Shavuot is the holiday in which Jews celebrate receiving the Torah from God. This year, Chabad of Pittsburgh can celebrate doubly.
Just in time for Shavuot, a new-to-Pittsburgh family, the Atlans, will donate a new Torah to Chabad, to be finished at a celebration, Sunday, June 5, 11:30 a.m. at 6401 Forbes Ave.
Chabad also will hold a fair to celebrate the dedication of the new Torah, featuring kid-friendly activities like balloon art and a moon bounce, as well as “a hands on display of how a Torah is made,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad of Pittsburgh. “They’ll see the parchment, the ink and all the various parts of a Torah.”
Most importantly, the new Torah will actually be finished that afternoon.
“The Torah is almost completely written, but the last few lines will be completed at the celebration,” said Altein. “To make it simple, there’s an outline, and with the help of a sofer, people will be given the honor of filling in those last letters.”
The dedication of a new Torah is considered a holiday in certain regards, accompanied by hakafot (dancing with the Torah, most commonly on Simchat Torah) at the conclusion of the celebration.
David Atlan, his wife, Carole Sarah Atlan and their three daughters, moved to Pittsburgh 18 months ago. Their decision to sponsor a Torah wasn’t one taken lightly, David Atlan said. “This was a very long project.”
It also became a personally meaningful project for the family.
After David Atlan’s father died in 1998, “I wanted to do something for his neshama (soul). When I lost my mother about two years ago, we had collected enough money to do the project and dedicate the Torah to both of them,” he said.
Torahs regularly cost between $20,000 and $60,000; for a sofer working full time, they often take between six months and a year to finish.
The Atlans’ Torah was written in Israel — “That’s a good place to get a Torah written,” said Altein — and was carefully packaged and shipped to Pittsburgh.
Atlan may not have chosen a Torah to honor his parents just a few years ago. His job as a financial controller has led the family all over the world, including Houston, Paris and Mexico City in the last decade.
“We became more religious when we started moving,” he said. “We were looking for identity and culture and roots for our kids. Being out of our home country so many times and not being with our family on a regular basis, it was difficult. We thought being closer to God would probably help us and make our family united and stronger.”
Altein said he expects a few hundred people to attend the dedication fair, which will add to the excitement already brought by the new Torah alone.
“Our sages tell us that we have to view the Torah as if it’s being given to us new every single day,” he said. “We did it yesterday, let’s do it again today. We want to feel that new excitement every day. So when we have a new Torah being concluded and brought into the shul, it really helps that feeling develop. The excitement of new Torah is a good way to reinvigorate our new commitment.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)