Harford County’s Jewry flooded the streets outside Rabbi Kushi Schusterman’s Harford Chabad on Sunday, June 25 to celebrate the completion of its new Torah scroll.
Before festivities began, community members watched the scribe write the final characters of the scroll to make sure they were kosher and then lift the scroll to be dressed.
A seed was planted nearly five years ago when Schusterman decided that the completion of its own Torah scroll would be monumental for Harford County, but it was not until two years ago when plans were laid in earnest. In collaboration with an anonymous donor, Schusterman and his siblings decided to dedicate a scroll to their mother as a way to commemorate her 30th yahrzeit. According to Schusterman, 30 different scribes were scrutinized before it was decided who would write this Torah especially for her. More than 100 friends and family contributed immediately, and that number had grown to nearly 300 by Sunday.
“It is very powerful for me personally to be able to continue my mother’s legacy of welcoming people and dedicating my life to connecting with people in a deep, meaningful way,” he said. “A lot of Jews in Harford County feel that they are the only Jew in town. But people have slowly but surely become more outgoing and proud about their Jewish heritage. They are very proud of who they are, and this Torah shows that we don’t need to be shy. We can be proud of our traditions and heritage.”
The celebration turned into a procession, as attendants of the dedication ceremony poured into the streets of Bel Air to revel and blast Jewish tunes, holding the new scroll high beneath the chuppah as it was passed from person to person eager to hold the newly minted mitzvot. At the conclusion, it was brought to meet the old Torah scroll, and they were celebrated together.
The 613th and final mitzvah described in the Torah is to write a Torah scroll oneself, a mitzvah that obviously not many people can accomplish, said Rabbi Levi Raskin, director of JCrafts who was there to teach a workshop after the celebration. That the community of a small town with a small Jewish population could come together and contribute to such a meaningful legacy speaks volumes about Jewish pride in Harford.
Said Rabbi Nechamia Schusterman, one of Kushi Schusterman’s brothers who runs a Chabad house in Peabody, Mass., “For us to have a crowd trailing a Torah in the main street [in Peabody] would be a huge accomplishment. I imagine that it is an even bigger accomplishment in Harford County, for traffic to stop and people to revel in the streets. It was a beautiful sight to behold.”
Everyone at the dedication recognized Schusterman as the driving force behind the Chabad and the new Torah scroll. He was recognized for both his meticulousness in running the Chabad and the diligence and attention that he pays to individuals in the community.
“Each Chabad has their own unique challenges,” said Nechamia Schusterman, citing that in a such a small town, a big challenge is engaging people. He recalled, “One time, Kushi told me that even if the best you can hope for is to reach 10, 20, 40 percent of the area, his goal was to contact every single Jew in Harford county and make a 100 percent impact.”
He said that the Torah is symbolic of Kushi Schusterman’s commitment to his community.
“A kosher Torah scroll must have all 304,805 letters, complete without cracks, each separate and individual. Kushi is following that model and making sure that every Jewish soul in Harford County is reached out to and is complete without cracks, and that is certainly a beautiful sight to behold.”
The final element of Sunday’s program was a workshop led by Raskin called Torah Unwrapped, which instructs participants on how a Torah scroll is made and kashered. The interactive program addressed every step of the process, including which hides are used, how they are turned into useable parchment and the different elements of a Torah scroll such as ashurit — the name of the Hebrew font used in the Torah. Even elements such as quill and ink are addressed. In the program, participants created their own ink from scratch and left having written their names on real parchment with the tools that would be used to inscribe a Torah.
“We know that the future of the Jewish people lies with the children, and passing on our traditions [such as Torah] is one of the most important investments that we can be making,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, one of Kushi Schusterman’s brothers and a Chabad rabbi in Atlanta. “The Rebbe taught us that there comes a point that we need to get away from philosophy and discussion and take action. It is the activity and the participation that give children a hands-on experience to move their senses. That’s where the magic happens.”