A Wedding? Not Quite

elliot's images - ecjs-111
photo courtesy Elliot Moscowitz

“Wow, I can’t believe they actually write with a feather and ink!” remarked Peter Becket.

Becket had just written one of the final letters in the travel-size Torah scroll. A mixed group of individuals – young and old, religious and secular – waited in line for the honor to assist the scribe in completing the Torah scroll. Few eyes remained dry after inscribing a letter in the Torah.

The final verses were completed one by one with utmost care by the scribe with quill and jet-black ink as has been tradition for thousands of years.

The ballroom of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Brussels was set up as it often is for celebratory events – lavish buffet, stage with a live band, round banquet tables, decorations arranged tastefully about, and glittering chandeliers lighting up the affair. However, some items gracing the ballroom had never been seen before on the premises: Chupah, Bimah, and a tiny custom-made Aron Kodesh – as the event it hosted marked an historic occasion.

For this past Sunday, the inauguration of the first European travel Torah scroll took place amid much fanfare. Hundreds of students from over 20 countries joined the celebration of this occasion following the European Center for Jewish Students (ECJS) Shabbaton held in the same hotel. Rabbis and families of the Jewish communities in both Brussels and Antwerp participated in the event as well. ECJS and Jewish European Professionals (JEP) members attended from many countries including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and even the USA. For many, it was the first Torah inauguration they had attended.

When the final letter was complete, Barry Mellinger, a member from Antwerp, had the honor of lifting the Torah in a ceremony called Hagbah. “It was probably the most meaningful moment in my life so far,” Mellinger remarked, “I’ll cherish the memory forever.”

With tears of joy, singing and clapping, dozens danced with the new Torah under the Chupah. Liturgy particular to the festival of Simchat Torah and the occasion marking the conclusion of writing a Torah scroll called Hachnasos Sefer Torah were recited responsively while circling the Bimah eight times interspersed with music and dancing.

Traditionally, the completion of a Torah is compared to a wedding and the Torah scroll represents the bride. The code of Jewish law states that the day a Torah scroll is complete is a day of festivity for the entire city. The emotionally-charged event, Chupah, separate dancing and lavish buffet strongly resembled a traditional wedding ceremony.

Two European-wide organizations which serve the needs of Jewish students and young professionals, ECJS and JEP, joined forces to write the travel-size Torah scroll to use at their conventions throughout Europe. The President of both organizations, London-born Rabbi Zevi Ives, raised funds for this project by selling sections of the Torah and its accessories to various sponsors – mostly members of the organizations. The travel Torah will be used for the first time at the upcoming JEP event in Cascais, Portugal, during Hanukah.