On Sunday, November 28, the Young Israel of Teaneck celebrated yet another momentous milestone with a hachnasat sefer Torah in their newly dedicated building. The sefer Torah was sponsored by the Ellberger family.
Wanting to make a beautiful simcha for the synagogue and the community, the Ellbergers put on a full-scale event that offered an opportunity for the members of the community to make a donation towards scribing the last letters in the Torah to help in its completion. Music and dancing in the surrounding streets accompanied the sefer Torah to its new home, followed by moving speeches and tributes that concluded with the entry of the Torah into the shul.
The festivities began with a lavish brunch and a host of activities and entertainment that the community will not soon forget. There was a children’s Torah Factory, an engaging and interactive program run by the Living Legacy where children got to learn all about the process of making a sefer Torah. “One thing we really wanted to focus on was to make sure that the kids enjoyed it and that they remember this event,” Ruven Ellberger said. “They learned what parchment and ink looks like and had the chance to write with a genuine quill, all while being educated about writing a sefer Torah in a most entertaining way.”
Larry and Barbara Ellberger had wanted to sponsor a sefer Torah for quite some time. Larry Elberger shared, “The rabbis tell us the last mitzvah in the Torah is to write a Torah, and if you can’t do that then the next best thing is to sponsor the writing of a Torah.” So they did just that.
The impetus to finally start the process began in earnest about three years ago. Back in 2019, Larry was diagnosed with cancer. “I was really very fortunate. It was a miracle that with no symptoms I was diagnosed early enough to be treated.” Once he began undergoing treatment, his desire to see this sefer Torah endeavor come to fruition became even stronger.
Soon after Larry’s diagnosis, family tragedy struck. His relatives, the Rimels, were involved in a fatal car crash in Israel that left a young mother, Tzippi, and her newborn daughter, Noam Rachel, dead. Tzippi’s husband Ephraim became paralyzed. Their eldest son, Etai, was on death’s doorstep, but made a miraculous recovery, with plenty of hard work and rehabilitation still ahead. This pivotal event, both the losses and the miraculous recoveries, increased the sense of urgency to complete the task of getting the sefer Torah written. “Between my illness and this terrible tragedy, it concentrates the mind and the saying, ‘Im lo achshav aymatai’ ‘If not now, when’,” Larry explained.
Although Larry and Barbara Ellberger divide their time between Boca Raton and Livingston, donating a Torah to the Young Israel of Teaneck proved to be a natural choice. Because their son and daughter-in-law, Ruven and Aliza Ellberger, live in the neighborhood, Larry and Barbara spend a lot of time there visiting their children and grandchildren while attending YIOT. But Larry stressed: “Our connection to the shul is not just because our children are members there. We’ve been there many many times and we really feel like it is our shul also. We know many of the people there. It’s another reason that it was a natural venue to donate the Torah to.”
Besides, they wanted to install it in a place that actually needed a Torah, and because of Ruven and Aliza’s level of involvement with YIOT, it all made sense. “The Young Israel of Teaneck has experienced enormous growth, and I’m very proud to say that Ruven led a magnificent capital campaign to expand the synagogue, raising $4.5 million … the community really rallied,” Larry said proudly.
The new building is considerably larger, allowing space for more minyanim. “When you have more minyanim you need more Torahs. The shul was in a situation where they were moving a Torah from one minyan to the next … so it was really the logical place.”
Ruven and Aliza grew up watching their parents’ involvement with their respective synagogues. Ruven grew up in Livingston attending the Suburban Torah Center, where his father served as gabbai for several years. Aliza’s father also served as gabbai and executive director of the Young Israel of Woodmere. They were brought up to be active shul members, so their level of community involvement and dedication to YIOT is just a natural result of their upbringing.
Aliza and Ruven moved to Teaneck in 2009. They made the YIOT neighborhood their home because they loved how it was a smaller section of Teaneck with just one shul in the neighborhood, “creating one tent for everybody with its diverse membership and a real feeling of community even as you are in this mega community of Teaneck,” Ruven said. He added that “there is a real feeling of connection for members and it translates into this event. We are getting so much feedback from people about this hachnasat sefer Torah, about how happy they are about this and grateful to my parents for donating this Torah. It’s a community simcha for everybody.”
The sefer Torah has additional meaning because it was dedicated in memory of the Ellbergers’ cousins, Tzippi Rimmel and her daughter Noam Rachel, whose lives were lost in that fatal crash. Devoted to Torat Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, Tzippi was a teacher who Ruven described as someone who “had unbelievable influence on people and was extremely beloved; people really loved her and she inspired people to make aliyah.” The Ellbergers were joined by friends and family for this event and, and perhaps most importantly, Tzippi’s parents, Yisrael and Ita Gantz, who flew in from Israel unaware at the time that the sefer Torah was being dedicated in memory of their daughter and granddaughter.
Ruven takes comfort from the Torah dedication. “It has been challenging for the relatives in America to grieve with the family and celebrate Tzippi’s life as we are so far away. But with this Torah housed in the YIOT, we feel we have strengthened our connection with Tzippi and her family, especially as we daven for the continued health and rehabilitation of Ephraim and Etai, and the family at large, in this very shul.”
In the end, the Torah dedication is also a marker of gratitude for Ruven and Aliza. “I am so grateful to my parents for this generosity, and to Hashem for keeping my father healthy,” Ruven said. “I am grateful that despite the car accident in Israel, that Ephraim and Etai continue to strengthen themselves and move forward, with Yisrael and Ita doing everything in their power to overcome. And I am grateful to my YIOT community, from the donors all the way to the board, expansion committee and Rabbi Krohn, for coming together and adding a new, wonderful chapter to the history of strong American Jewish communities.”
President of YIOT, Michael Gutlove shared: “It is truly an exciting time to be part of everything that is happening at YIOT. Our new building is open for business and we are adding new programming every month. We just had an unbelievably successful Chanukat Habayit weekend celebration and today’s hachnasat sefer Torah only added to the excitement within our community.”
Rabbi Beni Krohn, morah d’atra of YIOT, summed up the meaning of the day: “It is extraordinary enough to dedicate a sefer Torah to one’s shul. But today the Ellberger family did so much more. They made this hachnasat sefer Torah an inspiring and educational event for our whole community, adults and children alike. It was an entire morning dedicated to celebrating the majesty and beauty not only of the sefer Torah but of a Torah life. We could not be more grateful!”
By Ronit Mershon