A rabbi dances down the streets of a sprawling Atlanta suburb as the sun goes down. Following him are a parade of men and women, also dancing, singing and following along. Children and teenagers hold signs they’ve made themselves with markers. An SUV rides at a snail’s pace, keeping up with the group for the half-mile journey up a hill while playing loud, joyful music and even a little rock for the kids. Another homemade sign is waved from the passenger seat of the musical vehicle. Construction paper stars are cut out and pasted on a board bearing the words Kehilla Kids.
The Kehilla of Sandy Springs, literally translated as “the community,” is a diverse synagogue led by dancing Orthodox Rabbi Karmi David Ingber, and this celebration is one of the most momentous for the congregation. The synagogue recently received a new Torah, and the rabbi and community members are here to escort it to its new home.
After borrowing for a period of time from other synagogues, the ceremony on Sept. 20, also called Hachnosas Sefer Torah, is happening because The Kehilla has been gifted its own Torah. A small group of anonymous Kehilla community members donated enough funds for the congregation to purchase the new Torah, and a larger group of congregants participated by purchasing a letter or a word in the new book.
“It’s the highest form of tzedakah,” said Elisheva Ingber, the rabbi’s wife. “The Torah has carried the very same words for so many years. Think of it. Every single letter is the same. These donors in our community have really made it possible for us to be able to share it together. What a mitzvah that is.”
Before the official ceremony begins, the congregation gathers at the rabbi’s house and prepares to make the uphill climb to the synagogue. Rabbi Inger speaks with his hands, animated and joyful, to a group gathered on the couch. “Back when the ark was brought back into Jerusalem, it wasn’t done properly, and there was a problem,” the rabbi said. “So now, we bring the Torah into its new home, someplace holy. And we do it correctly. We do it together!”
Water bottles were handed out, the chuppah was readied, the new Torah was handed to a community member, and the group of no less than 40 started up the hill. Everyone’s hands clapped while they danced and sang along to the music being enthusiastically pumped from the SUV. At one point, Ingber appeared with a guitar. Children and teenagers carried their homemade signs, blew bubbles, and some danced at the head of the parade in front of the Torah as it was carried down the street.
When the crowd reached the synagogue, congregation and rabbi celebrated with more dancing, singing, and an explanation of how momentous the event really was for the relatively new and emerging place of worship. The Kehilla was founded nine years ago. Originally, the congregation concentrated largely on young adult outreach and as a result, most of the 35 marriages Ingber has performed over the years have been for those who met through his congregation. “It’s a very unique community,” he explained. “We try to appeal to people from all different ages and backgrounds. We relate to people where they are and only want to give them experiences that will improve their lives.”
The Hachnosas Sefer Torah ceremony marks not only a new Torah for The Kehilla, but celebrates the generosity of its congregants who made it fiscally possible. The diversity of the walkers is evident from the varying ages and different levels of observance as they walk down the street. Teenage girls walk next to older men, and the crowd represents Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregants. “If we make Jewish thought accessible to more people, they get excited,” Ingber said.
“Today represents bringing in the new Torah, which brings in new light. That also means bringing in the idea that we’re going to share what this Torah has to offer with whoever wants it. Everyone can benefit from the lessons learned in the Torah, and that’s why we’re here.”