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UC Irvine Completes Its Own Unity Torah

The UCI Jewish community came together last Monday, Feb. 5, to celebrate the completion of a sacred Torah, the Yaeger-Bisgay Unity Torah. The completed scroll will be kept at the nearby temple, The Rohr Chabad at UC Irvine, and is the first owned by the UCI Jewish community.

Lead by Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum and his wife, Miriam Tenenbaum, from Rohr Chabad, the event included several speakers, Hora (a dance of celebration) as well as an opportunity for community members to take part in the completion of the scroll by holding the ceremonial scribe’s hand. Yosef Teitelbaum, the locally trained scribe — who explained that becoming a scribe included years of schooling, training and practice on proper penmanship and observation of kosher rituals and practices — was hired by the temple to help complete the last lines.

The “Unity Torah,” named because it was collaboratively funded by students, alumni and community members, will replace the Torah the temple had been loaning.

“This is a UCI Torah by the UCI community. This effort included community members and even alumni of the school from 2003. That’s why it is called the Unity Torah,” Rabbi Tenenbaum said. Shaya Tenenbaum, the Rabbi’s younger brother, explained  that funding the creation of a new Torah can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000 and that the new scroll is an “eternal gift” for the community.

Children of UCI Chabad members look at the completed Torah scroll. Photo Courtesy Jeff Fei.

Fundraising for the Torah, which was mostly written in Hebron, Israel before being brought to Irvine for the last several lines to be completed on campus, began the previous summer but the inception of the project had begun several years prior, according to fourth-year film and media studies major Paulina Rubin, President of Chabad at UCI, the religious student organization which has been a staple of the campus for 10 years.

“This is something to strengthen our neshamas — our souls,” she said. “It helps us come together. By owning one, especially if you purchase the letter, or sponsored an entire portion, it brings happiness to your life and I’m very happy that we have one,” she said of what it means for the UCI Jewish community to have a Torah of their own.

Attendees of the event included several Rabbis from across the country, UCI students as well as people from outside of the country who came specifically to witness the completion of the Torah.

Matthias Lehmann, Director of Jewish Studies at UCI, gives a speech on the significance of the completion of the Torah on campus. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Fei.

Mijaela Trujillo and her husband, Eliezer Trujillo, who traveled from Guadalajara, Mexico for the event, said, “[Witnessing something like this] is once in your lifetime … I cannot express the joy in me from seeing the Holy Letters. Those letters are alive and bring life to your soul.”

First-year computer science and physics double major, Ofek Gila also said, “It’s a good thing to have in a Jewish sense,” explaining the significance of of the scroll to the immediate community.

One of the various speakers at the event, Matthias Lehmann, the chair of UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies and a Representative of the Chancellor’s office, touched on growth of the Jewish community at UCI.

“Dedicating a new sacred Torah is a really particularly beautiful event. It’s a process that takes a long time; the sofer — the scribe, works for a long time to make this sacred Torah and the finishing touches, the last letters are added by the community in this joyous occasion … and I think that’s a beautiful symbol of what the Torah represents,” he said. “It’s not just something that is handed down and it’s not this ritual sacred object that is put  on display but it’s something that requires the community, that requires us be engaged, to do something with it.”

He continued, “The words of the Torah are always the same but every community, every generation really needs to find a way to make it meaningful, to embrace it and to figure out what it means for each new generation. This is a beautiful symbol for what the Jewish tradition stands for: it is something that requires constant engagement and participation. I think it’s also beautiful that we’re here to celebrate what is a tremendous growth of the Jewish community on the campus.”

The completed scroll is displayed as the ink dries. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Fei.

Rabbi Tenenbaum also spoke about the significance of the Torah on campus saying, “As students get their higher degree of education and move on to be doctors, lawyers, professionals, artists, as you get your higher degree of education, remember … the Torah has eternal messages and universal messages for everybody. We know the Torah states that the wisdom of the Torah, the knowledge of the Torah …  if we connect to the source of the Torah — that is the true wisdom, that is the true knowledge, that kept the Jewish people alive for 3,000 years.”

The event concluded with the recognition of several key contributors and a celebratory dance on Ring Road after the final letters of the Torah were written and dried.