From Maryland to Mexico: Rejoicing in the Torah

November 14, 2019Doug Schwab

Late in 2018, Jan Marx Braverman contacted B’er Chayim Temple (BCT) in Cumberland, MD, to inquire about the possibility that our congregation might donate a Torah scroll to the Lake Chapala Jewish Congregation (LCJC) in Ajijic, Mexico. Jan is the secretary of the LCJC, but before retiring to Mexico, she belonged to Beth Jacob Congregation, which merged with BCT in the late 1990s.

At the time, BCT, which was founded in 1853, had six Torah scrolls precisely because of at least three congregational mergers over many years. Our board approved the loan of a Torah to the LCJC and in December of 2018, the congregation approved the board’s action.

Then the planning began.

A delegation of six people – the rabbi and five lay leaders – made plans to travel to Ajijic in 2019 to present the Torah to the LCJC. The Torah itself is one that originally had belonged to Beth Jacob Congregation and its breastplate had been donated to the community by Jan’s grandparents on the occasion of her bat mitzvah.

After two flights – one from Pittsburgh to Houston and one from Houston to Guadalajara – we and the Torah arrived in Mexico on Sunday, October 20, which most fittingly was erev Simchat Torah. We were greeted by members of the LCJC, who took us to our hotel. None of us had been to Ajijic before, and we were warmly welcomed by the entire community, whose members gave so generously of their time to make our stay enjoyable.

On Tuesday, October 22, our day began with brunch and Klezmer music at a local restaurant. Then, led by dancing horses and more music, over 100 people took turns carrying the Torah under a chuppah (wedding canopy, in this case symbolizing the bond between the Jewish people and the Torah) that was held by various LCJC members, parading the Torah through the streets to the synagogue. Joining us were two envoys from the U.S. Consul General’s office in Guadalajara; Hector Ramos, liaison to the ex-pat community; a large contingent of Mexican families who are studying for conversion and had made the five-hour journey from Melaque on the Pacific coast; and many other residents of the Lakeside area.

Once we arrived at the Lakeside Jewish community building, there was a service, both to mark the transfer of the Torah and to celebrate Simchat Torah. The president of each congregation  made brief comments. Honored to speak on behalf of BCT, I noted that I was pleased to bring this particular Torah – with all its connections to Jan Braverman and her family – from Cumberland, MD, to Ajijic. 

During the Torah service, David Rosett, a lay leader in the Mexican congregation, read the last Torah portion in Deuteronomy from the LCJC’s pasul (no longer fit for use, according to Jewish law) Torah scroll, followed immediately by the first portion in Genesis, which Rabbi Mark Perman read from the scroll we’d brought from our community. Both throughout the service and after, the congregation danced with the new Torah, accompanied by Rabbi Perman on the piano. 

Indeed, everything about the day – from the weather to our “great gladness,” even among those who had never participated in such a celebration before – was special and jubilant. It truly was an opportunity for Simchat Torah, or rejoicing in the joy of Torah and fellowship, for members of both the Cumberland and Lake Chapala congregations.

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