Addendum: Cantor saves Torah when fire starts

Addendum: Cantor saves Torah when fire starts

Since the publication of Tom Harrison’s column in the Butler Eagle, Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer of Congregation B’nai Abraham has updated the conditions of the Torah scrolls, particularly the smallest one.

“The Baby [as the Torah scroll is called] looks like it has some mildew issues; there is some discoloration,” Gray-Schaffer told the Chronicle.

“The writing did not lift off the Baby scroll, [but] the lettering has bled on to the back of the scroll,” she added. “It is really discolored, and I don’t know what someone would tell me about it.”

As for the other scrolls, “some are better than others,” the cantor said. “Some look pretty good. [But] I cannot tell you there is a Torah that has completely escaped [damage].”

None of the Torahs was read from during Shabbat services this past weekend.

“Two are still drying. Three have come through the entire cycle, [meaning] all of the [parchment] has been exposed to the air on both sides for at least a day or more,” Gray-Schaffer said.

Neil Yerman, a sofer (Torah scribe) from Westchester, N.Y., has offered to check the scrolls for the 70-family congregation, and Gray-Schaffer may drive them there herself as soon as the weather breaks.  

Meanwhile, she had a scare this past week. When a custodian plugged in a vacuum cleaner at the back of the sanctuary, flames licked from the wall outlet.

“I still had a Torah that was resting over the pews,” not far from the fire, Gray-Schaffer recalled.

She called 911 and was told to immediately evacuate the building, but the cantor refused to leave the Torah behind.

“I rolled that Torah faster than any Torah has ever been rolled,” she said. “I said, ‘I will not leave this building without this Torah,’ and I realized at that moment how much these Torahs meant to me and this congregation. If I didn’t know before all this tsuris (trouble), I certainly knew at that point.”

— By Lee Chottiner