He has been to Shabbat dinner, lit the menorah and he broke matzah with friends at a Passover seder. This Valentine’s Day, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined a club that even many Jews don’t belong to — he helped complete a new Torah scroll.
This particular scroll was dedicated for use in the International Jewelry Center Synagogue, a downtown Sephardic congregation. The congregants are primarily the several hundred Jews who have condos in the Jewelry Center.
The ceremony — party, really — was a joyous one. Hundreds of people filled a conference room in the International Jewelry Center on South Hill Street. A grand lunch was served with gourmet Persian desserts, and dozens of people lined up to help the scribe — Rabbi Yechezkel Yechezkel — write the final few lines of the Torah.
But when the mayor arrived sporting a knitted blue yarmulke, most people put down their food and drinks, crowded around and tried to shake his hand and get a photo. Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar also attended the event.
Before sitting down with Yechezkel — whom the congregation flew in from Israel — Villaraigosa thanked the Jewish community for its support.
“I’ve been to homes of people who have three ovens, two ovens, and the secular Jews [with] just one,” Villaraigosa said, grinning. “But I have never actually written in the Torah. So this is a new experience for me.”
After his remarks, the mayor sat next to the rabbi, said a blessing in Hebrew and then, with the rabbi’s guidance, scribed a letter in the scroll.
Yechezkel wrote most of the scroll in Israel, but, as is custom, waited until the dedication ceremony so that the congregants could be a part of the scroll’s completion. After the ink on the final letters of the Torah dried, the congregation carried it through the building lobby, singing and dancing, up to the synagogue on the 12th floor.
This was the first Torah scroll dedicated specifically for the congregation. and it was written in a special Sephardic script. One of the owners of the International Jewelry Center and a congregant, Henry Shahery, chose Feb. 14 for the ceremony in memory of his mother, who passed away 17 years ago to the day.
Eva Yelloz, the congregation’s spokeswoman, said that when she realized that the date chosen also was Valentine’s Day, it made the ceremony even more meaningful.
“For the love of man and woman, people write poetry on Valentine’s Day, they buy flowers, they buy diamonds,” Yelloz said. “But here. in this location, they showed love for Torah.”
The origin of joyously celebrating the completion of a new Torah is from the biblical account of King David welcoming the Holy Ark into Jerusalem.