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Dahlonega congregation celebrates donation of Torah

POSTED: April 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Jerry and Rona Shapiro help daughter Rissa Shapiro hold the Torah the family donated to Shalom B'harim in Dahlonega before entering the sanctuary for Saturday's dedication service. Behind the Torah is Shalom B'harim spiritual leader Mitch Cohen.

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DAHLONEGA — The blowing of a ram’s horn heralded the arrival of a milestone in the seven-year history of Dahlonega’s Shalom B’harim Jewish congregation Saturday.

Wrapped in a dark blue embroidered "mantle of the law," the area’s first Sefer Torah was carried into dedication ceremonies Saturday with the attendant song, music and festivities of a major event.

The sacred scroll of texts, all 304,805 letters handwritten with an ink quill in Hebrew, is considered the spiritual centerpiece of a Jewish congregation. The donated Sefer Torah dedicated Saturday is estimated to be nearly 200 years old.

"It’s the pillar of the religion," said Jeffrey Baruc, an Atlantan who joined the congregation three years ago. "It’s the foundation, the source of law and guidance and inspiration as a Jew. Each word has significance."

Shalom B’harim was founded in 2001, meeting at the Dahlonega Presbyterian Church with a membership made up largely of part-time North Georgia residents from the Atlanta area. The close-knit congregation numbers about 40 families.

Shalom B’harim had been without a Sefer Torah since its formation, relying on the "Chumash," or printed, bound form of the Torah. The process of creating an authentic Sefer Torah on parchment requires 18 months of work by trained scribes and one can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In recent years, the congregation started a Torah fund, past president Elliott Brass said.

"At one of the big services last year, someone came up to me and said, ‘I’d like to do a lot for that Torah fund,’" Brass recalled. "The next day, we found out someone was donating a Torah."

That someone was 80-year-old Jerry Shapiro, who recently moved back to Atlanta from Florida with his wife, Rona, and had been introduced to the Dahlonega area’s Jewish community through his daughter. Shapiro received the Torah as a gift from his family on his 80th birthday in October and decided the congregation would be a more worthy recipient of the scroll.

"We’ve been up here with my daughter and it really is magnificent," Shapiro said. "They never had a Torah, so we decided we would like to give it to them up here, and they can enjoy it."

Shalom B’harim member Arthur Glazer said the significance of the donation was "tough to put into words."

"It was such a blessing, because I felt like other people feel the importance to have a Jewish program in the North Georgia mountains," he said.

"I don’t know if this is the first time there’s been a Torah in this town," Glazer added. "But they’ve got it now."

Rona Shapiro said she was "overwhelmed" with the honor shown her family for their gift of the Torah.

"I wish we could build them a synagogue," she said.


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