Rabbi Faitel Lewin prepares the unfinished letters of the Torah, under the watchful eyes of seventh-grade students Sam Coretz, Liora Zhrebker, Karen Folz and Hailey Hoppenstein. Photo: Holly Kuper
By Laurie Barker James
According to Pirkei Avot, the world rests on three things: Torah, avodah (prayer) and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). Howard and Leslie Schultz provided all three for Akiba Academy last Thursday. The Schultz family has a long commitment to Akiba, and in an act of lovingkindness, commissioned a special sefer Torah to be used by Akiba’s Beit Kineset (middle school).
The genesis of the idea began last year, around Howard Schultz’s birthday. Along with Akiba Academy’s Rabbi Zev Silver, Schultz planned the donation of the Torah, which was a year in the making.
Schultz inscribed the first word of this special Torah in Jerusalem several months ago. The completed Torah was presented last week in a ceremony attended by all the youth connected with Akiba. It was made slightly smaller than a standard Torah. This is an accommodation to the middle-schoolers, according to Mireille Brisebois-Allen, Akiba Academy’s director of communications.
“This Torah will be easier for the students in our Beit Kineset to lift, and they can use it on an ongoing basis,” Allen said.
Every Torah is identical, according to Jewish law, from the first to the last of the 304,805 characters. No word or character has been changed from the time the Torah was given on Mount Sinai until today. The feather for the quill used to inscribe the Torah must come from a kosher bird, such as a goose or turkey.
Rabbi Faitel Lewin, a sofer (scribe) from New York, came to Akiba last week to finish the new Torah. In addition, the sofer’s services were offered to anyone in the community who wanted a mezuzot, tefillin or Torah “check-up.” Traditionally, mezuzot and tefillin are checked by a sofer twice yearly. Two local synagogues, as well as Akiba Academy and Yavneh Academy, had the rabbi check their Torahs. Over half a dozen families also had the rabbi give their personal mezuzot or tefiillin a once-over.
Because Akiba Academy has a tradition of integrating classroom work with hands-on experience, the school’s educators developed a curriculum based on the tradition of sefer Torah for every grade level. From preschool to eighth grade, the youth got to see how the Torah has not changed from the time it was given to Jews at Mount Sinai until now.
“In between writing the Torah and the repairs and checks, Rabbi Lewin taught students about the history of the sefer Torah, the quills, calligraphy and parchment used,” Allen said.
Sixth-grade students also worked with art teacher Marcy Stollon to design the cover for the new Torah. The landscape scene included a tree in a grass field with the sun, moon and stars floating in a blue-sky background. The students’ design was then embroidered onto the mantle.
On Thursday, the final letter was inscribed in the Torah shortly before noon. A Torah parade for all the children, staff and visitors, complete with music and a fire truck, followed.
“We had the most fun,” Leslie Schultz said. “You can’t imagine what it was like to see all the kids dancing with the Torah.”
At 2 p.m., Akiba students, including the Schultzes’ eighth-grade grandson Ben Romaner, got to read from their new Torah for the first time.
“It’s a mitzvah to complete a Torah,” Howard Schultz said. “You write a Torah for the next generation.”
Yavneh students help complete the letter of the Law
By Deb Silverthorn
Putting pen to paper — actually quill to parchment — the students of Yavneh Academy of Dallas shared in the completion and celebration, Feb. 7, of a sefer Torah, the Five Books of Moses, donated to Akiba Academy by Howard and Leslie Schultz. The Torah’s last lines were completed by many students at Yavneh.
“I never had this opportunity at their age. I hope that this experience will be a big part of their future and inspire Torah learning and Torah living,” said Schultz, who penned the first letter last May during a trip to Israel, where he had the Torah commissioned. At the end of the dedication ceremony, Schultz, with family, friends, and many Dallas Jewish community members nearby, filled in the very last letter. “This is a very proud time for my family and me. I love that the children were part of it.”
“It is the 613th mitzvah, or commandment, to write a Torah, one that most people aren’t able to fulfill in their lifetime,” Yavneh Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum said. “Even symbolically, by helping the rabbi today, the students have committed themselves to follow the words within.”
“The Torah is the basis for the way we are to live our lives. To have the chance to write in one, holding the quill as the ink filled in a letter of our Law, is amazing,” Yavneh senior Sam Ames said.
While the young men of Yavneh helped fill in some of the Hebrew letters, the young women had designed and needlepointed squares to create the chuppah, or Jewish wedding canopy, under which the Torah was carried around the Schultz Rosenberg Campus. “This is a gift like none other, wonderful work by good hearts,” said Monica Ribald, a Yavneh art teacher who supervised the design reading “Hachnassat Sefer Torah — Welcome Sefer Torah.”
“It was emotional for me that we had the chance to do this,” said Eve Moel, a junior at Yavneh, who stitched one of the panels. “I got to help put something together that will last, I hope, through many Yavneh generations.”
The generations are likely to hear from the Yavneh students, as they age, about the day they carried the Torah, which they helped write, under the chuppah, which they designed and built.