Dancing With The Torah On 42nd Street


NEW YORK CITY

March 24, 2003

Against the backdrop of pro-troop and anti-war demonstrations, two hundred people took to the streets of Midtown Manhattan on Sunday, in song, dance and celebration.

Parading up 42nd Street, the entourage drew inquisitive stares, as it escorted a Torah scroll under a canopy, to Bryant Park and back home to Congregation Bnai Abraham Mordechai at Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan.

It was an auspicious event for a congregation that, seven years into its opening, remained without a scroll of its own. Donated by congregant Mel Cooper in honor of his late mother and brother, the new Torah scroll, "marks the culmination of Chabad's exponential growth here over the years," says community member Phyllis Blackman.

At eleven o'clock on a crisp, sunny morning, family and friends, from Queens, Long Island, and just about everywhere in between, joined in festivities that began with a lavish breakfast spread at the Chabad center, where Mr. Cooper, his nephew, and Chabad-Lubavitch representative to midtown, Rabbi Yehoshua Metzger, addressed the crowd.

Acknowledging the apparent paradox of rejoicing during war, Metzger discussed the traditional Jewish belief in spiritual strength over physical might, and the need to act on such faith. American troops were remembered in prayer, and blessings for their safety and the safety of the people of Israel were recited.

Participants shared in the completion of the scroll, filling in the last several lines of the Torah, an act that, according to Mona Schussheim, made the event a more "personal and meaningful experience, bringing all to a new plane of enjoyment in the unification of the Jewish world." And amidst the humdrum of midtown's Sunday shopping sprees and entertainment mania, congregants began marching to enthusiastic chants of "Mazal Tov!" down 5th avenue and up 42nd street, accompanied by the Neshama band, live in concert.

The seven traditional dances with the Torah followed, and back at the Chabad center a festive meal kept the celebration going well into the late hours of the afternoon. In a spirit of unity sorely needed in these times of turmoil, dozens of college students and middle-aged couples, young families and elderly folks, celebrated one of Judaism's most sacred traditions. "It's a happy place, with a homey feeling that makes everyone feel part of a little family, only it's not so little," says Blackman.

Reported by S. Olidort

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