The mayor of the Tamar Regional Council in southern Israel received one of the Jewish tradition’s most-precious honors on the occasion of his 50th birthday: He got to help write a Torah scroll. But when the ceremony started, Dov Litvinoff had no idea it was even his birthday.

According to Rabbi Shimon Elharar, director of the Ein Bokek-based Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea, Litvinoff signed off on a proposal several months ago for his council to donate a Torah scroll to the town of Neve Zohar, a small outcropping near the southern end of the Dead Sea. The mayor had once told the rabbi the English date of his birth, and Elharar used the information to calculate Litvinoff’s Hebrew birthday, scheduling the Torah commissioning on the same day.

“Neve Zohar, which has existed for some 40 years, still had no synagogue, let alone a Torah scroll, which can be very expensive to obtain” explains Elharar, who recently arranged for a local bomb shelter to be used as a temporary synagogue. “When Dov Litvinoff finally agreed to donate a Torah to the community, a not-so-simple thing in this hard-hit area, I wanted to honor him in return.

“So as we planned the launch of the scroll together,” adds a grinning Elharar, “he had no idea that it would be a double celebration.”

At the ceremony, Litvinoff approached the stand where a ritual scribe would start filling in the holy scroll’s first few letters. The scribe handed the mayor the quill, as the invited guests – who were in on the secret – wished the politician a happy birthday.

“He was stunned,” says Elharar.

After writing the first letter, Litvinoff passed the quill to several guests, including Rabbi Shlomo Landau of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, local business owners, residents and council staff.

In remarks following the ceremony, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yaakov Mendelzohn, rabbi of the neighboring communities of Naot Hakikar and Ein Tamar, hailed Litvinoff for his work in procuring the Torah.

“This was the best birthday gift I have ever received,” the mayor responded in turn. “It was a complete surprise.”