Oct 8, 2014

The Story Behind the Patchwork Torah

Our October book of the month is The Patchwork Torah, by Allison Ofanansky. There are so many things we love about this book! It has warm, beautiful illustrations that accompany a touching and unique intergenerational story. Books for Simchat Torah aren't that easy to come by, but this is a great one, as it features two celebrations of the holiday. A message about recycling means that this book is a good fit for the spring and Earth Day as well. Below, watch the book trailer and read a guest post from author Allison Ofanansky about her inspiration for this very special story!

"The story of the Patchwork Torah was inspired by a real Torah put together from rescued and repaired remnants of old and damaged scrolls. Like the scroll that David puts together in the story, this Torah contains sections that were written by a number of soferim (scribes) that lived in different times and places. We don’t know the stories behind the sections in this Torah. The stories of the scrolls that David collects in the book are made up, though some are based on real historic events (the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina).

A real patchwork Torah was purchased by my community in Tzfat, Israel in 2009. There are many Torah scrolls in synagogues in the city of Tzfat, but these are strictly Orthodox and women can’t come up for an aliyah or read from the Torah or dance with it on holidays. So a group of friends decided to buy a Torah to which women could have access.

We held an auction to raise money. People donated things to be auctioned off. (I donated some of the books in the Nature in Israel series.) Then we bid to buy each others’ donations (I bought a funny wax sculpture). We raised a fair amount of money at the auction, but not enough for a new Torah scroll, which costs between $15,000 and $30,000. Then we heard about a ‘recycled’ Torah which had been put together with parts of several damaged scrolls to make a whole, kosher Torah. We had enough money to buy it!

Once we got this Torah, we realized how special and beautiful it is. Throughout the year, as we read through the scroll, we can see the distinctive calligraphy of seven soferim who wrote various parts (three large sections and four small ones). Some wrote simple letters, others added fancy decorations. Even though there are strict laws for writing a kosher Torah, and each letter must be perfect, there is still room for soferim to express their individual styles. This Torah suits our community, because we also come from many different places, with our own individual styles, and together make something new.

We have enjoyed celebrating with this Torah over the past few years. My daughter Aravah (whose pictures you may have seen in my Nature in Israel books) read from it at her bat mitzvah. All four of her grandparents came up for an aliyah. On Simchat Torah, women and girls dance with the scroll. I’ve seen women who never had a chance before to touch a Torah scroll cradling it like a baby, with tears in their eyes.

I’d like to imagine that David’s granddaughter, who gives him the idea to make the recycled Torah, will read from their patchwork Torah at her bat mitzvah—maybe even become a sofer herself! (On women scribes-- soferot -- see http://www.womenstorah.com/)"
Aravah reading from the real ‘patchwork Torah’ at her bat mitzvah, with both her grandmothers beside her.
Aravah holding the Torah at her bat mitzvah.
Photographs by Eliyhu Alpern, 2012

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