Kehillat Israel History

To Collect, Illustrate, And Preserve The Memories


Torah Cover from Kehillat Israel

Posted by kehillatisrael on September 8, 2009 at 8:26 PM



My home town in Shenandoah Pennsylvania is located in the lower part of the anthracite coal regions between Pottsville and Hazleton.  From its boom during the Civil War years as the mines developed, to its growth due to European immigration including many Jews, the population in 1920 was nearly 30,000 residents.  Since then the population has dwindled down to 5,624 at the 2000 census, with only four Jews remaining. 


But during those years, a thriving Jewish community grew.  Its beautiful synagogue, Kehillat Israel, with its gorgeous stain-glass windows, served Shenandoah’s Jewish community for decades.  The shul was located next door to the home of my brother Reubin Sorin of blessed memory.  In its early days, their home even provided the rest room facilities for the congregants, because the shul facilities were primitive and in the basement!


But throughout the years, this community produced generations of dedicated, committed Jews – who prayed together through the Depression and the Holocaust, in good times and bad, finding solace, support and hope in their religion andas a community.  They gained strength reading from the Torah, which was their link to the Jewish world – the world of their parents, the world of their children, and the world of our people.  Their synagogue has since been taken apart, their siddurim, windows and pews donated or sold to other congregations.  There is not much left of the Jewish community, except the Jewish cemetery, which is maintained by a strong committee of children and grandchildren living near and far.  As they were able, most of the Jews had moved on to better lives in communities around the world – including in Israel.


It was through a connection in Israel to the Aronoff family originally of Shenandoah, that we discovered this beautiful Torah cover in 2005.  It is white, so it was obviously used duringthe High Holydays, and is embroidered with the names of my beloved parents, Mr. and Mrs. Menachem Mendel Sorin of blessed memory, who donated it to cover a Sefer Torah donated by the Aronoff family.


The story of the Torahis representative of the wanderings of the Jewish people over the last 100 years.


The Aronoff family had been an active family in the Shenandoah Jewish community and synagogue and had bought several Sifreh Torah over the years to give to the shul in Shenandoah.  When the shul was closing because most of theJews had left the town or had passed away, the Aronoff family was interested in buying back a Torah.  It was not clear what Torahs were kosher and in fixable condition, so they sent a relative and a sofer stam to check them out. They chose one Torah and this white Torah cover.


Because a grandson was about to be bar mitzvah in Israel,the Aronoffs  transferred the Torah to Israel to be repaired and to prepare a new Torah cover. The Torah would be dedicated in ashul in Lapid, Israel, across the road from Maccabim where my daughter Karen Goldberg and her family live.


When the Torah arrived, they noticed that the writing on the cover was a dedication given by Mr. and Mrs. Max Sorin - my beloved parents, Max and Rebecca.  A notification was put out and THE TIMING WAS PERFECT.


I was in Israel just atthat time and gathered all the Shenandoah relatives together for the dedication of this now-kosher Torah scroll and new cover to the shul in Lapid. They offered me this white Torah cover and the Sorin family came away with an heirloom.


On the base of the Sefer Torah was printed that it was dedicated in Shenandoah in the year 1912: Tav Ayin Reish Bet  תער'ב.  The actual Hebrew year was Tav Reish Ayin Bet תרע'ב  , but the letters were changed around to avoid having theyear be listed as "in famine," which is the English translation of theword Ra’av רעב ,spelled Reish Ayin Bet.


When the Torah was checked, the sofer stam said that he had recognized the writing, as he had seen this writing from other Sifreh Torah and that the Torah was probably written around 1900 in Russia and then brought to the US and dedicated in Shenandoah.


There is no date on the Torah cover, but it is clear that the Torah and the cover were together in the Aron Kodesh for many years, whether or not they shared each other, they shared the Aron Kodesh.


It gave the Aronoff family and me a sense of closure to be part of the dedication of this Torah scroll in Israel after the Torah had made its way from Russia, which is where my family roots are, through Shenandoah, which is where I grew up, and over to Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people. 


It was in Israel that two families from a small Pennsylvania mining town, and who live so close together today, gathered to be part of this mitzvah.  I was blessed to be there withmy two daughters and their children, along with other relatives of my extended family who were in Israel at the time.


On the cover is embroidered the saying from the siddur: "Eitz chaim hee la'mach-zikim bah, v'tomcheh’ha, meh’u’shar."....."It is the tree of life for those who take hold of it, and happy are those who support it."


I’m so proud to be ableto contribute this historic Torah cover to Kesher Israel, my beloved congregation, to maintain the Jewish connection from Russia to Shenandoah to Israel to Harrisburg.   


In all its travels, it has been a pure white symbol of continuity and Jewish life in the four corners of the world.  May it serve as a reminder to this community of that everlasting connection among Jews everywhere that has kept our faith and our heritage alive. Shabbat Shalom.


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I was so happy to be at Kesher Israel in Harrisburg, PA to see and hear my wonderful Aunt Frances Goldberg present this Torah cover to their synagogue. She wrote and read the above message - honoring both the Aronoff and Sorin families of Shenandoah and remembering the dedication of the cover to my Bubbe and Zadee, Rebecca and Max Sorin, of blessed memory.
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