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Springfield Chabad community gets new Torah scroll, 'the essence of identity for Jews'
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Springfield Chabad community gets new Torah scroll, 'the essence of identity for Jews'

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SPRINGFIELD — Five years ago, Rabbi Mendy Turen was looking around the Midwest to establish a Chabad Center in a place that already had a Jewish community.

Turen and his wife, Sara, and family landed in Springfield, starting Chabad, a Hebrew acronym standing for "wisdom, understanding and knowledge" in their South Park Avenue home.

Chabad now has its own synagogue in the 2400 block of South MacArthur Boulevard.

Sunday, the community held a "siyum Torah" or a completion of the Torah ceremony where the last lines were ceremoniously filled in by a rabbi and then carried under a "chuppah," or marriage canopy in a parade to the synagogue.

The Torah, Rabbi Turen said, is "the essence of identity for Jews."

"This is a real historic day," Turen added. "It's hard to put into words the feeling, but in Judaism, the Torah is the centerpiece and to be able to write our own Torah is an amazing opportunity. It means so much.

"It follows a lot of work of starting off the center, then growing and then getting a new location and building a mikvah (ritual bath), now we have a new Torah scroll for the Springfield community. We think it's been pretty impressive."

The Torah, or Hebrew Bible, which is comprised of the first five books of the Old Testament — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — took a rabbi in Israel more than a year to write.

It was completed Sunday by Rabbi Yitzchok Raskin of Brooklyn, New York, in memory of Rabbi Yisroel Uziel-Irwin Turen, Rabbi Mendy Turen's paternal grandfather, who died in 2018.

Rabbi Irwin Turen's three sons — Itzchak Turen of Jerusalem, Zev Turen of Boca Raton, Fla. and Rabbi Eli Turen of Chicago, Rabbi Mendy Turen's father — each ritualistically joined Raskin in the writing of the Torah's last three letters.

Torah scrolls have been written in the same way as the first one was written by Moses, according to Jewish tradition, about 3,330 years ago, said Rabbi Eli Turen of the Moshiach Center in Chicago.

A scribe, or sofer stam, writes out each of the Torah's 304,805 letters with a quill, usually from a turkey feather, and specially prepared ink.

The letters are written on specially prepared parchment known as klaf, made from the skin of a kosher anima — a goat, a cow or deer. Once all the writing has been completed, the pieces of parchment are sewn together with thread made of animal veins to make one long scroll.

"In an age of instant gratification, a Torah scroll is a potent reminder that things of value take time," Rabbi Mendy Turen said.

The music and dancing that accompanied taking the scroll to its new home is biblically prescribed in the Book of Samuel, when the kohanim, or priest, and King David himself "danced before the Ark."

Chabad had been using a much smaller scroll on loan from a Florida synagogue.

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Those on hand for the ceremony were State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder, whose father, Oswald "Ossie" Langfelder, fled from Austria with his family in the face of Nazi aggression in 1939.

Rabbi Barry Marks of Temple Israel and Rabbi Michael Datz of Temple B'rith Sholom, both of whom retired in the last year, were also in attendance.

As for what lies ahead for Chabad of Springfield, "We know there's a lot of work ahead and we're never satisfied with as far as we've gone," Turen said. "We definitely know we're heading in the right direction, always gaining more support and more friendship and finding new people who are enjoying being involved."

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