Jan 23, 2015

Congratulations to the National Jewish Book Award Winners!

This week, we're celebrating The Patchwork Torah, winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award! Congratulations to author Allison Ofanansky and illustrator Elsa Oriol on the wonderful news! This very special book tells the story of David who, as a child, watches his grandfather, a Torah scribe or sofer, finish a Torah scroll for the synagogue. "A Torah is not something to be thrown away," his Grandfather explains. David's grandfather carefully stores the old Torah his new one has replaced in his cabinet, hoping to one day repair the letters so the Torah can be used again.

David grows up and becomes a sofer just like his grandfather. Through the years, people bring him damaged Torahs they have saved from danger and disaster - one damaged by Nazi soldiers during World War II, one damaged in a fire in a synagogue, and one in flooding during Hurricane Katrina. David stores each of these precious Torahs in his cabinet, until his granddaughter Leah gives him the idea to make a recycled Torah from the salvaged Torah scrolls.

Below, watch the book trailer and read a guest post from author Allison Ofanansky about her inspiration for this very special story. You can get a copy of The Patchwork Torah here.

"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

We'd also like to congratulate author Jennifer Elvgren and illustrator Fabio Santomauro on The Whispering Town, named as one of two finalists for the National Jewish Book Award! The Whispering Town is available here.

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