Livermore Jews walk their Torahs to Pleasanton

When you consider that the Jewish people wandered for 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, two hours and 45 minutes doesn’t seem like so much.

Nevertheless, to walk five-and-a-half miles in sweltering 100 degree heat, while carrying three Torahs, isn’t exactly a stroll through the park, either.

After seven years of planning, Congregation Beth Emek, formerly of Livermore, has moved to Pleasanton. And, as Jewish tradition dictates, the synagogue’s three Torahs were carried in a procession, from the old synagogue to the new.

Rabbi Richard Winer, spiritual leader of Beth Emek, said that walking the Torahs was reminiscent of the Jews’ wandering in the desert with the Ten Commandments.

And, he said, “It’s a lot more dignified than putting them in the trunk of a car.”

And so on Friday, Aug. 27, at 5 p.m., 75 members of the Reform synagogue set out from the old location — which now belongs to a church — for the new.

But first, the synagogue’s founding members removed the Torahs from the old ark, and handed them down through the generations.

And then, carrying the Torahs underneath chuppahs, the procession began, taking water — and one sandwich — breaks along the way. A klezmer band joined in the fun at one point.

“I could picture Moses and crew with deli platters waiting for them every so often,” said Winer. “We’ve learned from experience.”

Although the temple notified three different law enforcement agencies, no special permits were needed.

“It was quite a wonderful spectacle; we had photographers in the trees,” said Winer. “I realized as I was watching it that it was one of the biggest things to happen in the religious world in this area for quite some time. It’s not something that has been seen around here, maybe ever.”

The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, who was there with her mother and grandmother, carried on the last leg one of the synagogue’s Torahs that survived the Holocaust, and put it into the ark. Known as a Czech Memorial scroll, the Torah is one of 1,700 that was gathered by the Czech government and disbursed among Jewish communities throughout the world after the war.

The congregation had a celebratory Shabbat evening service after members arrived in their new home. On Sunday, Aug. 29, they had a dedication of their new synagogue, with the mayor of Pleasanton in attendance.

The old synagogue was 3,000 square feet, meaning many of the members’ houses were larger, the rabbi said. Even the religious school had outgrown the building.

That building, a former church that Beth Emek remodeled, is now a church again. Beth Emek’s brand new building was designed by San Francisco architect John Goldman, who redesigned Congregation Shaar Zahav.

“Our congregation is almost 50-50 split between Livermore and Pleasanton, with a few families from Dublin, Danville and Walnut Creek,” said Winer. “Now it’s less convenient for the Livermore people, but we searched for more than two years to find a central location between the two communities.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."