A friendly exchange on Facebook became a watershed moment for Kol Nefesh Reform Congregation in Columbia, as it led to it acquiring a Torah of its own.
The synagogue, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2022, had used a rental set of scrolls since it was first founded.
Now, thanks to the generosity of a New England rabbi, Kol Nefesh has inherited the scrolls of the former Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“There’s a lot of networking among Jewish clergy on Facebook. There’s a woman I know through the Women Cantors Network who was a cantor in Massachusetts and was serving a congregation that was closing,” explained Stephanie Weishaar, Kol Nefesh’s cantor and spiritual leader. Weishaar serves on the board of the Women Cantors Network and, as a result, has many connections with Jewish female clergy across the United States.
The rabbi, Rabbi Robin Sparr, made a post in a Facebook group announcing that Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley was giving away religious items and furniture to prepare for its closing. What caught Weishaar’s eye was the congregation’s Torah, leading her to submit a request to the synagogue’s board.
“Kol Nefesh is only 10 years old but has a really unique community of young families, mostly with kids and mostly interfaith,” Weishaar said. “We said we would love to have a Torah of our own so we could use it for b’nai mitzvahs, monthly services and holidays.”
Before receiving the Torah, Kol Nefesh used a set of scrolls from one of the other congregations that occupy the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center where it is housed. Bet Aviv, an adult-focused synagogue that has many parents of Kol Nefesh congregants among its numbers, let them use what they had designated as the “Kol Nefesh Torah.”
“They’ve been incredibly gracious, but there’s something about having your own Torah that’s pretty special,” Weishaar said. “When you start a congregation, particularly if your parents are at another nearby congregation [like Bet Aviv], it’s a bit like living in the basement of your parents’ house. Having your own Torah, your own clergy … it feels like you’ve grown up and moved out.”
Kol Nefesh’s request for the Torah was approved, and Sparr gave the scrolls to Weishaar when the two met at the Women Cantors’ Network’s 2023 conference in Long Island, New York. Weishaar noted that the transfer of the Torah is a way to keep the spirit of Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley alive — while the synagogue is gone, its status as a “welcoming, independent small congregation” lives on.
Fittingly, Weishaar and a young Kol Nefesh congregant read from the new Torah at the temple’s outdoor Rosh Hashanah service, meaning that the first passage to be read from it under its new ownership was Parashat Bereshit, the creation story.
“I think of that moment where someone raises the Torah to show the congregation, because the Torah is not just for scholars, it’s for everyone,” Weishaar said. “We feel really lucky that the folks at Temple Emanuel shared this with us, and we can share it with whoever wants to come and join us.”