Rabbi and Torah Scribe Levi Kagan, from Oak Park, assists Pennie Goldin-Michelin, of Rochester Hills, a member of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Troy, in adding a letter into the community center’s new Torah scroll at a celebration May 21.

Rabbi and Torah Scribe Levi Kagan, from Oak Park, assists Pennie Goldin-Michelin, of Rochester Hills, a member of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Troy, in adding a letter into the community center’s new Torah scroll at a celebration May 21.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

Jewish community center celebrates dedication of its first Torah scroll

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published May 25, 2023


TROY — The members of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Troy gathered in celebration May 21 to dedicate the completion of their new Torah scroll.

Torah scrolls are handwritten on parchment by specially trained scribes and are thus generally both very rare and very revered among the Jewish community. The center in Troy hasn’t had its own scroll since its opening three years ago.

According to Rabbi Menachem Caytak, the director of the community center, the commemoration of a Torah scroll’s completion is about celebrating Judaism for both this generation and the next, and about bringing families and communities together in joy.

“The centerpiece of a Jewish center is the Torah scroll,” he explained. “The Torah scroll is the Jewish Bible and is handwritten by a Jewish scribe on parchment. It takes over a year to finish. When it is finished, it is a tremendous celebration, because it shows us passing the torch to the next generation and continuing to inspire the children, teens and young adults of the community in this tradition.”

The celebration took place in Riverside Park in Auburn Hills. Caytek said that they wanted to hold a sizable commemoration in public to bring the Jewish community of the area together for the event, but also to publicly spread happiness and positivity for such a joyous occasion.

“Everyone gets a chance to write a letter in the Torah. They each assist the scribe in writing a letter. Then there is a short ceremony with some speeches. We finish by blocking off the street and dancing with the Torah and invite the community into the Jewish center. It’s all about joy, because religion and Judaism are meant to bring joy to our hearts and joy to our community.”

Dmitriy Feldman, a community center member from Sterling Heights, said that he has felt that feeling of joy and community since joining the Chabad Jewish Community Center, and he said he felt it anew with the dedication of the new Torah scroll.

“My family were some of the first members of the community center. We didn’t belong to anything before the center opened, but got involved through Menachem’s help, and it has been absolutely amazing,” said Feldman. “With the background that I came from, I was never really part of the Jewish community, and I was never part of any religious organization, and this gives me a real sense of belonging. It’s great to have something on the east side for those of us who live out here.”

Pennie Goldin-Michelin, of Rochester Hills, was another community center member who took part in the commemoration, and she said being able to take part in its creation was very moving for her.

“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get so close to the Torah and to share this with an actual Torah scribe. It’s absolutely fabulous,” she remarked. “The Torah is the holiest object in the Jewish religion. This is why, in the Sabbath prayer service, while the Torah comes around, we touch our prayer book to the scroll and kiss it.”

She stressed what a precise and sensitive process the creation of such a scroll can be, which is one of the reasons why the completion of one is so important.

“This is a major experience to actually see the Torah be written letter by letter by a scribe, because they have to write it panel-by-panel and letter-by-letter,” said Goldin-Michelin. “If there is a mistake made, they have to scrap the entire panel.”

Caytak was inspired by famed Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Revve, who stressed love for every human being and the importance of community and accepting them without judgment. Caytak described him as the greatest rabbi in modern history. It was an attitude he said he wanted to bring to the event.

“Every time we read from the Torah, which is every Saturday and every high holiday, it’s the whole community being represented,” he said. “Gathering together for a celebration like this is sort of unprecedented” for their community center. “It’s strengthening and growing our local community.”

His hope is that this will continue the Troy-based community center’s efforts to provide a gathering point for the local Jewish community.

“Everyone seemed to think that east of Woodward, there was no Jewish community, that the Jewish community all lived around Bloomfield, West Bloomfield and Southfield, and we are saying today that Judaism is here and alive and growing east of Woodward,” Caytak said. “I hope the Jewish person that may feel isolated and may not feel they can join with the Jewish community, that they know they have a place.”

Those in attendance at the event said it was an immensely happy moment and one that many felt was personally touching.

“I think (the addition of the Torah scroll) is a huge step for the local community and the community center. To have our own is amazing. We had to borrow one before. This is a big step to grow to this point,” said Feldman. “I was able to write a letter in the Torah. Not having much of a religious background, a lot of these experiences are new to me, so this was a very huge steppingstone for me personally to do that.”