On Sunday, August 23, the Jewish Family Experience of Cleveland hosted a COVID-compliant hachnasas sefer Torah, welcoming a new sefer Torah to their kehillah.
The Jewish Family Experience, founded about 15 years ago with the mission of bringing Yiddishkeit to young families, has evolved into a full-service kiruv organization with both Shabbos minyanim and a Sunday school, directed by Rabbi and Mrs. Sruly and Ruchi Koval. During recent months, programming has been held either via Zoom or outdoors.
The weekly Shabbos minyan, which is currently held outdoors in a tent, was in need of a new sefer Torah, and one of the mispallelim donated one l’zecher nishmas his father. A gala hachnasas sefer Torah was held, albeit with social distancing and masks.
The celebrations began at 10:00 a.m., with a variety of experiential activities for participants to learn about some of the aspects of the writing of a sefer Torah. In order to stagger the crowds, participants signed up for time slots throughout the day.
Several booths were set up where visitors could practice writing Hebrew letters with a sofer, learn about the parchment needed to write a sefer Torah, complete a Jewish-themed art project, learn Torah with one of the JFX Rabbanim, and more.
Another booth featured the JFX’s annual Mitzvah Challenge, a program in which participants are encouraged to take on one additional mitzvah during the days of Elul, and keep it through the Yamim Tovim. This year, participants were asked to take on a mitzvah in honor of the sefer Torah. There was also a booth with prepackaged refreshments, where a Rabbi taught participants about the different brachos to say on each food item.
For the final kesivas osiyos, those who purchased a letter were instructed to wash their hands and appoint the sofer as their shaliach to write the letter. Most participants sat and watched as the sofer wrote the letter.
At 4:30 p.m., the actual hachnasah began. As the sofer wrote the last word in the sefer Torah, participants shared a l’chaim, and a choir of men sang joyous niggunim in honor of the celebration. Socially distanced dancing ensued, accompanied by live music from a local keyboard player, and then the new sefer Torah was placed into a temporary, outdoor aron kodesh. (It was moved to the permanent indoor aron kodesh that evening.)
As Rabbi Koval told the crowd prior to the dancing, the sefer Torah connects us to our mesorah, going back to Maamad Har Sinai. By bringing a new sefer Torah to the community, we are effectively strengthening our connection to the legacy of Torah and to eternity.