Less than a week before the holiday of Shavuot – when hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world will celebrate the giving of the Torah 3,321 years ago – the expanding Jewish community in the Upstate region of South Carolina consecrated its very own Torah, a restored scroll donated to the region’s Chabad-Lubavitch center.

The new scroll, which was written some 70 years ago in Russia, spent the past three months being painstakingly repaired by religious scribes in Israel. More than 100 people attended the May 24 dedication ceremony, made possible by the Wilkenfeld Family in appreciation of Dr. Byron Wilkensfeld’s recovery from a serious illness.

“I wanted to donate a Torah to a synagogue that didn’t have one,” said the older Wilkenfeld, a 67-year-old physician from Greenville. “I was going to leave the money in my will, but after my illness, my wife, brothers and sisters and I decided that the donation would be best now, while we can all enjoy it. Now I’m leaving the congregation with something that will always live on.”

This Friday’s Shavuot services at Chabad of the Upstate in Greer will utilize the scroll for the traditional reading of the Ten Commandments.

For Wilkenfeld, who met Chabad House co-director Rabbi Adam Goodfriend while he was recovering at a local nursing home, the Torah is the essence of Judaism; it is crucial for every synagogue to have one, he pointed out.

After he pledged the holy scroll, he found himself attending synagogue services more frequently.

“The Torah has always been something of a wonder to me. I have so much reverence for it,” he said. “My family and I have gotten more out of this donation than the people who received it.”

Goodfriend emphasized the significance of such a small southern Jewish community acquiring such a historical Torah scroll. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Upstate region comprises the state’s entire northwestern corner. Home to some one million people, the area only has 3,500 Jews, a mere third of a percent. But the industrial town of Greer saw an uptick in Jewish life with the arrival of Rabbi Adam and Chani Goodfriend in 2004. Among their more popular programs is a Gan Israel summer camp.

Dr. Byron Wilkenfeld
Dr. Byron Wilkenfeld

“This Torah in particular encapsulates a chapter in Jewish history,” said Goodfriend. “We have many congregants who were born in Europe, just like this scroll, and it’s very moving to consider how our community is now joined to prewar Russia through this Torah. It’s awe inspiring to wonder at the distinct possibility that one of us had relatives that could have used this Torah.”

At the ceremony, which was held at a local inn, guests one-by-one got the opportunity to assist Rabbi Ariel Asa, an Atlanta-based ritual scribe, in completing the Torah’s final letters. Afterwards, celebrants marched with the Torah in a half-mile circuit to the scroll’s new home at the Chabad House.

Evelyn Opper, who has lived in Upstate for the past five years, said that the Torah dedication was her first. Born in Poland to Holocaust survivors, Opper said she felt a connection to her family’s past by participating in the ceremony.

“I felt honored to be a part of our community as we brought some ‘old world’ Jewish tradition into our lives,” she said. “This reminds us of how rich and wonderful the Jewish religion is. You feel something very special to be a part of it.”