March 15, 2020 was supposed to be a wondrous day for Congregation Ohr Saadya. The shul was planning a beautiful hachnasat sefer Torah that Sunday morning. As anyone living in Teaneck knows, that’s the weekend Teaneck went into lockdown and the hachnasat sefer Torah, like so many other events, had to be postponed.
Now, two-and-a-half years later, they are ready to move forward. Originally, Dr. Yaakov Abdelhak, a founding member of Congregation Ohr Saadya, had decided it was time for Ohr Saadya to own a Torah of its own. “The shul had accumulated Torahs from other shuls or private possessions of shul members over the years. I thought it would be nice for the shul to own its own Torah, and I really felt that something as sacred as a Torah should live and be permanently in the shul,” Abdelhak told The Jewish Link.
Once he made the decision, he knew exactly whom to turn to for the writing of the Torah. Abdelhak has a first cousin, Rabbi Meir Peretz, who lives in Israel and is a teacher and a sofer. By commissioning his cousin, he was able to help his cousin earn a parnassah and at the same time include him in honoring their shared grandparents. “The shul is named after my grandfather—my mother’s father—Saadya Mamane, who was also Meir’s grandfather,” Abdelhak shared.
Sadly, Abdelhak’s father passed away in March 2021. A student of the original Lakewood BMG and a talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler, he was ordained with Yoreh De’ah semicha from Rav Shneur Kotler and Yadin Yadin semicha from Rav Moshe Feinstein.
“Almost miraculously during COVID and with zero pre-arrangement, my father’s body was flown to Israel for kevura on Har Hazeisim, not far from his father, my grandfather’s, kever,” Abdelhak recounted. “Nobody from my family was allowed to travel with the body due to the quarantine rules in effect at the time. But my cousin Meir (the sofer), was able to go to the cemetery and say Kaddish and even did a live stream video so we could watch.
“The unfortunate delay in having this sefer Torah donated to Ohr Saadya is significantly sweetened by being able to dedicate it in my father’s memory,” Abdelhak continued. “Ironically, my father had been giving me advice on how to procure and bring the sefer Torah over before he got sick. His neshama should have an aliyah.”
Rabbi Peretz and his wife will be bringing the Torah to Teaneck. That has been no easy task since neither of them had passports, and with the backlog at passport centers, it took some time. But now they both have passports, and with the passage of time, it’s become easier to travel to and from Israel. Rabbi Peretz will be finishing the Torah at the Abdelhak home. This will be a wonderful opportunity for children and adults to write a letter in the Torah.
Commissioning a Torah turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than Abdelhak originally realized. Rabbi Daniel Feldman, rabbi of Ohr Saadya, was in touch with Rabbi Peretz, reviewed different samples of the ktav, ensured that the Torah went through multiple checks and even met with Rabbi Peretz on a trip to Israel.
Rabbi Dr. Zalman Levine, a regular shul baal koreh, also reviewed the pictures and the images of the ktav to sign off on it. Jack Markowitz, former president of the shul, guided Abdelhak on the mantle and atzei chaim for the Torah and is organizing the hachnasat sefer Torah.
“Most shuls have Torahs on loan,” said Steven Greenstein, Ohr Saadya president. “It is incredibly special and generous that Dr. Abdelhak is ‘giving’ this new sefer Torah to the shul. We were all disappointed when we were unable to have the hachnasat sefer Torah in March of 2020, but we are really excited that now we can celebrate this thrilling occasion with our rapidly growing Ohr Saadya community and the Abdelhak family, including Yaakov’s cousin who wrote the sefer Torah.”
Markowitz shared, “All the Torahs in the shul will be brought out to greet the new sefer Torah, reminiscent of a chatan coming out to greet his kallah at the chuppah.” The timing is beautiful as Abdelhak just married Jennifer Prince, a longtime Teaneck resident, and he came out to greet his kallah before they wed beneath the chuppah.
The honor of filling in the last letter is reserved for Rabbi Feldman. “Once completed, the Torah will be wrapped in its new mantle and we will accompany the new Torah to its new home at Ohr Saadya under a chuppah accompanied by music,” Markowitz continued. “It will bring the entire community together. It’s not just a family simcha, it’s a community-wide simcha and we encourage everyone to come.” At the shul there will be a seudat mitzvah and a short program.
Rabbi Feldman told The Jewish Link: “There are so many elements that converge in this fantastic simcha: the creation of a new Torah scroll, the addition of a great item of holiness to our synagogue,
the generosity of our members, the connecting of family both literal and figurative, the opportunity to honor individuals known for great kindness and communal service—and now being able to remember Yaakov’s father, Rabbi Abdelhak, zt”l, to whom the Torah meant so much—and a celebration of community in all its forms with the Torah at its center. It will be an exhilarating event.”
On Sunday, July 10, the entire community is invited to welcome the new Torah into the shul. The event will begin at 287 Herrick Avenue, at 9:30 a.m. The sofer has left 100 letters unfinished so that attendees can complete a letter and participate in the mitzvah. Anyone interested in completing a letter or dedicating a parsha or sefer should visit https://www.ohrsaadya.org/form/hachnasas_sefer_torah.html. Congregation Ohr Saadya is located at 554 Queen Anne Road in Teaneck. For additional information, email [email protected].