Scribes steady hand makes Foster City Torah kosher again

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With the stroke of a pen, a historic Torah scroll was granted new life June 12 at Peninsula Sinai Congregation.

The scroll is one of roughly 1,500 Torahs rescued from what is now the Czech Republic, after the Nazis allowed Jews in occupied Prague to save and store the scrolls at the city’s Jewish Museum during the Holocaust. One of Peninsula Sinai’s three Torahs (among them another Czech scroll), it has belonged to the Conservative Foster City synagogue for at least 20 years.

Elad Rozenfeld inks one of the last letters of a Torah at Peninsula Sinai Congregation on June 12. photo/lee strieb

But over the past decade, the lettering on both Czech Torahs had begun to fade. For the past few years, the scrolls had been in semi-retirement because they were nearly unreadable and no longer kosher. The congregation relied on their third Torah for all services.

This year, Marcos Frid, a member of the temple’s religious practices committee, decided to do something about it.

“I thought, we have these two historic scrolls in our shul and we can’t read from them,” he said. “It was such a shame.”

Frid learned through a Chabad mailing list that a sofer, or Torah scribe, had recently moved to the Bay Area, and went to the To Life! street festival in Palo Alto to visit the scribe’s table. Soon, after conferring with the congregation’s board and its then-president Aylon Engler, he orchestrated restoration on one of the two historic scrolls.

Elad Rozenfeld, a full-time scribe who set up shop in the area last year, visited the synagogue to inspect the scrolls and selected one that was in better shape than the other. He then set to work touching up and re-lettering damaged portions. When the three-month process went over the budget the congregation’s board had set aside, shul members made contributions to cover the difference. The total cost was $7,500.

On June 12, in front of a crowd of about 50 congregants and community members, Rozenfeld invited congregation leaders to come up and watch as he inked the last three lines of text. As he finished, Cantor Doron Shapiro called out, “We have a kosher Torah!”

“It was quite a moment,” Frid said. “Very, very exciting.”

The crowd cheers the completion of the scroll. photo/lee strieb

The ceremony was followed by music and food (“It was a Jewish event, after all,” Frid said), while Rozenfeld inked attendees’ and donors’ names on parchment in the same style he had re-inked the scroll, for souvenirs. One family dedicated their parchment to their granddaughter who recently died at just a year old.

The celebration had a bittersweet note for Frid as well, as the restoration had been a longtime goal of his good friend and former congregation president Engler, who died May 4.

“He supported me all the way through the project,” said Frid, who made a donation in Engler’s honor, adding that Engler had gone to Rozenfeld’s house with him to see how the work was progressing, and that the pair had privately pledged to cover the difference in the cost of the restoration if the congregation couldn’t afford it.

“He didn’t get to see it through to completion, but he was very much present at the ceremony,” Frid said. “He was very loved by the community. He wasn’t there to hold the Torah personally, but I think he was watching from above.”

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.