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Masada Torah Completes Long Journey to South Africa

Masada Torah Completes Long Journey to South Africa

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Celebrants parade a new Torah scroll through the streets of the Hyde Park suburb of Johannesburg.
Celebrants parade a new Torah scroll through the streets of the Hyde Park suburb of Johannesburg.

South African Jews recently welcomed a new arrival to the synagogue in Johannesburg’s Hyde Park suburb, greeting the “immigrant” from Israel with joyous singing, dancing and a lavish meal.

The event marked the installation of a special Torah scroll, whose writing was commissioned by synagogue member Chaim Cohen in memory of his father, Shalom Cohen. For the holy task, Cohen, 61, a Tel Aviv University-trained engineer and CEO of the Quantum Property Group, turned to a scribe originally from the mystical city of Safed, Israel, who wrote the scroll atop the ancient mountaintop fortress of Masada.

The scroll is encased in a silver cover in keeping with the Sephardic tradition of medieval Spanish and Middle Eastern Jewry, noted Rabbi Mendel Lipskar, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Foundation of Southern Africa and rabbi of the Shul at Hyde Park. But at the same time, the scroll is written in a fashion more indicative of the Ashkenazi style of Eastern European Jewry.

“This Torah is a Torah of true unity,” said the rabbi, who has called South Africa home for nearly 40 years, “encompassing Jews from all walks of life.”

The ceremony drew a large crowd that accompanied the Torah scroll to its new home after a long journey from atop Israel’s windswept Judean Desert archaeological site.

Rabbi Shai Abramovitch, the Safed scribe, relocated to the desert city of Arad in order to carry out the task, climbing the Masada mountain each morning.

All segments of the Jewish community in Johannesburg flocked to the Shul of Hyde Park to celebrate the arrival of a historic Torah scroll written at the Israeli mountaintop fortress known as Masada.
All segments of the Jewish community in Johannesburg flocked to the Shul of Hyde Park to celebrate the arrival of a historic Torah scroll written at the Israeli mountaintop fortress known as Masada.

In a special environmentally-controlled chamber within the site’s ancient synagogue, he sat and wrote the Torah to the amazement and interest of an estimated 800,000 visitors who came to the site during the year.

As a result of Cohen’s having commissioned the writing of the Torah in such a public place, said Lipskar, miracles occurred.

“A Holocaust survivor returned to her roots,” he told those gathered at the celebration. “Seeing the Torah reminded her of her dear father, who was a scribe in the old shtetl.”

South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein also spoke, describing the unity that such a Torah brings.

“The entire span of South Africa celebrates” when such an event occurs, said the rabbi, “not just the individual.”



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