In what has become a tradition, Israeli second graders again began their year of learning the book of Genesis by attending a program run by the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization. Called Chagigat HaChumash, or Torah festival, the now 25-year-old program will welcome over the course of a month some 20,000 seven-year-olds from across the country at Chabad centers and in the village of Kfar Chabad.

This week, I joined the second grade class of Rishon Lezion's Neveh Khof school in and its teacher Yafa Vaturi, along with parents and chaperons, during their visit to Kfar Chabad not far from the Ben Gurion International Airport.

The first stop was a meeting with scribe Dov Ben Shachar. The children crowded around him; for many it was their first time to see how a Torah scroll is written with the use of a quill pen and parchment. They bombarded the scribe with questions like, "Why are there no vowels?" and "Is that a feather from a cow?"


Ben Shachar patiently described the process of writing a Torah scroll and how the 304,805 letters in the Torah are hand written; each requires great care and patience. As a keepsake, all of the children received a piece of parchment containing their name inscribed by Ben Shachar.

"Do you know how many religious articles you have in your home that are written by a scribe?" asked the scribe as he handed out scraps of parchment and let the children try their hands at the craft. "A mezuzah is written by a scribe, tefillin are written by a scribe and the Torah that you see in the synagogue is written by a scribe."

"The meeting with the scribe is interesting and informative," said Ravit Tessler, one of the teachers who accompanied the class. "This is a once in a lifetime experience. I am not sure that the children will ever meet again with a scribe in their lives."

From there, the tour continued to a parchment factory where the guests learned how what begins as crude leather ends up as fitting to become a Torah scroll.

Meeting Abraham

A second grader learns the first few verses of the book of Genesis.
A second grader learns the first few verses of the book of Genesis.
At another stop, a sign greeted us with the phrase, "Welcome to the tent of Abraham." Drawing its inspiration from the biblical account of Abraham, the tent beckoned the class to sit on mats of straw. The walls were covered with images from the life of the patriarch. A man in costume addressed the children as "Abraham" and described how he first recognized the one true G‑d and how special his wife Sarah was.

"Why is there four doors on all sides of his tent?" the man asked the children. "For the sun, moon and stars," said one of the group. "For Abraham and the three angels that came following his circumcision," ventured another.

The costumed Abraham then explained the significance of the four doors: That way, he and Sarah could greet travelers coming from every direction. Next, he handed out raisins to the group and asked each child to recite a blessing thanking G‑d for food, just like Abraham did so many years ago.

The tour continued to the other side of the tent, where the children did art activities with pictures of Torahs. From there, the class went to the synagogue so that every child could receive their own copy of the book of Genesis.

The children gathered around a Torah scroll and sang; they danced and kissed the precious Torah. They placed their hands over their eyes and recited the Shema.

When asked if it was worth it to accompany her son's class, parent Zohara Solomon exclaimed, "Are you joking? I regret that I don't have any other children to bring to this program."