When it comes to innovation, Torah scrolls are probably among the last places one might look. But that didn’t stop Chabad of Cobb’s Rabbi Ephraim Silverman and Eyal Postelnik from creating a completely new take on how to write one.
“It’s a story that kind of evolved, a mission to write a Torah in a way that has never been done before,” Silverman said. “This is a first, historic Torah. The underlying concept was to write a Torah in a way that would highlight the eternal relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”
Unlike a mezuzah or tefillin, Silverman explained that there was no requirement that a Torah be written in order, so while much of it was written ahead of time, dozens of selected passaged were left blank to be completed in sacred locations.
“With a scribe, a photographer and a videographer and a group of people, we went on a historic journey around the land of Israel to historic and holy sites and wrote the words that spoke about those locations and the events that happened there,” Silverman said. “We weren’t just standing there; we were connecting with the story through the quill.”
Postelnik had the desire to create a distinct Torah for the community for about two years before the trip took place, and through brainstorming and seeing other Torah scrolls written in Israel — many of which were scribed in one location — the duo came up with their own way to make it meaningful.
“Obviously, I’m an Israeli. Even if I wished to hide it, I could not,” Postelnik said. “As we thought about it, we saw the uniqueness and the importance of this specific Torah. … Israel is small, but very big, and every piece of it is unique and has its own story.”
The Israel trip itself took place in May and included stops at such historic sites as Rachel’s Tomb, Abraham’s Well in Beersheba and Ari Synagogue in Tzfat.
“We wanted to touch upon as many of the general holy sites as possible,” Silverman said, “but obviously we couldn’t do everything. … For sites that didn’t have a direct location connection because they were later parts of Jewish history, we found a more symbolic connection.”
While it was hard to pinpoint any specific location as more or less special than another, one that stood out to both was Shiloh.
“Standing where we believe that the Holy of Holies stood as the sun was setting with Jerusalem in the distance, and writing the words related to the tabernacle, was very special,” Silverman said.
The pair included as many people as possible in writing the scroll. A number of organizations were partners, including Jewish National Fund, World Zionist Organization, Birthright Israel and more, as well as passersby who were intrigued.
“Soldiers that just passed by who wanted to write a letter in the Torah were given the opportunity,” Postelnik said. “It’s not our Torah, not our synagogue’s Torah, not our families’ Torah, it’s the Jewish nation’s Torah.”
The scroll is making its way back to the congregation slowly, but first, a verse will be written at the resting place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in New York. Schneerson, often known as simply “the Rebbe,” is known for his work transforming the Chabad-Lubavitch movement into one of the world’s most influential Jewish organizations.
“We chose the verse upon which he based his final teaching before he passed on from this world. It’s a message of unity, of common heritage and the land of Israel,” Silverman said.
The New York ceremony takes place on Sept. 18 and will involve as many as 250 people in the process of writing the verse and celebrating the Rebbe’s life.
While an exact date for the Torah’s return to Atlanta is uncertain, Postelnik and Silverman said that they’re aiming for around March to bring it back to Chabad of Cobb. A documentary is in production that will tell of the scroll’s journey.
“We’re hoping to get the word out and have a very large ceremony and celebration here where people from all around can come and participate,” Silverman said. “We have also been in touch with some national organizations and there is talk of it being made available to communities around the world as a source of inspiration that can draw people together.”