After more than a year of careful calligraphy, the Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington finally has its own Sefer Torah. The last letters of the handwritten document were scripted in a special ceremony at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center before it was paraded in a grand procession to the Courtyard Marriott Pentagon South on Sept. 16.
“We like to call it the Chabad Marriott,” joked Rabbi Mardechai Newman, director of the Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington.
Because the congregation usually has an overflow crowd during the high holy days, its members need a large venue to hold special ceremonies. That is why the newly finished Torah was taken to the Marriott, where the book will hold a central place of significance.
“This Torah is a link in a holy and eternal chain reaching all the way back to Mount Sinai and up to the 21st century,” said Rabbi Newman.
One by one, members of the Chabad Lubavitch community participated in writing sections of the sacred text — the central document of Judaism revered by Jews through the ages. Children sang “Torah, Torah, Torah” as it was completed, initiating an afternoon of joyous dancing and celebrations.
“People from the Holocaust did not have the privilege of doing this,” said Rebecca Johnson. “Germany just got its first rabbi since the Holocaust this week.”
Johnson said that the Chabad Lubavitch was a welcoming Jewish community, warmly embracing a wide variety of congregants. She said that she was especially impressed by its women’s group — led by the rabbi’s wife — that taught about Jewish traditions, Kosher cooking and holiday celebrations.
“She tries to teach Jewish women the rituals and traditions that we need to know to be a better Jewess,” Johnson said. “Education is an important part of this community."
ACCORDING TO JEWISH LAW, a Sefer Torah is written with a quill pen on a special kind of parchment called gevil or qlaf. Its production is one of the 613 commandments. Written entirely in Hebrew, the document contains 304,805 Hebrew letters with 42 lines of text per column. The parchment is treated with salt, flour and m’afatsim — a residue of wasp enzyme and tree bark. Because of the strict rules governing its creation, any error during its inscription renders the Torah invalid.
“The Torah leads us to Israel, the Jewish state and the Jewish state of mind,” said Jerome Chapman in an address to Chabad Lubavitch congregants. “If we can’t be in Israel, let us make sure that Israel is in us.”
The Alexandria Police Department and the city government worked with Chabad Lubavitch to shut down several streets on Sunday afternoon for the procession. Festive music blared as congregants danced around the sacred document. When they arrived at the Marriot, community members enjoyed a Kosher feast and visited with their Jewish friends.
"I have a lot of emotions about this,” said Johnson. “I’m happy but also angry that others didn’t have this privilege. I think it’s wonderful that we live in a place where we have the freedom to do this.”