My mother laughs when she thinks about me as a synagogue member and chairwoman of our temple’s new campaign to write a Torah. As the daughter of immigrants, my family was not closely connected to Judaism, because in the Ukraine, religion was not open and inclusive. To my mom, Judaism was all about men in dusty shuls mumbling beneath their prayer shawls. But as the mother of three daughters living in New York, I want them to have Judaism in their lives, but an open Judaism that is positive and inclusive, with role models that fit my 21st-century values and worldview.
So, when my rabbi, Darren Levine, called on me to take the lead on gathering support for the first Torah to be written by a female scribe for a Manhattan synagogue, I thought, “Me?”
The first time I met our scribe, Julie Seltzer, I had a momentary flash, thinking “A women can do this?! Is this kosher?” In my imagination, a Torah scribe was some bearded, elderly Orthodox man with ink stains on his fingers. Not a cool, hip, funky, bohemian artist who spent a decade of her life studying, training, and refining the ancient art of Torah writing. She’s the real deal—no pretentions, no fake spiritual aura. She’s focused, clear, and straightforward—just the kind of role model I want for my girls, and for myself. Even my completely secular mother liked the idea of supporting a Torah written by a woman
As the chair of the project, I’m committed to sharing this story. We didn’t want this effort to belong to our synagogue alone. We wanted to take our Torah project beyond the walls of our congregation and into the public domain so that everyone can take part in this historic moment. Too often, it feels like synagogues are inaccessible and that you have to be “on the inside” to participate in meaningful Jewish moments like writing a Torah scroll. Instead, we wanted this to be an opportunity for anyone –Jew and non-Jew alike—to learn, engage, and participate in the writing of this Torah.
We decided on the path of crowdsourcing to both raise funds and to give everyone everywhere, regardless of religious background or geography, an easy way to get involved. We created the first Torah campaign at Kickstarter.com. Since we started three weeks ago, an incredible number of people, locally and globally, have watched the video, read about our vision, and made donations.
Next month, soferet Julie will sit in my living room, together with me, my mother, my husband, my daughters and 20 of our family friends. We’re all going to take a turn, holding Julie’s arm and writing a letter in the Torah. I know that the experience will be revealing and profound for everyone (including my mom!), in the most enlightening of ways.
You too can be a part of this experience, check out our Kickstarter page and watch the video to learn more.