CHRIS CURRY/Journal Star

Rabbi Eli Langsam, left, and Bob Martin, both of Peoria, dance with the Torah after its completion Sunday at the Hult Health Education Center. The Sefer Torah, which contains Scriptures from the five books of Moses, took a year and a half to write by hand.

To the letter

Peoria's Jewish community cheers as scribe completes sacred scrol

Monday, August 29, 2005

PEORIA - A Knoxville Avenue motorist on Sunday probably had no clue what the fuss was about.

But to the members of Peoria's Jewish community, the short parade along the busy street was a significant moment that many believe will touch generations for years to come.

The 4-year-old Chabad of Peoria, an outreach project of the Lubavitch Hasidic Jews, celebrated the dedication of a Sefer Torah, or handwritten scroll, which contains Scriptures from the five books of Moses.

It was the first Torah scroll dedication in the Chabad's short history in Peoria.

"It's a great celebration for the entire Jewish community," Rabbi Eli Langsam said before the dedication ceremony began at the Hult Health Education Center. "It's the most sacred book of the Jewish people."

The project came about with help from Dr. Bob Martin of Peoria, whose family contributed toward the project's cost, which Langsam estimates at $30,000.

The writing of the scroll began 1 1/2 years ago,and much of the assignment was handled by scribe Zellik Moscowitz of New York City.

The project was challenging. Moscowitz spent two years training to write in Hebrew with such precision that little, if any, errors are to be made.

In this project, there is no correction fluid. Even a minor slip-up could have forced the entire project to be restarted.

"It takes a steady hand, a steady body and a lot of patience," he said, adding that much of the scroll's writing was done in private.

But Moscowitz completed the project in public on Sunday as local benefactors, or those who gave $180, were allowed to walk up and touch his hand as the final letters were completed.

One of those giving to the project was attorney Raymond Huff.

"We are literally endowing the next generation of Peoria with the sacred Torah," he said. "It's a wonderful thing."

Much of the rest of Sunday was a celebration, as the Torah was paraded around the Hult Center as classic Hasidic music boomed in the background.

Meanwhile, children and parents in attendance got to bond with one another at an arts and crafts table. Together, they made little mezuzah cases that will be placed above their bedroom doors. The mezuzah signifies the sanctity and blessing of the Jewish home.

It was the first case by Doug and Laura Scheiner and their son, Alex, nearly 1. A case given by Doug Scheiner's parents is above Alex's bedroom door.

But the main reason more than 50 showed up for the luncheon celebration was because of the Torah scroll and the sacred text it includes on parchment, derived from a kosher animal, usually a cow.

"Every single letter has to be accounted for," Moscowitz said about the scroll's test. "Just like the Jewish people. Our community includes every single individual. Without one single letter, the Torah would be imperfect."