The number 10 holds special significance in Judaism. Signifying a culmination, 10 is where individual components combine as a community to form a unified whole. And remarkably, it is now 10 years ago that Westchester Torah Academy first arrived on the scene, offering families a uniquely affordable Jewish day school experience through a creative educational model of tradition blended with innovation that upholds the highest standards in Jewish and secular education.
To mark its first successful decade, WTA crowned its 10th anniversary festivities with a joyous hachnasat sefer Torah celebration, where the community welcomed the gift of a magnificent newly restored Torah scroll generously donated by a benefactor and friend of WTA. Held on the morning of October 14, during Chol Hamoed Sukkot, fittingly just days before Simchat Torah, the event drew distinguished rabbis from the Westchester Jewish community—among them Rabbi Reuven Fink and Rabbi Chaim Axelrod of the Young Israel of New Rochelle, Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of the Young Israel of White Plains and Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern of the Young Israel of Scarsdale—along with many WTA students, parents, administration, faculty and longtime friends. Especially heartwarming was the attendance of several WTA alumni, recent graduates who returned to celebrate the simcha of their beloved alma mater.
The day began memorably, as Sofer Rabbi Kass from The Sofer Center in Monsey treated the students by grade to a demonstration of the art and craft of making a Torah scroll. From the tiniest tots wearing handmade paper crowns and excitedly waving decorated flags to middle schoolers listening raptly to his informative talk, Rabbi Kass presented samples of the animal hide, feather quill and ink that comprise the raw material components of a Torah scroll, while explaining how in a kosher sefer Torah, not even a single letter can be missing. Students were thrilled to “receive” a letter being dedicated to each class, and gathered carefully around the table where the Torah was unfurled to watch Rabbi Kass inscribe the letter representing their class into the scroll. Their participation included reciting a bracha taught to them for the occasion by WTA Rav Beit Sefer Rabbi Avi Hoffman, “l’shem kedushat sefer Torah!” The children will be happily reminded of this holy moment when special plaques bearing the letter of each class are eventually created and displayed at school.
Following the completion of the scroll, the whole school came together to continue the celebration outdoors. Keyboardist Elimelech Adler sang and played a lively, uplifting medley of Torah-inspired songs, and the dancing began! Everyone joined in. It was beautiful to see older children dancing with delighted younger ones, all experiencing the joy of fulfilling the mitzvah to complete a Torah scroll in one’s lifetime.
The ruach and excitement surged with happy anticipation, when Rabbi Avi, carrying the beautifully enrobed new Torah scroll beneath a chuppah, led a procession of singing, dancing and cheering middle schoolers who surrounded him and held the four chuppah poles aloft. Students from the first through fourth grades lined the hallways to welcome the Torah into its permanent new home. While the younger students sang, clapped and kissed the Torah scroll as it passed by, the older ones danced the new Torah into the middle school where it was welcomed by WTA Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Hillel Lichtman. Head of School Morah Deganit Ronen led the faculty and middle school girls in the singing of “Etz Chaim He.”
In her remarks to the students, Morah Deganit emphasized what an extraordinary opportunity and rare privilege this moment was, pointing out that not everyone gets the chance to participate in this mitzvah. To the assembled middle schoolers she said, “I don’t know if you will remember all of your science, math or history lessons, but I know that this moment of singing and dancing the Torah into school with your teachers, family and friends is something you are going to remember for the rest of your life.” Following the speeches, the children recited a bracha before enjoying ice pops as a treat to remind them of the sweetness of Torah learning.
At morning minyan the following Thursday, October 20, WTA students leined Parshat Bereishit from the new Torah for the first time with great excitement, and more spirited singing and dancing. What a meaningful way to celebrate the unity of community on WTA’s 10th anniversary, and a sweet beginning to the new year, and next decade, of WTA.