July 14, 2024
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Katz Family Dedicates Sefer Torah at Arzei Darom

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Marta and Peter Katz, of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, decided several years ago to commision a family sefer Torah in honor of Marta’s parents and grandparents. The sefer Torah was completed this past Sunday, just in time for Shavuot, which holds special significance to the family as Marta’s mother was taken to the concentration camps on Shavuot. Marta’s mother was the only one of her family to survive. A special Torah cover, specifically designed for Shavuot, will adorn the Torah this coming Yom Tov.

This past Sunday, the extended Katz and First families gathered at Teaneck’s Congregation Arzei Darom, as a primary shul where their son Jeff, his wife Eva and daughters Kayla and Emma daven, to dedicate their family’s Torah. Marta and Peter also enjoy davening at Arzei Darom when they visit for Yomim Tovim, so it felt like a natural place to house the Torah. The project, including the selection of a sofer, was emotionally charged and was years in the planning and writing.

Marta Katz spoke lovingly of her parents, Livia (Lily) and Karol First, who survived Auschwitz and built new lives in America, punctuated by perseverance, love of family, dedication to community chesed, tzedakah and hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). It was Lily’s dream, after the family built a successful business in Queens, to take on the obligation of writing a sefer Torah for her family members who perished in the Shoah, but it was Marta and Peter who completed the mitzvah in her merit.

Rabbi Aharon Ciment, in welcoming the Sefer Torah to be housed at Arzei Darom, said that every member of his community will benefit and be able to derive enjoyment from its presence, unlike any other kind of religious object like tefillin or ketubot, which provides benefit only to the people who own it. “The Torah obligates a person to write a sefer Torah using a very interesting lashon (language), as ‘now you shall write a shirah hazos,’ a song. Why is it a song?” he asked. He explained that the song of the Torah is the song of joy of the neshamot (souls), like those of Lily and Karol, who are honored in shamayim (heaven) by the Torah’s writing.

Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, the Katz family’s personal rebbe, made the journey from Queens to speak at the event and shared his love for the family, past and present. “I am told I have no vocal chords, so you know I am speaking from the heart,” he said.

Jeff Katz spoke of his fond memories of both his maternal grandparents, who gave him a deepened love for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish identity. He said they taught him “the virtue of perseverance, to be proud of who we are as a Jewish nation and that we can hold our heads up high and survive and thrive.”

Jeff concluded his emotional speech by saying, “I know that this is so special and meaningful for my parents, and I am honored that they have chosen to place the Torah in our ‘South of Cedar’ community. May this Torah be passed from generation to generation and inspire a love for Torah and our Jewish values. May my children feel their connection to their great-grandparents and may they always have that spirit of kindness, tzedakah and open heartedness that I fondly remember my grandparents with.”

Also speaking at the dedication were Adam Katz, Marta and Peter’s son who lives in Los Angeles, who flew in for the occasion and spoke movingly of his grandmother, and Jeff and Eva’s daughter Kayla Katz. Both speeches spoke to the personalities, heartwarming characteristics, virtues and attributes of Karol and Lily First.

Kayla, age 13, spoke with notable poise, sharing descriptions of her relatives that she learned from her savta, Marta, noting that her ancestors shared a similar passion with Avraham Avinu for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim. “My great-grandma came from a city in Hungary where a lot of Jews from Poland passed through to get to Israel. So almost every Shabbat my great-grandma’s shul in Hungary had a religious Jew visiting. And almost every week my great-grandma’s dad brought home a Jew with no place to go on Shabbat,” she said.

Kayla added that she feels that her grandmother’s honoring of Lily with a sefer Torah shows additional similarity to Avraham Avinu. “Just like how Avraham bought a cave in honor of Sarah in Chayei Sarah, I hope this Torah keeps getting passed down throughout my family like most people in Avraham’s family used the cave,” she said.

The festivities, which included a joyous conclusion of the writing of the letters of the Torah, dancing, speeches and a seudat mitzvah, garnered a turnout of over 100 people from across the broader Teaneck community and Queens. “It was gratifying that everyone came out on a holiday weekend to share what was such a momentous celebration and mitzvah with our family,” said Eva Katz.

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