Inspiring a Congregation

Synagogue Honors the Life of a Special Toddler

During his short life, little Kerav Roitman's courageous smile brought out the best in his community.

Hospitalized in five different locations from the Bronx to Boston for renal and lung disease, Kerav spurred an "unbelievable outpouring" of prayers and hot meals from the Stamford community and beyond, his father Brian Roitman said.

"Throughout everything, from the worst times to the best, he always had a smile," Roitman said of his son. "That was his way of telling everyone he was OK, and he was aware of what they were doing for him."

When 2½-year-old Kerav died Aug. 1 from complications of an infection, his community was inspired to commission what Roitman called the "ultimate memorial" in the boy's honor: a Sefer Torah.

The holiest book in Judaism, the Sefer Torah, is a handwritten copy of the first five books of the Bible. Young Israel of Stamford, the Roitmans' synagogue, has commissioned the project, which costs about $35,000, in a living memorial to Kerav's struggle.

"We are completely overwhelmed," Roitman said. "A Torah transcends a particular synagogue, a particular community, to become something that will hopefully last for centuries."

Eliezer Silverman, chairman of the Sefer Torah committee, said the Torah, like Kerav and his family who united the community, will bring people together.

"It doesn't mater what your level of observance is or what your outlook is, the Torah is something that unifies everyone," he said. "It is our connection to faith and eternity."

Young Israel has several Sefer Torah scrolls, but the congregation needs and would use another, congregation President Ed Rosenfeld said.

The creation of a Sefer Torah is no quick and simple task.

It will take almost a year to copy the 304,805 tiny Hebrew letters with a feather quill onto calfskin parchment, said Rabbi Zvi Chaim Pincus, who will coordinate Young Israel's project.

Pincus, who has commissioned dozens of Torahs throughout the world, is a Torah scribe and coordinates writings for synagogues through his company, Tiferes Stam, based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Every letter has to be perfectly written," he said. "If even one is missing, the Torah is invalid."

If the scribe makes a mistake, he uses a double-edged razor blade to peel off the top layer of the parchment, then uses sandpaper to smooth the area, Pincus said.

After the scribe completes the Torah, three independent proofreaders read the scroll, then it is scanned through a computer.
  Some scrolls, Pincus said, can cost up to $50,000.
  Silverman said the decision to dedicate the piece to "such an unbelievable child" was supported by Young Israel's entire congregation.
  "He was only with us for 30 months ... but he always had a smile," he said. "His smile just melted your heart away."

For almost six months, the Roitmans made the three-hour drive to Children's Hospital of Boston twice a week before and after Kerav's kidney transplant from his mother, Sonia, in January.

Most meaningful, Brian Roitman said, were the constant daily prayers on Kerav's behalf.

"The community, literally in a month or two's time, managed to cumulatively ... learn the entire Bible in merit of our son's recuperation."

And the Roitmans' community has expanded far beyond Stamford's borders.

"One friend found people to pray on Kerav's behalf in 42 of the 50 states," Roitman said. "Everyone in Stamford who had relatives, friends or friends with relatives in Boston instantly made connections for us."

People in Boston brought meals to the hospital, he said.

In Kerav's memory, Silverman said, the synagogue is striving to make certain children are central figures in the mitzvah.

 "The dedication to Kerav has heightened the interest and particularly made our children more aware," he said.

The first step was alerting the community of this grand undertaking, Silverman said, which they did on Oct. 5 at the Jewish Community Center's Mitzvah Day.

At the Newfield Avenue community center, a sofer -- or Torah scribe -- wrote the children's Hebrew names with a special quill to show how slowly and carefully each fingernail-size letter must be formed, he said.

In the months leading up to the completion of the Torah, children also will learn songs about the Torah, create a Torah quilt and learn portions of the text in honor of Kerav, said Michael Feldstein, a member of the Torah committee.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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