The ceremony was lovely. There was music, wedding cake, a love song and plenty of sentiment to go around. But what made this wedding stand out was the bride: the entire congregation of Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood.
More than 650 people took part in a special ceremony Jan. 7 to witness the creation of a new Torah, which is being written to replace one of the congregation's three main scrolls. Rabbi Jim Kaufman, Cantor Alan Weiner and Cantor Emeritus Sam Brown performed a mock wedding under a chuppah on the bimah, renewing the congregation's commitment to God and to Torah study.
"God's gift to us is the Torah," Kaufman said from the bimah. "Our gift to God is writing down the Torah, hearing and understanding the words and then transforming these words into actions, righteous deeds that will guide our lives and help the world."
Rabbi Shmuel Miller of Los Angeles talked about the customs involved in writing a new scroll. He then asked the congregation to recite with him the words "Le shem kedusha sefer Torah," ("a Torah in God's holy name") before he painstakingly inscribed the first word.
"Mazal tov! It's a girl!" Miller said, to much laughter.
Congregants completed the ceremony by holding up their own tallitot to "share" the chuppah and said traditional blessings including the "Kiddush" and "Shehecheyanu," followed by cake and dancing to music by the Golden State Klezmers.
Erica Klein, 16, was one of the temple members honored with holding up the chuppah poles on the bimah. The teenager has been a teacher's assistant at Beth Hillel's day school for the past three years and has served on the board of the temple youth group.
"It was really beautiful. I never thought I would see a new Torah being scribed. It was really amazing," she said.
"We're very excited about this program because our children can take their children and show them a Torah dedicated to them," said rebbetzin and program co-chair Sue Kaufman. "We knew this project would have real meaning for everyone."
Committee member Rita Silverman said the ceremony brought new meaning to her understanding of Jewish history.
"I never understood the role of the Torah as the ketubah between God and his people," Silverman said.
"Any good marriage needs a good contract, and the Torah is as good as it gets."
Sunday's event initiated a 10-month program of Torah study titled "Torah: Soul of Our People" involving every level of members from preschoolers to seniors. According to Kaufman, the project will also act as a fundraiser for the synagogue's aging facility.
"The synagogue is 53 years old. It is very easy to raise money for a new building, but not so easy to raise money for heating, ventilation, plumbing and air conditioning," the rabbi said.
Upcoming activities include a four-part adult education lecture series with classes like "The Matriarchs" on Feb. 3, taught by Savina Teubal, who has a doctorate in ancient Near Eastern studies, and a Shabbaton series March 30-31 titled "Entering the Orchard: the basics of Biblical interpretation," taught by Rabbi Arthur Kolatch.
"Torah: Soul of Our People" will culminate in a dedication ceremony Sept. 30. For more information on the lecture series and other events, call (818) 763-9148.