Its first life revolved around a shtetl in Lithuania, the pride of Rabbi Reuven Yonah Rabinowitz. It then migrated to America with its family, settling in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. After the Jewish community dwindled there, the Torah spent years in storage above two family-owned shops and, later, was loaned to the Kollel Learning Center in Squirrel Hill.
Soon, it will join a new generation of Rabinowitz’s descendants, when Cobi Davidson — the rabbi’s great-great-grandson, who hails from Pittsburgh — will lain from it in Israel in August 2023.
“The Torah represents the journey of the Jewish people throughout the centuries,” said Kally Rubin Kislowicz, the rabbi’s great-granddaughter. “They thrived in America, where life was good, but being Jewish was sometimes challenging. My great-grandfather never felt that he was fully home until he arrived in Israel. That’s the story of my family, but it’s also the story of my people. We have worked so hard over the centuries to stay connected to Judaism and to work our way back ‘home’ to Israel. Reuven Yonah sacrificed so much to do just that. And now his Torah gets to do it, too.”
Today, Larry Rubin — Kally’s father, Rabinowitz’s grandson — tells the family’s stories and the story of the family Torah.
The Torah’s story began in 1863 in Lithuania, where it was used for 50 years before Rabinowitz sent it to be held by his offspring in Westmoreland County in 1913, Rubin said.
Rabinowitz came to Vandergrift in 1921, then made aliyah so he could die in Israel at age 85 in 1948. The Torah stayed in Vandergrift until 1983.
So, what happened between the end of the Torah’s life in Vandergrift and its donation by brothers Larry and Ken Rubin to the Kollel in 1993? The Torah was stowed in storage, most recently above Rubin’s men’s clothing store, Specialty Clothing, on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. Today, there’s no trace of the store; PPG Paints Arena sits where it once stood.
“I was always looking for a home for the Torah,” Rubin said. “I wanted it to have a home where it was used.”
The Torah is now set to relocate to Efrat, a town of 14,000 — including Kally Rubin Kislowicz — about 30 minutes south of Jerusalem.
“It’s a wonderful place for families, full of good schools, quality people, and Jewish and Zionist ideals,” Kislowicz said.
Rubin lained from the Torah when he became a bar mitzvah in 1957. Now, a new generation will read from it — in the land where Rabinowitz eventually settled.
“Our shul, Menorat Hameor Eitan, is made up of Israelis and Americans who joined together to create a warm, committed community,” Kislowicz said. “We officially moved into the building this past September. Once our shul had a permanent home, it felt that the time was finally right to bring my great-grandfather’s Torah to Israel, a place that was so important to him.”
Raimy Rubin — Larry Rubin’s son, Rabinowitz’s great-grandson — feels close to the Lithuanian-born rabbi for whom he was given his Hebrew name. Like his sister Kally, Raimy Rubin also made aliyah to Israel. And Rabinowitz looms large in his life.
“I have always felt a connection to him, a connection that intensified when I moved to Israel eight years ago,” Raimy Rubin said. “It feels, in a strange way, like I am walking a path that he paved for me decades before I was born. His life story fortified my decision to move here so there is something beautiful about bringing his Torah back here.”
“It’s the resolution of a 100-year-old story,” he added, “and, at the exact same time, the beginning of a brand new one.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.