Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Beit Tovei Ha'ir" Celebrates Hachnassat Sefer Torah by Dovid Hoffman

In Yiddish they say you can't ride on two horses at once and you can't dance at two weddings at the same time. But I got to dance at two Simchos Torah this year. It all began after the "Beit Tovei Ha'ir" senior citizens residence invited me to join their hachnossas sefer Torah taking place three days after Simchas Torah. Founded in 1993 by Mr. Ariye Paluch (z"l) and his family, this home was the fulfillment of their dream to provide accommodation to the senior citizens of the religious public from all over the world. The international PAI Group (Preferred Assets Israel Group) headed by the Rajchenbach, Rothner, Kutoff, Hunter and Glouberman families took over the home last year.
In previous weeks, many of the sefer's last letters had been completed by the Gedolei Hador including Rav Shemuel Auerbach from Yerushalayim, Rav Chaim Kanievski and Rav Aharon Leib Steinman of Bnei Brak, and the Boyaner Rebbe. But plenty letters were left for residents, dignitaries, and guests to fill in.
I was struck by one of the residents sitting close to the sofer. Impeccably dressed, he was watching the proceedings with rapt attention.
"Do you have a special part in the proceedings?" I asked him.
"You bet I do!" replied Dovid Greenberg, lately from Australia, but originally from Lodz, and the only survivor of his family. "I saw them burning hundreds and thousands of sifrei Torah in Europe; it is a great zechus for me to be here today." 
Another resident, Yitzchak Ze'ev Teller, originally from Cracow, gave another reason for his deep sense of identification to the evening's festivities.
"After sixty-five years in Tel Aviv, this is now my home," he said simply.
Dignitaries arrived. The Admor of Stroptkov, Rav Avrohom Sholom Halberstam filled letters, as did Deputy Health Minister, Rav Yaakov Litzman. Rav Yitzchok Sheiner, Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenitz, also honored the occasion with his presence.
Finally, a ripple of anticipation raced through the crowd. Lovingly wrapped in its new mantle and resplendent in its silver shield and crowns, the sefer was triumphantly carried out into the cool Yerushalayim evening. The joyous crowd surged alongside, bochurim and kids sang and danced.
As if by magic, the tangle of youngsters straightened into two lines and the Torah passed between two rows of light.
Clambering a short flight of stairs, we entered the giant Shneller compound that is soon to be developed into a large Torah neighborhood. Until recently, this place served as an army camp. Before that, it served as a British military headquarters, and originally it was a religious compound built by Templar Germans in 1860. The place became pro-Nazi in the years leading to World War II. To quote a recent article: "In April 1934, Buchhalter [a Yerushalayim Nazi] hosted a party for local residents at the party headquarters in Jerusalem to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. The event began with a performance by the boys choir from the Schneller orphanage."
To save my ears, I quickly stuffed them with tissue and just in time, for behind the loudspeaker van came yet another van with the Shira Chadasha boys choir of Nachman Seltzer perched on its roof. Afterwards, Seltzer confided to me that never before had his group ever performed from a six feet high wheeled stage. 
From the Schneller grounds, the procession turned into the busy Malchei Yisroel Street of Geula, where a police car shielded the crowd from a minor traffic snarl building up behind. Finally, we reached the safe refuge of the "Beit Tovei Ha'ir" cul-de-sac.
The dancing ended, the sefer was placed in the aron, and to the accompaniment of Chazzan Chaim Adler, chief chazzan of the Great Synagogue of Yerushalayim; the Shira Chadasha choir; and a group of musical bochurim from Chevron, a joyful, lavish seuda was enjoyed by all in the home's five-floor high indoor courtyard.   
I particularly noticed a dignified looking personage who, like Dovid Hamelech, placed the kavod of Torah before his own, leaping high with the young bochurim, borrowing their headgear, and pulling spectators into the swirling ring of dance. This was resident Rabbi Shimon Eckstein, who started out in his young years as a Rav in Ottowa, Canada, and then practiced clinical psychology for thirty years in Florida. Presently, he is interested in gerontology and writing about grand-parenting and great-grand-parenting from point of view of Jewish law and psychology. He told me that not too much is written about great-grandparents in halacha literature due to people's lower survival rate in earlier times.
Among the last speakers was Rav Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU executive Vice President Emeritus who came especially from New York addressed the audience in English. He compared the home's residents to Noach who, the Tanchuma says, was one of three people who saw three worlds. He saw the world settled before the flood, he saw it destroyed, and he survived and saw it rebuilt.
"The residents of Tovei Ha'ir and their children knew of a world of despair and destruction," he said. "Now, the evening's joy and song give us hope that we are moving ahead to a generation of building and hope."
As the festivities wound down and visitors and guests began their departure, everyone shared the feeling that for "Beit Tovei Ha'ir", the closing evening marked the beginning of a bright new future. 

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