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Friday, July 31, 2015

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Temple restores its three Torahs

Rabbi Micah Streiffer, left, and Neil Yerman. [Joseph Sharivker photo]

TORONTO — Temple Kol Ami, one of Greater Toronto’s fastest-growing congregations, is embarking on a year-long project to restore its three Torah scrolls, including a 250-year-old Czech scroll that survived the Holocaust.

Rabbi Micah Streiffer, spiritual leader of the Reform synagogue in Thornhill, Ont., asked for renowned American Torah scribe, or sofer, Neil Yerman to restore the scrolls.

“We contacted Mr. Yerman because of his particular approach, which is both a torah restoration and a teaching approach,” Rabbi Streiffer says.

Yerman was at Temple Kol Ami on Oct. 26 teaching families about which materials make a living Torah and examining the scrolls with them.

“It’s something I call the ‘Torah Detective Training Academy,’” Yerman told The CJN.

“We look for clues in the Torah. We want to find out something about where the Torah was from or how old the Torah might be, or something about the culture of the people [from where the scroll was written].”

Yerman, who is based in New York, will return to the synagogue two more times during the restoration process.

At one session this coming spring, he says he will ask congregants to clean parts of the scrolls and then hold a quill with him to fill in broken letters. This act fulfills an important Jewish commandment.

Members of the congregation and others in the community are encouraged to donate $72 or more to write a letter in any of the three Torahs.

“This type of programming brings the Torah… to a place that is very close to us – within our hearts, within the very essence of who we are,” Yerman says.

“We bring that Torah home in a very real way by coming into physical contact with it and taking direct responsibility to bringing life back to it.”

The temple hopes to have it finished by next the High Holidays, Rabbi Streiffer says. The project will likely cost around $40,000.

Temple Kol Ami’s Czech Torah is one of more than 1,500 rescued from the Holocaust that have been distributed around the world.

“We see it as part of our obligation to that community to have their Torah scroll continue to be part of Jewish life today,” Rabbi Streiffer says. “We see ourselves as carrying on the work and the life of a Jewish community that was destroyed during the Holocaust.”

Yerman doesn’t just restore Torahs. He has written several new scrolls as well, including for nearby Temple Har Zion in October 2012. He has worked in scribal art since 1987, which also includes calligraphic work and illuminating scrolls.

“My love of drawing and my love of letters started at a very, very young age,” Yerman says. “I loved penmanship. That has never gone away. I love writing and I love letter form of many languages.”

Temple Kol Ami is located in the Leo Baeck Day School and has 165 member families.

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