Rabbi Zalman and Nechama Dina Tiechtel, co-directors of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Serving KU & The Northeast Kansas Communities, arrived at the University of Kansas in 2006.

Though they have experienced many exuberant moments in the ensuing nine years—outside of the birth of their seven children—few have compared to seeing hundreds of Jewish people dancing in celebration of the Torah—their Torah.

The wider community assembled last Sunday at the campus in Lawrence—in the northeastern part of the state not far from the Missouri border—to dedicate the first Torah scroll ever written there. (Actually, much of it was written by a sofer, a scribe, in Israel, but it was started and completed in the Sunflower State.)

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Students, alumni, parents and local community members gathered in the hundreds for the historic event. Among them were the university’s chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little; the city of Lawrence’s Mayor Mike Amyx; Kansas Secretary of Labor Lana Gordon; and the Torah scroll’s sponsors, Elliot and Sarah Tamir, from Brooklyn, N.Y., and their three sons—Jack, Eddie and Michael.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a proclamation from his office declaring Feb. 22, 2015 “Torah Day.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a proclamation from his office declaring Feb. 22, 2015 “Torah Day.”

The new sefer Torah honors the memory of Elliot Tamir’s parents, Linda and Jack Tamir.

In addition, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who was not present at the ceremony, issued a proclamation from his office declaring Feb. 22, 2015 “Torah Day,” extending “greetings and best wishes to all attending.” The document stated that “the Torah has changed the world and shaped Western civilization with its values of justice, morality, life and the promise of a better tomorrow.”

Rabbi Tiechtel said Lawrence has never had a celebration of Jewish pride and Torah quite like this one.

“The novelty, the uniqueness of celebrating and dancing in the streets of small, college-town America—the impact is huge,” he said.

“This scroll is a very appropriate addition to the KU community, as it represents the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition and survival,” he added. “The ancient wisdom contained in this scroll is the essence of our identity as Jews, and possessing our own Torah scroll at an academic center of learning is cause for great pride and celebration.”

Eddie Tamir dresses the Torah, assisted by Bob Cutler, left, and Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who with his wife Nechama Dina co-directs the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Serving KU & The Northeast Kansas Communities.
Eddie Tamir dresses the Torah, assisted by Bob Cutler, left, and Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who with his wife Nechama Dina co-directs the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Serving KU & The Northeast Kansas Communities.

The Torah-completion ceremony, street procession and gala lunch reception were arguably the most telling example yet of the extent to which Jewish life at the college has flourished in the past decade. The rabbi said the school has roughly 1,800 to 2,000 Jewish students, who account for slightly less than 10 percent of the KU student population as a whole. The Tiechtels have rapidly grown their outreach and, two years ago, successfully pushed for the opening of kosher dining options on campus.

Home Away From Home

A Torah scroll is comprised of between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment that is cured, tanned, scraped and prepared according to exacting specifications, and contains 304,805 letters. Sheets of the scroll were shipped from Israel to Kansas throughout the process, and the Chabad center held a number of different events where community members had the opportunity to write their own letters in the scroll. Some letters were even “sold” online as a way to involve alumni in the process.

Prior to the event, Gray-Little noted that “students come to KU both to express their broad backgrounds and diversity, and to gain new experiences and insight. This celebration is a wonderful opportunity for the entire KU community to experience a unique and special event for the Jewish community.”

Elliot Tamir holds the completed Torah.
Elliot Tamir holds the completed Torah.

Rebeka Luttinger, a sophomore from Dallas, introduced the chancellor at the formal dedication program.

“Over this past year-and-a-half, Chabad has helped me open my eyes and challenge what I believe in order to become an even better person,” Luttinger said in her speech. “I loved my new home so much I decided to bring my other home here, too. When my parents joined me for a Friday-night dinner at Chabad, my mom turned to me and said: ‘Now I understand why you love it here so much.’ ”

Regarding the gubernatorial proclamation, Tiechtel affirmed that the Jewish people have a friend in the governor’s mansion. While it is justifiably moving to have an official proclamation of “Torah Day,” the rabbi said that in his eyes, every day is Torah day.

Torah scribe Rabbi Berel Sosover works to complete the writing.
Torah scribe Rabbi Berel Sosover works to complete the writing.
Randi Berger helps inscribe a letter in the Torah.
Randi Berger helps inscribe a letter in the Torah.
Mayor of Lawrence Mike Amyx touches the scribe's quill as he goes over a letter in the Torah.
Mayor of Lawrence Mike Amyx touches the scribe's quill as he goes over a letter in the Torah.
A Torah scroll is comprised of between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment that is cured, tanned, scraped and prepared according to exacting specifications, and contains 304,805 letters.
A Torah scroll is comprised of between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment that is cured, tanned, scraped and prepared according to exacting specifications, and contains 304,805 letters.
The scroll honors the memory of Elliot Tamir's parents, Linda and Jack Tamir.
The scroll honors the memory of Elliot Tamir's parents, Linda and Jack Tamir.
Students, alumni, parents and local community members gathered in the hundreds for the event.
Students, alumni, parents and local community members gathered in the hundreds for the event.
Rebeka Luttinger, a sophomore from Dallas, introduced the chancellor at the dedication program.
Rebeka Luttinger, a sophomore from Dallas, introduced the chancellor at the dedication program.
University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little addressed the crowd.
University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little addressed the crowd.
The community walked their new Torah along the streets to the gala reception at the university Chabad center.
The community walked their new Torah along the streets to the gala reception at the university Chabad center.
Tamir with Rabbi Tiechtel, who said that “the novelty, the uniqueness of celebrating and dancing in the streets of small, college-town America—the impact is huge.”
Tamir with Rabbi Tiechtel, who said that “the novelty, the uniqueness of celebrating and dancing in the streets of small, college-town America—the impact is huge.”
The gala luncheon, where attendees celebrated the events of the day.
The gala luncheon, where attendees celebrated the events of the day.
The rabbi, kneeling in center, and his wife, standing at the far left, join the Student Leadership Board of Chabad at KU.
The rabbi, kneeling in center, and his wife, standing at the far left, join the Student Leadership Board of Chabad at KU.