Scroll arrived in Oro Valley from Israel in the nick of time
My father, Simcha Yosef ben 1Ephraim Yakov, passed away on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 2002 at the age of 91. He spent the last 40 years of his life immersed at Congregation Agudath Achim Anshei Chessed on Staten Island, N.Y., as a shammes, a position his father had held before him. “Shammes” is a poor choice of words. My father was also the minyan gatherer, cantor, treasurer, historian, Kaddish reciter, bar mitzvah tutor, secretary, Kiddush organizer, janitor, confidant of the yeshivah boys who studied in the building, secret deliverer of food to the poor and more.
My siblings and I unanimously agreed that a fitting tribute for my father was to write a Torah scroll in his honor. We commissioned a reputable scribe to write it. The first year came and went with only a small section completed. The same thing occurred in the second and third year. A few more similar years passed by. Eventually, we received our money back.
It was a month before Rosh Hashanah 2012. My son Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman, his wife Mushkie and their two young daughters had recently moved to Oro Valley, Ariz., a suburb of Tucson, to open a new Chabad House. Rosh Hashanah was to be their first public event for the dozen or so Jews they had thus far encountered. They were planning to hold services in the living room of their home.
“Do you think you would like a Torah scroll for Rosh Hashanah? It’s yours if you are willing to undertake all the details,” I told Ephraim. My son immediately swung into action and called Machon Stam in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Do you have a new, pre-written Torah scroll available for this Rosh Hashanah?”
“Yes,” they replied, “but our Torahs are in Israel.”
Ephraim asked his brother-in-law in Israel to choose a high-quality, well-written Torah, while Machon Stam found a young man willing to escort the Torah from Israel to New York.
A few days later, when Ephraim was in the midst of preparing the mailing for the Rosh Hashanah services, Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, regional director of Chabad of Tucson, called to see how he was faring. Rabbi Shemtov encouraged him to think big and rent a hotel conference room for services. The closest hotel was also the fanciest one in town: the Hilton El Conquistador. Ephraim decided to go in personally to inquire about renting space in the hotel. As he entered, he was fortuitously greeted by the hotel manager. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“I’m Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman, new to the area, and I’m inquiring about availability and rental fees for the Jewish High Holiday services.”
“Our prices are quite steep,” the manager informed him. “The rate is $725 per day, plus extra for the cleaning crew. However, personally I have great respect for the Jewish people, and I will gladly give it to you for $200.” My son was surprised and happily signed a contract. They would be setting up 60 chairs, and he hoped it would not appear too empty. Now he needed to place an order for 40 Rosh Hashanah machzorim (special holiday prayerbooks).
Ephraim’s phone rang later that day. It was a gentleman he had met a month earlier. He was asking if there would be Rosh Hashanah services since he had not yet seen any flyers or advertisements. When Ephraim told him that a venue had just been secured, the gentleman offered to pay $1,000 toward advertising in the local papers.
Why Is It Impossible?’
Two-and-a-half weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Ephraim, Mushkie and their children traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., for a family simcha. His father-in-law, Rabbi Yossi Kahanov, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida, had received a very large ark, together with a beautiful curtain from a synagogue that had recently closed. “Ephraim,” he offered, “take our other curtain back with you to Arizona where it can be used.”
Two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Ephraim called Nissim Baron, the owner of Woodcraft Design in New York, who graciously donates arks to new Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. Ephraim asked if there was a possibility of getting an ark in time for Yom Kippur, explaining that he was sure it was impossible to get one so close to Rosh Hashanah. “Why is it impossible?” asked Mr. Baron. “Don’t ever talk like that,” he admonished him.
Mr. Baron began calling local Israeli moving companies until he found one going to Tucson that agreed to take the ark free of charge. Six days before Rosh Hashanah, it arrived.
Ephraim marveled at all that was happening. He felt like a puppet; G dwas deftly and decidedly pulling the strings in every scene to bring the 10-year saga of the Torah scroll to a speedy close.
The Torah arrived safely in New York from Israel and then touched down in Arizona, three days before Rosh Hashanah.
In the week before Rosh Hashanah, the embroidery company emailed pictures of elegantly embroidered Torah covers to choose from. My sister and I chose the exact replica of the design fondly etched in our memories that had adorned the ark in my father’s synagogue. It was the one with the two lions standing up holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments in their paws. My son was told that the embroidering of my father’s name would take three days and then would be sent by two-day air. It arrived two days before Rosh Hashanah.
Reservations had been slowly trickling in and now began to climb—25, 35, 50, 65. Ephraim called the hotel, “Please set up 85 chairs.” He borrowed another 20 machzorim from Rabbi Shemtov. The day before Rosh Hashanah would be my father’s 10th yahrtzeit, and what I couldn’t accomplish in 10 years’ time was completed in 30 days!
The final piece came together when a man arrived for services on Rosh Hashanah morning. “I had this silver yad [Torah pointer] in my home for several years, and I thought your new synagogue could use it.”
I experienced great joy that Rosh Hashanah when my father’s Torah found a home in his grandson’s new Chabad House, read for the first time by another grandson, Boruch. The backing came from Chicago, the Torah from Israel, the cover and the ark from New York, the curtain from Jacksonville and the yad from Arizona. What a grand finale. Now the honor belonged to my father.
By: Chaya Rochel Zimmerman
This article originally appeared in L’Chaim Weekly, a publication of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, and was reprinted with permission.