Hachnasat Sefer Torah Celebration 2016

On Sunday, October 23, 2016 Or Haneshamah marked a very special Simchat Torah: the congregation celebrated the arrival of a new Sefer Torah – a remarkable and generous gift from Congregation Kehillat Beth Israel. A Hachnasat Sefer Torah dedication ceremony took place on October 23rd, beginning at KBI, where the Torah was presented, followed by a parade to its new home at OrH.

The current OrH Sefer Torah, which is nearly 100 years old, was personally acquired in 1995 by OrH (then the Ottawa Reconstructionist Havurah) founders Walter and Teena Hendelman. We were extremely honoured that the Hendelmans were able to participate in the Hachnasat Sefer Torah ceremony, bringing out our current Torah to "greet" the new one upon arrival.

old sefer torahparade

Sefer Torah Binds Congregations in Friendship

Rabbi Liz and Cantor BenloloSimchat Torah, the festival that joyously celebrates the conclusion and then beginning anew of the Torah reading cycle, will be especially joyful this year at Or Haneshamah, Ottawa's Reconstructionist Community, as we will have received a remarkable gift, a Sefer Torah, from Kehillat Beth Israel.

We will celebrate this gift at a Hachnasat Sefer Torah (Torah scroll dedication ceremony) on October 23.

With the recent amalgamation of Conservative congregations Beth Shalom and Agudath Israel to form Kehillat Beth Israel, the newly created congregation found itself with an abundance of Sefer Torahs, just as Or Haneshamah was seeking a second scroll.

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, of Or Haneshamah, who maintains a warm collegial relationship with Cantor Daniel Benlolo, then of Beth Shalom and now of Kehillat Beth Israel, was positively elated earlier this year to learn from him that the Beth Shalom board had swiftly approved a long-term loan of a Sefer Torah to Or Haneshamah.

Later, after the amalgamation, a proposal to the new Kehillat Beth Israel board was approved to make the loan a gift.

“When I was told of the decision, tears began to flow," said Rabbi Bolton. "I was totally blown away.”

The Or Haneshamah leadership of OrH was similarly overjoyed, with profound appreciation and recognition of the value of the gift.

“In accepting this beautiful gift of friendship,” said congregation President Paula Speevak, “Or Haneshamah honours all those who have held the Torah before us, who have chanted from the Torah, and who have been nurtured in the presence of this Torah.”

Bound by a shared passion for Jewish continuity and the values rooted in Torah, this extraordinary gift reflects the growing cohesion within our local Jewish community. Several Ottawa synagogues came together last spring for a joint Shavuot service and Tikkun Leyl Shavuot programming, and our congregations have been working together as the Shalom Group to support Syrian refugees. As well, efforts are underway to provide training to congregational volunteers to support each other during illness and other life transitions.  The winds have truly shifted from a focus on our differing Jewish observances to our common love of Judaism.

On Sunday, October 23, the community is invited to meet at Kehillat Beth Israel at 1 pm, to honour the Sefer Torah and all the lives touched by it throughout the years.  After some blessings, songs, and sweets, we will accompany the scroll for the first mile of the journey, with a festive parade of more song, candles, and shofar blowing, passing the Torah from one to another, stopping for kisses along the way. 

We will then gather where Or Haneshamah meets on Cleary Avenue in Westboro, to welcome the Torah to its new home with more blessings, song, dance, and sweets. [More details available here.]

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton and Paula Speevak, Or Haneshamah

[This story originally appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, October 14, 2016, p. 13. Photo of Rabbi Liz Bolton and Cantor Benlolo by Jamie Worling]

Sat, October 21 2017 1 Cheshvan 5778