By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — For four members of Temple Shalom, there are few things as rewarding as the opportunity to travel to Australia and meet the members of the congregation to whom they donated their previous Torah.
For Brenda Nibert, Beth Lasher, Jacque Comroe, and Marsha Lefkof, the March trip to Brisbane, Australia was the opportunity to see a true difference made in the lives of others.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel halfway around the world and celebrate something truly wonderful,” Marsha Lefkof said. “I really can’t even put into words how exciting this was.”
The transitioning Torah, now referred to as “the Dallas Scroll,” was the epicenter of the March 13 celebration in Brisbane.
There was much music and dancing then, as the Torah was held high and paraded around for friends, family and community members alike to enjoy.
Nibert described that entire weekend in Australia as homey, pleasant and joyous.
“I’m pretty sure they were surprised when we made it there,” Nibert said. “You don’t expect people to take you up on this. They were our hosts and they welcomed us.”
Nibert said she truly felt she was part of a larger worldwide Jewish community that day.
“Everybody was happy,” Nibert said. “It was such a wonderful weekend.”
Nibert said she felt equally wonderful when she visited Israel, too — a very special feeling for a very special connection.
“That is how wonderful Judaism is,” Nibert said. “We may not be family but we certainly feel like it.”
She said she hopes members of the Australian congregation will stay with her should they travel to Dallas for similar celebrations.
The Torah transition began with the 50th anniversary of Temple Shalom — which in December 1965 was the first Reform synagogue north of LBJ.
Beth Lasher said the main idea for the 50th anniversary was to donate the synagogue’s Torah to another temple that needed it — much like the congregation of Temple Shalom needed the Torah that Congregation Shearith Israel donated to them half a century ago.
With this Torah, Temple Shalom became the first Reform synagogue in North Dallas.
“We saw this as giving back,” Lasher explained. “This was us coming full circle. It was the fruition of a spiritual journey — of us trying to support and encourage Judaism on the other side of the world.”
Subsequently, Nibert said, this particular Torah anniversary was like no other before it.
In honor of this anniversary, it was determined that there should and would be a new Torah for Temple Shalom. The previous Torah would be donated to a congregation in need.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Nibert said.
A special committee — co-chaired by Cantor Emeritus Don Croll and Jacque Comroe — was formed to determine who would receive the Torah donation.
As part of that, religious-school students undertook the task of researching Reform synagogues around the world that might meet all the criteria required to house a Torah.
Two students discovered the Brisbane Progressive Jewish Congregation as a solid candidate.
It took months and months of emailing, research, and using Skype, but the committee ultimately decided the Brisbane Progressive Jewish Congregation was the right fit.
When the congregants were informed that they were the recipients of the scroll, they decided to formally change their name to Congregation Beit Or: “House of Light.”
The Brisbane Progressive Jewish Congregation, incidentally, was formed in 2009 in Brisbane, Australia.
Prior to the donation, Congregation Beit Or had never had its own Torah.
“Over the years we used a printed, miniature ‘Torah,’” a spokesperson for the congregation told jwire.com.
About two years ago, congregants were loaned a Torah but did not have a permanent place to store it safely. They used the space in the ark at Temple Shalom, Gold Coast for that purpose.
As a result of the donation, this congregation will have a small, portable ark built to house this Torah.
The “on loan” Torah will continue to be kept on the Gold Coast.
Currently, the synagogue has 42 member units, including individuals, distant members and families.
Cantor David Bentley and Sally Castle flew to Dallas in late 2015 and then on to the World Union of Progressive Judaism conference in Orlando, Florida to officially receive the scroll and bring them to their new home.
Lefkof said while in Sydney, she and other members of her group met with Jocelyn Roebuck, executive director of the Progressive movement in Oceana.
“She spent time with us and we discussed important issues,” Lefkof said. “ … Now that we have established this connection, we would like to keep it going. These people were so wonderful. So welcoming.”
Lefkof said from her perspective, the Jewish communities of Temple Shalom and Congregation Beit Or are both relatively small, which is why it is important that members of both communities continue to meet and bond.
“This brings us together and makes us stronger,” she said. “I plan to help them out more. … We are so alike and have the same issues — ‘How do we get more members?’ ‘How do they help their teenagers once they finish their bar and bat mitzvahs?’ ‘Where do they go?’ I’m going to send them information about … keeping the young people connected.”