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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: Gonzaga launches fundraising effort to purchase Torah for Jewish community

Kimberly Burnham, a guest columnist for Spokane Faith and Values.   (Courtesy Spokane Faith and Values)
Kimberly Burnham, a guest columnist for Spokane Faith and Values.  (Courtesy Spokane Faith and Values)

A Torah scroll is coming to Gonzaga this fall.

The university is buying their first Torah for the small community of Jewish students, faculty and staff members led by Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein. Since arriving at Gonzaga more than 10 years ago, Rabbi Elizabeth, a religious studies professor, has stepped into the newly created position of Jewish chaplain, mentored the Jewish Bulldogs student organization and just recently inspired the creation of a Parents of Jewish Bulldogs Facebook group.

For the past few years, Rabbi Elizabeth has led Friday night services and assisted students in leading services and Jewish events at Gonzaga. The Gonzaga Jewish community is ready for the next step purchasing a Torah and creating a dedicated Jewish prayer space.

Due to the 2020-2021 shutdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some Jewish communities who have closed their doors or merged with another synagogue. Some larger communities have decided that they just don’t need so many Torahs and are in need of funds instead. These communities turn to Sofer on Site to match them up with communities interested in purchasing a Torah, which can run from $9,000 to more than $30,000.

Torahs are expensive because they aren’t printed like ordinary books or Bibles. They are created by scribes who write with a feather quill and ink on a special parchment. Sometimes scribes write for a year to produce a single Torah scroll. The lighter and finer the parchment, the more expensive the Torah, which can weigh from 10 to 60 pounds. A 12-pound Torah is considered light.

Rabbi Elizabeth and I had a chance to look at 30 or so Torahs on consignment at Sofer on Site. There are so many choices to make. How tall do you want the Torah to be? How big should the font be? How wide should the columns be?

Some Torahs were written by Ashkenazi (Eastern European) scribes and some by Sephardic (Spain and Middle East) scribes. The character of the letters and flourishes are uniquely influenced by the scribe who writes the letters and where he (or she, more recently) learned how to make a Torah. Some Torahs are from France, Poland, Lithuania, Russia or Czechoslovakia. In some, the letters are very close together while others have larger spaces between each letter.

Scribes also repair scrolls. Some Torahs have smudged letters or small tears in the parchment. Some of the Torahs have sat in the synagogue’s ark for many years and have to be gently cleaned.

Of course, once the Torah itself has been chosen, decisions have to be made about the poles (the wooden part for rolling the scroll); the covering; a Yad (hand in Hebrew), a thin, pen-shaped tool for following along the letters when reading from the Torah; and the design of the ark, or cabinet, where the Torah will be stored when not in use. These decisions will be made in consultation with the Jewish Bulldog design committee.

For now, we look forward to the fall to Simchat Torah, (Rejoicing of the Torah), when the yearly cycle of Torah reading is completed, and the next cycle begins. The Gonzaga Jewish community hopes to be able to celebrate their own Torah.

The Gonzaga Jewish Community has a fundraising link for the Torah at zagfunding.gonzaga.edu.

Author of “Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, A Daily Brain Health Program” Kimberly Burnham, Ph.D. (Integrative Medicine) investigates the relationship between memory, language, caring and pattern recognition to create a daily brain health exercise program enabling people to achieve better neurological health, mood, and quality of life.

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