Another highlight of the URJ Biennial was the presentation of a Torah scroll to Abraham Geiger College, the Progressive movement’s first post-war rabbinic and cantorial seminary in continental Europe and an affiliate of the World Union. The handover took place on December 14 during a festive luncheon hosted by the Women of Reform Judaism, which held its 46th Assembly in tandem with the Biennial.

The Torah was a gift from Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Its Sisterhood president, Genna Woodward, had responded to a WRJ appeal for scrolls to be provided on permanent loan to developing congregations and institutions. She turned to the temple board, which enthusiastically agreed.

WRJ president Rosanne Selfon, herself a member of Shaarai Shomayim, relates the story of the scroll’s symbolic send-off to San Diego.

“It was a most remarkable Shabbat,” says Selfon. “More than 170 people attended – all ages and backgrounds. Our very special rabbi [Rabbi Jack P. Paskoff – ed.] created a wonderful Torah service, including special readings, [and] had everyone form a huge circle in the sanctuary. His vision was for everyone to touch and/or hold this Torah, symbolically passing it from our entire congregation to Geiger College.”

The scroll included a new yad (pointer) from Shaarai Shomayim’s Sisterhood, a quilted cover created by its junior youth group, and refurbished etzei chaim (Torah rollers). “That Torah passed from generation to generation, from Lancaster to Berlin,” Selfon continues. “It was one of those aha moments.”

Present in San Diego for the handover were 13 congregants from Shaarai Shomayim, including Selfon, Woodward and congregational president Sharon L. Wolman. They were joined by Paskoff, who reminisced about the address delivered at his 1988 ordination by Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, then president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who spoke of the destruction of German Torahs on Kristallnacht.

The rector of Abraham Geiger College, Rabbi Prof. Walter Homolka, said the Lancaster scroll will “reverse the Nazi desecration” and “contribute to the renaissance” of Jewish life in Germany. “From this scroll,” he said, “we can teach rabbis and cantors [who will] go out and care for some 120 Jewish congregations in Germany and [throughout] Europe.” He added that the Torah is now “on a journey of healing” to a country in which more than 140,000 Jews, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, “long for inspiration from our tradition.”

The luncheon at which the Torah handover took place highlighted YES (Youth, Education and Special Projects), the WRJ fund that, according to the organization’s Web site, is intended to “strengthen the institutions of Reform/Progressive Judaism and ensure the future of Reform Jewish leadership.” The fund does so by providing “financial assistance to our rabbinical and cantorial students, our youth, and organizations throughout the Reform/Progressive Jewish Movement.”

For Homolka, there was a personal side to the luncheon. “It was the YES Fund that enabled me to study. Without the YES Fund I could not be doing the work that I do.”


Ich bin gespannt auf unsere neue Torah und werde hier davon berichten