It was a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, and the heat of the day did not deter 1500 people from participating in a most unique dedication of a Sephardic Sefer Torah. On September 9th, the internationally renowned Torah outreach organization, Hineni, and its devoted followers marched down Park Avenue in Manhattan with a new Torah scroll written in the Sephardic tradition. The new Torah’s immediate destination was the Edmund J. Safra Synagogue at 11 East 63rd Street, yet its final destination will be in the holy city of Jerusalem, where it will be housed in the Hineni Center near Zion Square. The Hineni chapter in Jerusalem services many young Israelis of Sephardic heritage who are victims of terror, and numerous others who are indigent. The Center, which is in close proximity to clubs and discos, offers a healthy, meaningful alternative to the young people who frequent these places through participation in services, festive Sabbath dinners and inspiring Torah study.
The new Sefer Torah was joined by a very special Sefer Torah, centuries old, that escaped the flames of the Holocaust, and triumphed over Hitler. The tiny Sefer Torah dressed in a sparkling white cover belonged to the great-grandfather five generations back, of Hineni founder and president, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. He was a renowned sage, known throughout the Torah world as the Menuchas Osher, a miracle worker and holy man of great erudition who brought blessing and healing to his people. This Torah scroll, especially written for the Menuchos Osher by the illustrious scribe, Rabbi Moshe Soifer of Pscheworsk was passed from generation to generation in the Jungreis family in Hungary. During the years of the Holocaust, it was buried and later dug up by the Nazis and slated to be placed in a Nazi sponsored museum of Jewish artifacts. The goal was to prove that Jews once existed and the Nazis had succeeded in totally eradicating any vestige of Jewish life. Miraculously, this little Torah made its way to the US and back to its rightful heirs.
Both Torahs began their journey down Park Avenue, at the home of Hineni members Alison and Jack Schneider on East 75h Street and Fifth Avenue. Throngs of people started gathering at 4:30 pm to begin the writing of the concluding letters of the new Sefer Torah. Outside the residence, hundreds more gathered in anticipation of this most historic event. The exquisite burgundy chuppah awaited as the Torahs were brought out. Festive music was provided by the Yossi Soibelman orchestra who played atop a Hineni float designed specifically for this occasion. Rebbetzin Jungreis, along with a cadre of young children stood on the float waving Torah flags and blue and white balloons. Torches were also passed out. Before the procession began, Rebbetzin Jungreis told the crowd, “Today, we are witnesses to a most historical event. Never in the history of New York City has Park Avenue ever been blocked to traffic for any event. Today, the little Torah that triumphed over Hitler and the new Sephardic Torah, symbols of the past and the future will will march in unison as a sign of our love for Hashem’s Torah.”
The crowd marched, danced and sang to the tunes of “Ki M’Tzion Teitzei Torah” and “Sissu V’Simchu B’Simchat Torah” among others. The procession turned right on Park Avenue and East 63rd Street towards the Safra Synagogue where several hundred more people had gathered. Upon their arrival, the six Sifrei Torah from the Safra Synagogue were carried outside to greet the new Sefer Torah, housed in a sterling silver case and crown with bells.
“This is just like Simchat Torah”, said Martin Rosenthal, 48, from Queens who came in for this event. “The incredible music, the joyous fanfare, the non-stop dancing. This is the first Hineni event that I’m attending and I am just so very moved and deeply touched by this outstanding outpouring of love for our holy Torah”, he said.
Roy Kastl, 58, from Manhattan said, “I am privileged to be here at this momentous occasion. I am a witness to history being made and I can’t thank Rebbetzin Jungreis enough for all of her hard work. It is a great way to start the New Year and I will never forget it.”
As all of the Torahs made their way into the main sanctuary of the Safra Synagogue, Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis took the podium and welcomed the jubilant audience by telling them that the Torah is compared to a song. Everyone at every age can enjoy it and grow from it. Rabbi Abadi of the Safra Synagogue told the audience that in the parsha that we just read on Shabbat, Netzavim-Vayelech, Moshe commands us to write a Sefer Torah, lest we forget the word of G-d. “Today,” he said, “We have fulfilled the last commandment of the Torah. What a perfect way to usher in the New Year, by performing and fulfilling this cherished mitzvah”. He then thanked Rebbetzin Jungreis for sponsoring this Hachnassat Sefer Torah.
Rebbetzin Jungreis, with tears in her eyes, then spoke. “Firstly, I wish to thank our very dear Hineni friends, Debbi and Jimmy Lustig, who so graciously and generously sponsored this Sefer Torah. I also wish to thank Alison and Jack Schneider for opening their home to us and for the beautiful reception that they made. And I extend my appreciation to each and every person who sponsored a portion and letters in the new Sefer Torah and to every one of you for coming today to participate in the joyous procession. People came from all over the country to be here and we are most grateful.”
“Today, we sanctified the name of G-d on Park Avenue. Today, men, women and children joined together to pay homage to both an Ashkenaz Torah that survived the Holocaust and a Sephardic Torah that represents a beacon of light and hope for the future of our people”, said Rebbetzin Jungreis. “Torah is symbolic of our history. We are all witnesses to miracles. Today we can all say that Am Yisroel lives. In the parsha that we read on Shabbat, Moshe Rabbeinu is told by G-d that his people will betray His covenant, but they one day will return. Then G-d commanded Moses to tell the people that we are all obligated to write a Sefer Torah so we can remember these holy words and through this Torah we will return. And today we have returned. Today, every soul from Sinai, all of our ancestors and our forebearers were present. Right before Rosh HaShanah, we are showing the world and telling our G-d that we wish to return to His word and His Torah.”
Fern Sidman holds a B.A, in political science from Brooklyn College. She was the educational coordinator for the Betar Youth Movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was national director of the Jewish Defense League from 1983-1985. She was a researcher for several books written by Rabbi Meir Kahane, ZTK”L. She was the managing editor of the publication entitled, The Voice of Judea, and is a regular contributor to its web site. She is currently a writer and journalist living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in The Jewish Press, The Jewish Advocate, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and numerous Jewish and general web sites including, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Pipes and Michael Freund.
We are pleased to have Ms. Sidman as a regular contributor to the Jesus is Lord, A Worshipping Christian’s Blog.