At B’nai Abraham, one burst pipe leads to a flood — of mitzvot

At B’nai Abraham, one burst pipe leads to a flood — of mitzvot

Todd and Sarah Lavin brought B’nai Abraham’s new Torah from Florida. (Photo provided)
Todd and Sarah Lavin brought B’nai Abraham’s new Torah from Florida. (Photo provided)

Who could have guessed that a bounty of mitzvot would have been engendered by a single burst pipe?

The story began last winter, when a water pipe burst over the sanctuary of Congregation B’nai Abraham, a small synagogue in Butler.

When Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer, B’nai Abraham’s spiritual leader, discovered that condensation had damaged the congregation’s five Torahs, she received assistance from an unexpected source: the Rev. Pat Nelson, associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Butler. Nelson reached out to the cantor, provided moral support and allowed Gray-Schaffer to use the church to store two of the scrolls so they would have a secure and climate-controlled space in which to dry out.

“Above all, it was a lesson in the generosity and goodness of the human spirit,” Gray-Schaffer said at the time. “So many people reached out to us who didn’t even know us. This experience will always be in my heart.”

But the congregation’s experience benefiting from the kindness of others didn’t end there.

The Torahs have since been inspected by a sofer, and four of them require expensive restoration. One cannot be restored at all. The congregation hopes to raise the money to restore the four damaged scrolls but in the meantime was without a kosher Torah.

So Rabbi Yaier Lehrer, spiritual leader of Adat Shalom in Cheswick, Pa., offered to help.

“Rabbi Lehrer called and said, ‘You should not be without a Torah,’” Gray-Schaffer recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to find you a Torah,’ and he followed through. He lent us a Torah from Adat Shalom, and we have been using it ever since.”

After reading an update in The Jewish Chronicle about B’nai Israel’s damaged Torahs in June, longtime subscriber Carole Stein, a former Pittsburgher now living in South Florida, got in touch with Gray-Schaffer.

Stein, it turns out, just happened to have a kosher Torah stored in her closet for which she was looking for a home.

“I grew up in Squirrel Hill, but left Pittsburgh in 1973,” Stein said, speaking from her home in Boynton Beach. “My whole world keeps coming back to Pittsburgh.”

Stein and her late husband, Rabbi Andrew Beck, had founded the Boynton Beach Jewish Center, a small congregation that rented space from a country club where they held Shabbat and holiday services. In 2004, when Beck’s mother died, his father bought him a Torah in her memory that Beck used for services. Beck died in 2007.

“A lot of people here have a Torah in their home,” Stein said. “It’s hard to find a home for a Torah. Congregations here have lots of Torahs but few members.”

Gray-Shaffer was thrilled to get the offer of the Torah but had one problem: She did not know how to transport it from Florida to Pittsburgh.

“But then I had an idea,” Gray-Schaffer said. “I had been Skyping with a bar mitzvah student, and I knew he was in Florida, but I didn’t know where he was in Florida. So I called his dad and told him where the Torah was, and he said, ‘We’re a few minutes away.’ He said they were leaving Florida the following week and that they would bring the Torah.”

The Lavin family of Clarion, Pa., was happy to help, said Todd Lavin, a professor of philosophy at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.“We have three kids, but luckily Honda makes a nice, big mini-van,” Lavin said. “It was no problem.”

After picking up the Torah from Stein, the Lavins had it professionally packaged so that it would be protected for the trip to Pittsburgh.

“Cantor Michal was so moved when we delivered the Torah,” Lavin said. “When we opened it up and looked at the writing and how clear it was, she was moved to tears.”

For Gray-Schaffer, it is clear there was divine intervention in ensuring her congregation had a Torah.

“This whole thing has been so besheret,” she said. “When the Torah came to us, it was like it was coming home. It just gives me chills. This was just meant to be. I’ve been thanking God a thousand times. I’m just so overwhelmed.”

The tragedy of the damaged scrolls has paved the way for many mitzvot, she said, noting that after reading about the damaged Torahs in a story in the Butler Eagle, a Christian man walked into B’nai Abraham and gave the congregation $300 to help repair them.

And Adat Shalom, which had been so generous in lending its Torah to B’nai Abraham, coincidentally was the recipient of 300 machzors given by Stein several months ago.

“We were thrilled to get the donation,” said Lehrer, who noted that the congregation was in need of additional machzors because it runs several different services during the High Holy Days.

For Lehrer, it is the continuing chain of mitzvot that keeps Judaism dynamic.

“Mitzvot are the lifeblood of Judaism,” he said. “They keep the blood of Judaism flowing.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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