By Lisa Klionsky
Ann Arbor News staff reporter
With a quill and ink on parchment, and the honored presence of 50 special guests, a rabbi finished a new Torah on Thursday at Hillel, the Jewish student center at the University of Michigan.
The sacred, hand-written Jewish text, containing the five books of Moses, had been copied onto parchment over the past year by an Israeli sofer, or scribe. But the sofer stopped before completing the last 50 letters of the text.
That work was saved for a festive, traditional, but fairly uncommon dedication of the Torah at Hillel, and the hand of an American sofer, Rabbi Binyomin Spiro.
When the work was complete, Hillel Executive Director Michael Brooks talked to the more than 100 attending the ceremony about the Torah's significance and of the wisdom it represents.
"We are here today to celebrate that we are here for the Torah, to affirm life," Brooks said.
The document is kept as a scroll, with wood handles that are called the tree of life. A portion of the Torah is read aloud every Sabbath.
Hillel had three Torahs already, but needed a fourth to accommodate its different weekly services as well as holidays, Brooks said. The center often holds several services at the same time for its Reform, Conservative and Orthodox students.
Hillel received the new Torah as a donation from Ira A. Lipman, a New York philanthropist and security firm founder, in memory of his father. Lipman, who has given nine Torahs to synagogues, Jewish centers and college campuses, was among the 50 honored guests Thursday.
Brad Sugar, 21, a U-M student and an Orthodox Jew from Chicago who read aloud from Psalms during the ceremony, said the new Torah "symbolizes the growth of the (Hillel) community."
"It's a lovely event that you don't see too often," he said.
At the start of the ceremony, the new Torah, encased in a navy velvet fabric with gold lettering, was carried into the room beneath a flower-decorated canopy, known as a huppa, by men wearing traditional skull caps, or yarmulkes. Some of the yarmulkes were navy blue in color, bearing a small, gold, block M.
The crowd - including rabbis from around the country and the Ann Arbor area, and a U-M official - clapped and smiled as music played to the lyrics of Mazol Tov (congratulations), and as the Torah procession wove around the room. Then, with the Torah placed on a table before Spiro, Rabbi Rod Glogower called forward the 50 honored guests and Spiro completed a letter for each of them. Barbara Levin, the wife of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, was called first. Lipman was called last, and took the quill from the rabbi to ink the final letter himself.
With the Torah officially complete, students, Hillel officials, rabbis, and Marvin Krislov, a U-M counsel and vice president, spoke.
"This new torah will enhance the prayer experience for U-M students," said Eric Bukstein, who graduated in April and is the past chairman of Hillel's governing board. "The Torah serves as a symbol of our community."
Rabbi Robert Dobrusin of Beth Israel, also among the 50, said the new Torah has meaning for the Jewish community even beyond Hillel. "The entire community celebrates when a new Torah scroll is brought into the community. We're thrilled that more students will be able to read from the new scroll."
Spiro said he could not say how many new Torahs are created for U.S. synagogues each year, but because many pre-World War II scrolls are deteriorating, more are being ordered. Most new Torahs cost between $20,000 and $50,000, he said.
Spiro said Lipman "is unusual, to have someone give so many Torahs, so many times."
Lara Markovitz, 20, a U-M sophomore at the ceremony, said the new Torah "is a sign that the community is thriving."
Josh Rest, 26, a U-M graduate student who attended the ceremony, said he came because "a Torah is an important part of Jewish life, an important part of our heritage."
"This is a special opportunity to see a Torah completed."
Lisa Klionsky can be reached at email@example.com or (734) 994-6852.