of a new Torah scroll is always a cause for celebration. But for the small yet
proud Jewish community in South Korea, just such a dedication Sunday meant so
much more. Not only did it cap the community’s recent unprecedented growth, it
welcomed what for Jews elsewhere in the world is almost a given: a Torah scroll
of their own.
Often a Torah
scroll – which typically costs in excess of $10,000 and can cost as much as
$30,000 – is donated by generous individuals in honor or in memory of a loved one,
but according to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Osher Litzman, the South Korean Torah
was funded by the community members themselves.
“We have been
blessed with donations from locals, visitors and friends who have helped to
cover a significant amount of the expenses,” said Litzman, who is still
fundraising for the project. “The goal is that everyone in the community will
have a share.”
member Pierre Cohen-Aknine agreed.
“It is a
blessing for the community,” stated Cohen-Aknine, 53. “Everyone feels joy,
pride and a sense of responsibility attached to owning such a diamond.”
Paris, Cohen-Aknine first came to Korea 30 years ago for his military duty at
the French Embassy. Now a businessman who owns and runs three companies, Sunday’s
celebration was his first-ever Torah dedication.
Chabad House in Seoul has been using borrowed Torah scrolls since the rabbi and
his wife Mussy Litzman arrived in 2008, having a Torah scroll of its own means
the world to members such as Cohen-Aknine.
He likened it
to attending a wedding ceremony at Mount Sinai.
living for the first time,” said Cohen-Aknine, who imagined what it must have
been like to receive the Torah thousands of years ago. “If we were born only
for that moment, it would suffice.”
who moved to Korea almost five years ago with her husband Yoav Korn, said that
“the arrival of the scroll symbolizes an official recognition and validation of
the Jewish community here.
represents the initiation of a new phase in the spiritual development of the
Jewish community here, which seems to be rapidly growing and evolving,” she
know. The native Israeli and her South African husband – who is on the Chabad
House’s board of directors – were part of the initial group responsible for
bringing the Litzmans to this part of Asia. The couple’s son, Raphael, who was
born in South Korea and was circumcised at the Chabad House, now attends the
donate and promote the organization in and way we can,” said Korn, 39. “It’s
safe to say that Chabad is an integral part of our daily life here. In fact, we
probably wouldn’t have stayed as long as we did if they weren’t around.”
The new Torah scroll is a first for Jews in Seoul.
Korn, a human
resources director currently on sabbatical, explained that the local Jewish
community is comprised of many students and professionals who come for
short-term assignments lasting about three to nine months. Others, she
explained, come with their families for a two to five month work assignment.
Only a few live in Seoul permanently.
“My family and I
have never been to an event like this before and we are all very excited about
it,” stated Korn, whose husband is an English professor at Hanyang University.
was also a first for Stephen Barton.
“I am very
excited because it is such an important occasion,” said the 57-year-old, adding
that writing a Torah scroll is counted as the last of its 613 commands, because
doing so “contributes to the permanence … [and] continuation of Judaism.”
Barton, who moved
to Korea from Hong Kong in January with his wife Ursula Tamar, said that having
a Torah scroll to call their own “creates a stronger foundation for the
couldn’t agree more.
arrival in 2008 we have been using Torahs on loan from other Chabad Houses and
now, finally, we are proud to welcome our very own,” said the rabbi.
Rabbi Osher Litzman helps a Jewish man don the prayer boxes known as tefillin in Seoul.
scroll was paraded down the streets of Seoul – from the Grand Hyatt Hotel to
the Chabad Jewish Community Center -- with great fanfare by hundreds of people,
including the Israeli ambassador and visiting rabbis from China, Vietnam,
Taiwan, Thailand and Israel.
Barton, an engineer who is involved in business management with the
petrochemical industry, the Torah dedication “affirms that the hard work and
commitment so far of Rabbi Osher Litzman and his wife Mussy will in fact be
Prior to their
arrival almost four years ago, Jewish life in Korea was limited to the
boundaries of the American army base, explained Litzman. Since World War II, a
Jewish chaplain regularly attended to soldiers’ spiritual needs and opened up
High Holiday services to others.
“With no other
Jewish organization in the country, Chabad is the main pillar of our
community,” said Korn.
locals are viewing the Torah scroll as belonging to all of Korea’s Jews,
wherever they may be.
“The Torah is
our road map,” said Barton. “It is our Constitution.”