Believers in two different religions converged on the street Sunday morning, embraced and exchanged enthusiastic words in neighborly fellowship.
After a fundraising campaign accrued over $5 million for renovations, the Beth El Synagogue, 1004 Watts St., is temporarily “dislocating” its membership.
And yet, the synagogue’s congregation is glad.
They’relooking forward to the completion of their synagogue’s spruce up, but, their Conservattive Jewish community is pleased that Rabbi Daniel Greyber can continue to lead Saturday services despite the hullabaloo of construction starting.
Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church, 927 W. Trinity Ave., eight blocks or so from the synagogue, has welcomed Beth El to use its church fellowship hall for Saturday services.
On Sunday, Beth El’s leaders and members formed a long procession down Watts Street toward West Trinity Avenue ceremonially carrying two of its Torahs to the synagogue’s temporary home. Trinity Presbyterian parishioners stood on the street corner in front of their church awaiting their chance to welcome the Jewish community to their sanctuary.
The two groups of people of two different faiths, shook each others’ hands with welcoming smiles.
Beth El has a total of five Torahs, but three were presented to the Elon University Hillel’s Rabbi Meir Goldstein, director Betsy Polk and junior-year student Hannah Podhorzer for safekeeping in Elon.
The other two Torahs headed the procession as synagogue members took turns carrying the scrolls as they walked toward Trinity Avenue Presbyterian underneath a chuppah, a white canopy held up horizontally by four poles used in Jewish ceremonies.
Traditional Jewish songs were sung in Hebrew during the entire course of the walk.
Following tradition, Beth El’s Torahs are ornamented by silver crowns which cap the scrolls’ tops when the texts are not in use.
The crowns were carried by seventh graders Eden Richman, Daniella Davis and Danielle Lipp.
Eden and Daniella recently had their bat mitzvahs in the Beth El Synagogue, but Danielle said her upcoming bat mitzvah would be performed at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian.
“We grew up in that synagogue,” Eden said of Beth El.
“Yeah. We have,” Daniella added. “We’ve been there our whole lives.”
“My father was the president of the synagogue,” Eden said.
“That’s true,” Daniella said. “Well, but my grandfather used to be the synagogue’s president, too.”
“Her grandfather was also the president,” Eden said. “He was. Yeah.”
“Mmm?” Danielle said. “My dad was the chairman of the Va’ad.”
Daniella said, “That’s true.”
“Yeah, that is true,” Eden said. “Your dad is very involved.”
Danielle said she and her friends used to swing on the synagogue’s swing set imagining exploring far-flung dominions, and when asked to described her mood after moving the Torahs, Danielle replied, “Melancholy.”
Some Christian and Jewish eyes teared as the Beth El membership entered the church fellowship hall and the Torahs were placed in a portable ark.
“Our neighbors and our friends, it is pure joy to welcome you to this space after a season of anticipation,” said Trinity Avenue Pastor Katie Crowe.
“We prayed that God’s blessing would be upon this space, that it would be a vessel to convey God’s extraordinary abundance and goodness and love to you,” Crowe said, “as you gather for worship, and strengthen your fellowship and your faith in a season of transition.”
Beth El’s Rabbi Greyber addressed the room.
“This moment is about many, many firsts. Many things new. I think it may be a first, in the Jewish tradition, to be welcomed with a “Woohooo!” Greyber said.
Greyber said a Presbyterian parishioner asked him an “extraordinary” question. A question, he said, that he was unsure had “ever been asked before in the Jewish tradition.”
“‘Can we welcome you with a mezuzah?’” Greyber recalled, referring to the piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah, hung on Jewish doorways. Greyber quoted, in Hebrew, “‘You should write the words of the Torah on the door post.’ And that’s how we feel at home.
“There have been times in the Jewish tradition where Jews and non-Jews shared a residence. But … the idea that someone would say to us ‘Can we place this on our shared home, so you feel at home,’ is only a blessing.
“And new, for which, we are grateful,” the rabbi said.
What is the Torah?
“Torah” refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. But the word “Torah” can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah), or in its broadest sense, to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.
To Jews, there is no “Old Testament.” The books that Christians call the New Testament are not part of Jewish scripture. The so-called Old Testament is known to us as Written Torah or the Tanakh.
-- Judaism 101, http://www.jewfaq.org/Torah.htm