words like one who finds great treasure.” The organizers hope this story encourages people to try for their dreams. The organizers have not decided as yet where the Torah will reside.