Parham Avi Shekarlab was nervous as he used a feather quill pen to write the letters for Israel in ancient Hebrew on a parchment scroll Sunday.
If one letter of the Torah is not valid, then the entire Torah is not valid, he said.
Shekarlab, 42, of El Dorado Hills had the honor of writing the last word in a new Torah for the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Folsom. The Torah is the sacred text for the Jewish faith and comprises the five books of Moses.
More than 70 people attended the dedication ceremony Sunday, which included a short parade with the freshly completed scroll afterward.
The event marks a milestone for the Chabad Jewish Community Center, which was established by Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum and his wife, Goldie, six years ago. The center never had its own Torah, having borrowed scrolls from different congregations over the years. The most recent, loaned four years ago from a congregation in Riverside, was starting to show signs of wear and needed to be repaired.
So more than a year ago, the center decided to commission Rabbi Yitzchok Raskin of Machon Stam, a Jewish publishing house in New York, to create a new Torah for the congregation using methods dating back more than 3,000 years.
All the materials used must be kosher: The parchment comes from cows, the ink from vegetables and the quill pen from goose or turkey feathers (with no metal nibs), and the parchment must be bound by sinew. A sofer, or professional scribe, must also be trained and certified to do the painstaking work of hand-writing 304,805 letters in 248 columns on 80 pieces of parchment. Each of the letters much be separate from the others, and not be touching.
Shekarlab, who paid for half of the $40,000 cost of the new Torah, said he wanted to encourage the sense of community with the commission a sentiment echoed by Grossbaum.
The Torah is about community, Grossbaum said. It unites us and brings us together and gives us a common purpose.
On Nov. 18, 2012, more than 100 people gathered for a special ceremony in Folsom when Raskin began writing the Torah, with Shekarlab writing a few of the first letters. The scroll was then taken to New York, where most of the text was written.
On Sunday, Raskin had left the last 100 letters of the Torah to be filled in by donors or guests. Since there are strict requirements on how the text is written, no one is actually allowed to write the letters. Instead, Raskin had them all outlined, which are then filled in.
In most cases, the selected guest put his hand over Raskins while Raskin filled in the letters. Women were allowed to touch the end of the feather of the pen as the letter was being written, because only men are allowed to write the Torah.
Michael Smith, 72, of Pollock Pines was among the first to fill in two letters, beit (B) and vau (V), on the new Torah on Sunday.
It is a part of the community that will be with us for a long time, he said. It is a part of all of us.
Robert Lenoil, 49, of Shingle Springs belonged to the Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale. But he was invited to sing at the Torah dedication ceremony and was thrilled to be able to fill in the letter shin.
Its a shame that its not a day that you can read from the Torah, he said. (The Torah is read only on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, as well as special holidays.)
One of the younger writers was Tal Kanarik, 9 of Folsom. He got to fill in the letter pey by holding Raskins hand.
Im happy because its like a mitzvah (good deed) , he said, as he poured orange sand to decorate a Passover card at the childrens table afterward.
One of special guests who got to fill in letters in the new Torah was Igor Birman, a congressional candidate in District 7. He got the letter aleph, which is also the first letter of his name in Hebrew.
Its an amazing experience, he said, noting that in the Soviet Union, where he was born, it would not have been possible to hold a Torah dedication ceremony, much less have people participate in writing a Torah. Its the spirit of American freedom.
After Raskin had put the finishing touches to the new Torah, it was placed inside a blue and gold velvet cover. The yad, or pointer, was then reverently hung on the scroll by Cobin Leitch, who has an upcoming bar mitzvah, and a large silver crown was placed on top of the scroll. The new Torah was then carried under a special canopy called a chuppah, as it was paraded onto a nearby city street.
The parade was headed by a truck carrying a piano and a singer, followed by four children bearing torches, and the new Torah, which was carried by different people during the route. At several times during the parade, several members of the congregation would perform a circle dance.
After it returned to the community center, the new Torah was greeted by the old Torah in a dance in the parking lot. It was later stored in the ark inside the center.
Irma Gochenour, 69, of Sacramento was glad she made the trip to attend the ceremony Sunday.
Its a sacred duty, she said. Its once in a lifetime that we get a new Torah. Its a holiday.
Call The Bees Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.