On June 12, 2010, Jay Feuer, then age 59, was running on a treadmill at Bally Total Fitness in Bethel Park when he collapsed.
He woke up three days later at St. Clair Hospital.
Feuer, who had always taken good care of himself, and thought he was in good health, had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. He would have died had it not been for a quick-acting paramedic who just happened to be exercising near him when his heart stopped beating.
“He did CPR on me,” Feuer said, “and he yelled at the employees to get an AED [automated external defibrillator]. When they finally found it, he said he had to use it three times on me until my heart started beating again. When I got to St. Clair, they had to use defibrillators three more times.”
Four months later, after having additional problems with scar tissue and arrhythmia, Feuer had open-heart surgery.
He has since had a complete recovery. But his terrifying ordeal left him motivated to finish a project he had been working on for years: commissioning a new Torah for his synagogue, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, and paying for it with tip money collected at the synagogue’s weekly bingo games.
Feuer has been running Beth El’s bingo games, along with fellow congregant Fern Schwartz, for about 10 years. Bingo is a large source of revenue for the congregation, and attracts regular players from throughout the South Hills community. Often, when players win a game, they will tip the volunteers who bring them their cash prizes. The volunteers do not keep the tips, but turn them over to Feuer and Schwartz.
“Before Fern and I took over bingo, the chair people used the tip money for parties for the volunteers,” he said. But Feuer and Schwartz wanted to do something bigger and more meaningful for their volunteers, so they began saving the money.
While different ideas were discussed, Feuer and Schwartz ultimately decided that the best way to honor their volunteers would be to purchase a Torah with their volunteers’ tip money.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor the bingo workers for their hard work than to have them purchase a Torah,” he said. “And I’m not aware of any other Torah purchased by bingo tip money.”
But while the new Torah will only honor the congregation’s bingo volunteers, it will also help the congregation, too, by seeding further fundraising and enthusiasm, according to Feuer.
Feuer and Schwartz have collected over $37,000 in tip money over the last 10 years. Of that, about $35,000 will go to purchase a 10-pound Torah, light enough to be carried by the elderly and frail, and thus furthering Beth El’s “inclusion agenda,” said Miles Kirshner, president of the congregation.
“Our Torahs are currently no less than 25 pounds, and some are as heavy as 45 pounds,” Kirshner said. “The idea of the new Torah is that the physical size will be normal, but it will be made out of a lighter weight parchment. It will be fully kosher, but it will only weigh nine to 11 pounds.”
And the scribe will be instructed to use a “font that is eminently readable to encourage more people to be included,” Kirshner added.
The scribing of the Torah will be a “yearlong educational process,” Kirshner said. The scribe will leave about 500 letters in outline form to be filled in later.
“When the sofer (scribe) comes to the shul, any individual or family can touch the feather of the quill, and will be deemed to have performed the mitzva of scribing a Torah,” Kirshner said.
As for his part, Feuer sees the opportunity to participate in the scribing of the new Torah as a kind of second chance.
“I was determined to get this project done after my cardiac arrest,” he said. “You’re supposed to write a Torah once in your lifetime. I blew it. This is my second chance.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)