Traveling Torah

Scroll to be dedicated at lighting, will appear at sites around the world

By Linda McIntosh


The age-old tradition of lighting the menorah in celebration of Hanukkah will be re-enacted at 6 p.m. Dec. 14 in downtown La Jolla outside the Charriol Boutique on Prospect Street. In the dark days after the 2007 San Diego wildfires, local firefighters were invited to light the menorah. This year’s special guests include several San Diego-area Holocaust survivors. The message is that light overcomes darkness.

This year’s ceremony will dedicate a newly inscribed Torah that is slated to travel around the world to communities that could not afford their own Torah. The first destination for the world Torah is the fledgling Chabad center in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Among the honorary guests at the menorah lighting will be Rabbi Mendel Polichenco, director of Chabads for Mexico.

The idea for the world Torah came from La Jolla resident Stanley Sheinbein, who donated the Torah, which was made in Israel and arrived here earlier this month.

“Even when we find ourselves in troubled times, we can find others who are in greater need, and we can try to help,” Sheinbein said.

Sheinbein’s hope is that people in remote places around the world will be able to study the Torah, the most sacred of the holy writings of the Jewish faith.

“When Mr. Sheinbein came to me with this idea, he said he wanted to help the world one community at a time,” said Rabbi Baruch Ezagui, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of La Jolla.

Sheinbein did not want attention focused on him, but rather on the idea that everyone can find someone less fortunate to help out.

Ezagui has been working with Sheinbein for months working out the details for the world Torah, which is the first of its kind as far as they know. When the Chabad of La Jolla first announced the availability of the Torah for loan to remote communities, hundreds of requests poured in. The plan is to keep the Torah in Mexico for about a year and then ship it to other parts of the world. India was discussed as a possible recipient after Mexico.

Since opening the doors of the Chabad center in Cabo last year, Rabbi Benny Hershkowitz and his family have been borrowing Torah scrolls for short periods with the intention of someday having their own for the center.

“This is what Hanukkah is about — spreading some light even in the darkest night,” Ezagui said. “The candle flame symbolizes each individual’s potential to bring light and do good.”

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. and re-enacts the Miracle of the Oil. The Maccabees found only enough oil in the temple to light the menorah for a day; however, miraculously the oil lasted eight days, which was enough time to get more oil and keep the menorah in the temple lit. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, and in that way remembering the eight-day miracle.

“Hanukkah is not only a celebration of one of the biggest miracles in Jewish history, but it’s also a celebration of miracles in our lives, like when someone is cured of cancer or comes out of a coma,” said Ori Zemer, vice president of Charriol, which is hosting the menorah lighting event with music, refreshments and jewelry gifts outside the La Jolla boutique.

Ezagui emphasized that the celebration is open to the whole community, not just those of Jewish faith.

“Hanukkah is a festival of lights and a celebration of life,” Ezagui said. “It’s about a little flickering candle that can light up the darkest night.”

Menorah lighting

When: 6 p.m. Dec. 14

Where: Charriol Boutique, 1227 Prospect, La Jolla

Contact: Chabad Jewish Center of La Jolla, (858) 455-5433 or

About the scroll

A Torah scroll can cost $30,000 to $100,000 (and up), depending on the quality of the work. A typical Torah scroll consists of 245 columns. Each column includes 42 lines for a total of 10,290 lines. Each line takes at least five minutes to inscribe, so a Torah scroll takes more than 850 hours to write and eight to 12 months to inscribe.

The 62 sheets of parchment then need to be sewn together with sinews and then glued with two Band-Aid-like patches.

Next, the Torah scroll needs to be proofread two times (and nowadays also computer-checked for textual errors) after which it requires close editing.

— Rabbi Ezagui