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KU Chabad launches first ever Torah-writing project for Lawrence

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Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel opened the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Lawrence, Kan., along with his wife and co-director Nechama, eight years ago. During that time KU Chabad has never had its own Torah, always

{mprestriction ids="1,3"}needing to rely on the generosity of other congregations and synagogues who could loan a Torah to KU Chabad. That’s about to change.

KU Chabad has commissioned a scribe from Oraita Inc. in Brooklyn, N.Y., to write a special Torah scroll, the KU Unity Torah, dedicated in honor of the KU community. Rabbi Tiechtel said “in recognition of the vibrant Jewish life at the University of Kansas, this special project will further unite the unique multicultural and diverse community we are blessed with.”

The project will be launched on Sept. 14. (For more information see below.) Rabbi Tiechtel has invited students, parents, alumni, university officials, community members and friends to share in what he describes as “this unique, historical project.”

“This scroll is a very appropriate addition to the KU community, as it represents the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition and survival. The ancient wisdom contained in this scroll is the essence of our identity as Jews, and possessing our own Torah scroll at an academic center of learning is cause for great pride and celebration,” Rabbi Tiechtel said.

The KU rabbi explained that an authentic Torah scroll is a “mind-boggling masterpiece of labor and skill.” It is comprised of between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment, which is cured, tanned, scraped and prepared according to exact Torah law specifications. It contains exactly 304,805 letters and the resulting handwritten scroll takes months to complete. 

Rabbi Gad Sebag will be the primary scribe on the KU Unity Torah. He said Oraita has a wonderful staff of certified scribes that will do things such as spell checking the Torah and sewing it together to make it possible for the Torah to be complete in about seven months.

Rabbi Sebag will not be in Kansas for the beginning of the project. Rabbi Tiechtel said Rabbi Berel Sosover, a scribe who teaches Jewish studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, “will ink the first letters of the magnificent scroll, as done 3,300 years ago for the very first time by Moses.” 

Rabbi Sosover is looking forward to starting the Torah in Lawrence.

“The writing of a Torah is a great mitzvah and I am therefore honored and privileged to take part in the launching of a new Torah at KU Chabad,” he said, noting that he has previously participated in the completing of a Torah in Omaha, Neb.

Although the exact timetable for completion of the Torah has not yet been finalized, Rabbi Tiechtel expects to hold another event celebrating the completion of the scroll in February. Several additional programs are being planned in the months ahead in conjunction with this project to include as many people in the Lawrence community as possible. Programs will be held at a variety of places including the Jewish fraternities, the Lawrence public library, and in the center of the KU campus.

“For the conclusion we will have a huge celebration, blocking off the streets of the campus and marching to the Ballroom at the Kansas Union,” Rabbi Tiechtel said. Rabbi Sebag hopes to travel to Lawrence for that celebration.

Rabbi Tiechtel said the commission of a Torah was the perfect way to unite the KU community, which is spread out all over the country.

“We were trying to think of a project that could connect everybody together in a spiritual sense and a practical sense,” he said. “We needed a Torah and it is a great opportunity to create unity.

“It’s all based on this concept that every Jew has a mitzvah to write a Torah, but we can’t afford it. So by getting a letter in a Torah, or a verse, it’s as if you wrote the whole Torah. So when we say KU Unity Torah it’s not just a theoretical idea, it’s a real, tangible concept. Through this scroll everybody becomes one cohesive unit.” 

Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, program director of the Chabad House Center in Overland Park, added that, “To a Jew, writing a letter in a Torah scroll, that’s our life.

“That’s what’s kept us going for 3,000 years. There’s this connection that we feel with the Torah. It’s amazing to see how many people come and feel connected to such an event.” 

KU Chabad reaches out to roughly 800 students per year and about 300 students regularly attend Chabad programs. Altogether approximately 2,000 people — alumni, parents and students — receive one of KU Chabad’s weekly emails.

“As KU Chabad grows, our community grows. Parents and alumni want to connect with something tangible, so I’ve been telling parents you have a piece of real estate in Chabad. You have a piece of that Torah.”

This campaign, Rabbi Tiechtel said, is more than simply a fundraiser.

“A very strong component of this program is going to be ongoing educational opportunities, starting with the launch on Sept. 14, where the scribe is going to give a presentation all about how a Torah is written.” 

In fact, people will be able to actually experience how a Torah is written.

“All those who purchase a letter will be able to come up and help the scribe write the letter. The scribe will hold the quill and guide. Whoever chooses to do so will participate in the writing,” Rabbi Tiechtel said.

Besides sponsoring a letter or a phrase, individuals can sponsor various pieces of the Torah including the yad, wooden rollers and silver breastplate. The core cost of the Torah itself is being sponsored by Sarah and Elliot Tamir of Vesper Holdings, the owners of Hawks Pointe apartments in Lawrence. The Torah is being dedicated in memory of Elliot’s parents, Jack and Linda Tamir (Yaakov Ben Esther and Linda Bat Sarah). 

Elliot Tamir said he came to know Rabbi Tiechtel after special circumstances caused him to seek out KU Chabad.

“Over the years I have developed a strong bond with the rabbi and I have an extreme admiration for his exceptional work,” Tamir said.

“Many community leaders preach humility and giving, but it is the selfless families of the Chabad organization that truly walk the walk. Donating this Torah in memory of my beloved parents, especially within 12 months of my dear father’s passing, was the easiest and most pleasurable decision I had ever made,” he continued.

Rabbi Tiechtel noted that a family has come forward and plans to pay for the Torah’s silver crown in honor of their mother.

KU Chabad has consulted with retired Professor David Katzman, who believes a Torah has never before been written in Lawrence.

“So this will be a first,” Rabbi Tiechtel said.

The rabbi said KU students are very excited about this project, as most have never seen a Torah being written before. One of those students is senior Michael Portman.

“This is an exciting opportunity to witness history. It is also an honor to be involved in the creation of something so valuable,” said Portman, who hails from Garland, Texas, a town about 40 minutes north of downtown Dallas.

KU Chabad’s community of adult supporters is excited for this project as well.

“KU Chabad’s new Torah project is just another indication of how much Jewish life at KU has been accentuated in the past few years through the efforts of Chabad Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel and his wife Nechama,” said Sheldon Singer, a parent of a KU alum who was very active at KU Chabad as well as a KU alum himself.

“Friday night dinners, kosher meal options, student counseling, Shabbat services and many other activities are available through Chabad. The Torah project will greatly assist Chabad’s mission to continue to vitalize the KU Jewish community. Many years ago when I was at KU, there was little if any Jewish life. Along with the excellent efforts of Jay Lewis at KU Hillel, Chabad has made it possible for students and other members of the community to continue to engage in Jewish activities during their time in Lawrence.”

 

Ritual ceremony to celebrate Torah project launch

KU Chabad will celebrate the beginning of the creation of the KU Unity Torah at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Lawrence. Brunch will be served and the first letters in the Torah will be written under the guidance of scribe Rabbi Berel Sosover. Donation opportunities are available to students and other KU Chabad supporters, allowing them to write a letter, or endow a word, sentence or portion.

For more information, visit www.KUTorah.com or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; to RSVP for this free event, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 785-832-8672.

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