By Jan Jaben-Eilon
When Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Scott Colbert asked woodworking artist and congregant Bob Greenberg to build the atzei chaim, the rollers and handles for a new Torah, for the congregation a year ago, Greenberg was touched and a bit overwhelmed.
The Torah was to be created in Rabbi Colbert’s honor.
Greenberg knows wood: His home is adorned with his beautiful wood bowls and other pieces. But a year ago he had no idea how to build the atzei chaim.
Despite numerous rules governing the lettering and material of the actual Torah scroll, there are apparently no instructions for the rollers and handles.
“My first thought was to make it out of exotic hardwood, but the scribe said that it would be too heavy,” Greenberg said days before the Torah was dedicated in a festive ceremony at Emanu-El on Sunday, May 1.
After consulting a wood turner in Israel and doing much other research, Greenberg decided to design the rollers and handles to reflect the man the Torah would honor.
Greenberg became acquainted with Rabbi Colbert in 2007 when his late wife was undergoing chemotherapy. They became close friends. “He helped me through Judy’s entire illness as my rabbi, pastoral counselor and psychologist,” he said. “I love Rabbi Colbert, so this was a true labor of love.”
He said the making of the atzei chaim involved a lot of symbolism. “It’s a piece of artwork, but it’s more than that.”
Greenberg told an Emanu-El sanctuary full of congregants about the symbolism he felt was needed to represent a rabbi, a pastoral chaplain and a cantor. He is “a peaceful, thoughtful man (as) reflected in the flowing lines incorporated in the discs, a line that never ends, like Rabbi Colbert’s compassion. The handles, simple, strong and dependable. The cantor, reflected by the musical-instrument-grade wood. This beautiful wood, like the man, a gift from our Creator, only reveals itself when you peel away the surface, allowing it to reveal its inner beauty. A well-grounded man who possesses the unique ability to hug you and make you feel safe and secure.”
Greenberg added: “Finally, the simplest part, like the man who has supported this congregation during its difficult times of transition, is reflected by the straight and strong oak that supports the entire Torah.”
Indeed, Rabbi Colbert was lauded by several congregational leaders. Scott Walsey, one of the co-presidents, noted how Rabbi Colbert held the congregation together through many ups and downs in the nearly 30 years he has served Emanu-El.
“This is about community and renewal,” Rabbi Spike Anderson told the congregation. “If we’re lucky, once in a generation, the saying goes, we have the opportunity to write a Torah to uplift us. Rabbi Colbert embodies what the Torah teaches us.”
The writing of the Torah served as a fundraiser for Temple Emanu-El. Walsey said congregants Ron and Lisa Brill made the foundational contribution for the project.
Although the Torah was written in Israel, the letters were filled in by Atlanta scribe Rabbi Mordechai Danneman.
Committee co-chair Arlene Marcus said there were 14 scribe sessions since the first one in June. “More than 1,000 individuals participated in the mitzvah” of writing the Torah, she said.
The goal, Rabbi Colbert divulged, was to raise $200,000. Instead, the congregation contributed $578,000.