A new Torah, along with a new Torah cover, ark, curtain and yad all took center stage at Shabbat services last weekend as more than 300 teens, parents and staff gathered at the Days Inn and Suites in Richfield for the Ohio Northern Region BBYO convention.
ONR, which includes chapters in Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown, made BBYO history in January when it became the first region in the country to have a dedicated Torah, according to Todd Kay, ONR regional director. The dedication of the Torah, which had been donated by Michael and Janie Zoldan of Canton, took place at a regional Kallah at Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills.
Having the Torah with all the other pulpit materials for Jewish worship made the March 22 to 24 convention another historic moment, said Lane Schlessel, BBYO Passport director and regional fundraiser. It marked the first time students read from the Torah in front of the ark at Shabbat services.
“Having a Torah was awesome; now having a home for the Torah is even more special,” Schlessel said.
“What impressed me most was the meaning behind everything,” said Sydney Ungar, a senior at Solon High School and outgoing president of ONR B’nai Brith Girls. “We had a tree on the Torah cover because we wanted to talk about the tree of life. Each leaf on the tree has one of the principles of BBG and AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) (boys) on it. It shows how those are intertwined in our lives, and how we try to represent ourselves every day. Our ark curtain has the song ‘Hinei Ma Tov’ (Behold How Good). It’s about brothers and sisters coming together as we do in BBYO.”
“With BBYO being a pluralistic organization, welcoming Jews of all sects, now everyone can read from our Torah. It provides many more opportunities to have people connect to their Judaism,” said Ryan Friedman, a senior at Solon High School and outgoing regional AZA president.
“The most important thing to the Zoldan family is that BBYO reads and studies the Torah,” Michael Zoldan said. “That is the No. 1 objective of why we did this. We felt that we could make it as easy as possible for the Northern Ohio Jewish teens in BBYO to have access to a real sefer (handwritten) Torah.”
Zoldan said he learned the Torah was available while serving as a board member of Shaaray Torah Synagogue in Canton. “The chazzan (cantor) discussed that we had a number of Torahs that we had accumulated over the years. Some had not been used for a very long time. My wife and I talked about it and thought maybe we could purchase the Torah, which would help the synagogue, and if we could give it to BBYO, which could use the Torah, it would be very positive for both organizations.”
Zoldan said the Torah he selected for BBYO was in “fantastic shape.”
Kay and Schlessel said the donation of the Torah inspired the other donations.
“The minute after an article was published in CJN about the Torah, someone came forward and said the Torah needs a new home,” Schlessel said. The project “morphed from there,” he said.
The anonymous donor for the portable ark decided to provide a new Torah cover and ark curtain, Kay said, “so he commissioned an artist out of Connecticut to design and make them.” Teens and advisers Skyped with the artist on the design of the cover, which includes a dedication to the Dicker family, as requested by the donor.
In the dedication at Friday services, March 22, students said, “This ark and Torah cover are dedicated with love in the honor of the Dicker family, Rudolf, Etta, David and Leah and to Esther Klein, as (Holocaust) survivors and the children of survivors. May each BBYO teenager who opens this ark and learns from this Torah, so generously donated by the Zoldan family, be inspired and reminded that we as Jews and we, as children of the State of Israel, will continue to survive in the face of any adversity.”
Students told how Rudolf and Etta Dicker, who have passed away, and Etta’s sister Esther Klein, all from Czechoslovakia, survived several concentration camps, emigrated to Israel and then the United States. The Dickers’ children Leah and (the late) David were born in Israel.
Bruce Botnick, owner of Robert & Gabriel Jewelers in Lyndhurst, donated a yad. The donor of the ark also had a carrying case constructed to protect the Torah and ark when they are moved.
The Zoldans, who served as respective BBYO advisers for AZA and B’nai B’rith Girls for nine years, and their children were given aliyot at the Kallah. All of the Zoldan children have been active in BBYO, including Harrison, 17, a current member; Alexis, who was on the regional board; and Gabrielle, who had numerous local positions in BBG.