The quick thinking of a local Jewish community leader has resulted in the deepening of spiritual ties between Pittsburgh and its sister city in Israel.
Sue Linzer, former director of the Overseas Planning Commission for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, was visiting the Jewish state with the organization when she discovered a problem. While in Karmiel-Misgav, the northern region which has partnered with the Steel City for the last 20 years, Linzer and the group visited a kibbutz called Kishorit, which according to Debbie Swartz, the Federation’s overseas planning associate, had “just broken ground on a new synagogue.”
Linzer, who is now retired, learned that the future shul had not yet secured a Torah scroll to use.
When Linzer returned home, she got in touch with Federation CEO and president Jeff Finkelstein to see if any synagogue here could donate one of their scrolls to Kishorit.
Finkelstein promptly “put the call out” to all local synagogues, said Swartz.
Enter Temple David in Monroeville and Rabbi Barbara Symons. When the email appeared in her inbox one day, Symons found the idea to be an exciting one. Even more, she said, “we had a Torah that we didn’t use.”
Symons’ congregation had previously visited Karmiel-Misgav, and she viewed the donation as another way to strengthen the bonds between the two communities.
On June 24, Temple David hosted a ceremony to say farewell to the Torah scroll that would now reside in the Holy Land. It would be leaving in the next few days with participants of the Diller Teen Fellows Program, who were departing to Israel for several weeks.
One of the Diller fellows was at the shul to “accept the Torah from us, as it were,” and to explain the program’s aims to the congregation, said Symons. The rabbi described the ceremony as “very powerful,” with the scroll being passed among the congregants, who each took turns holding and kissing it, until it was finally “put in the arms of this young man.”
The congregation put a lot of thought into which Torah portion would appear when the scroll was finally open and decided upon Lech Lecha. The portion was appropriate, explained Symons, because it contains the story of God telling Abraham to leave his father’s home and travel to a new land.
The Torah’s new home is undoubtedly a special place. Founded by Hashomer Hatzair, the Socialist-Zionist movement, in the late 1970s, Kishorit was soon abandoned after it proved difficult to farm. In 1997, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the kibbutz movement came back to the land, founding a new kibbutz for adults with special needs. That the Torah will go to the community there, said Symons, is “really fabulous. Here is a community that is sustaining in so many ways.”
Symons’ husband, Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center, accompanied the teens, who were “absolutely” excited to be traveling with a Torah. Before they took the scroll on the plane, Barbara Symons said that they “wrapped it in tallitot and made sure it was ready to travel.”
“It speaks volumes to our relationship that we could make this happen,” said Swartz, who has been with the Federation for five years. That the Torah traveled to Israel with the Diller teens made it “more significant, because Diller is our premier leadership program.”
Masha Shollar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.