Temple Sinai completes Torah in honor of Rabbi Jamie Gibson
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Temple Sinai completes Torah in honor of Rabbi Jamie Gibson

“In your dream never say why you can’t, but only what you want — what your heart longs for, what you need to be the Jewish neshama that God always wanted you to be."

Soferet Linda Coppleson and Rabbi Jamie Gibson complete the writing of a Torah. Photo by Dale Lazar
Soferet Linda Coppleson and Rabbi Jamie Gibson complete the writing of a Torah. Photo by Dale Lazar

Standing above the bima at Temple Sinai, Rabbi Jamie Gibson implored congregants — some who recalled the day he was hired 33 years ago — to rely on their newly scribed Torah and new rabbi as they dream of a path forward.

“In your dream never say why you can’t, but only what you want — what your heart longs for, what you need to be the Jewish neshama that God always wanted you to be,” Gibson said.

Following 32 years of service to Temple Sinai, Gibson became its rabbi emeritus in July 2020. His Nov. 7 charge to the congregation came after a morning of celebration. Moments before addressing nearly 200 attendees, Gibson and Rabbi Daniel Fellman — who took the pulpit at Temple Sinai on July 1, 2021 — placed the newly written Torah scroll inside the congregation’s ark.

While speaking before the crowd, soferet Linda Coppleson noted how drafting the sacred parchment represented more than a mere “labor of love.” The work, she said, was completed during “years of extremes.”

Weeks prior to inking the Torah, Coppleson’s husband, Victor, died, and shortly thereafter the pandemic struck. Coppelson sought refuge in her work.

Writing each of the 304,805 letters on the parchment, Coppleson said, “at least in part helped keep me from giving into the despair that I felt from my own loss and from the losses and frustrations of our world.

“Instead of losing myself in sadness,” she said, “I could lose myself in the quest to form every letter as perfectly as possible — to make this Torah as beautiful as I could.”

NextDOR students observe the recently completed Torah scroll. Photo by Dale Lazar

After penning the final five letters of the Torah — which form the Hebrew word “Israel” — Coppleson, Gibson, Fellman and generations of Temple Sinai congregants danced as musicians played klezmer music, then marched the Torah through Temple Sinai’s sanctuary.

Gibson then read from the parchment. He recited and translated a passage from the upcoming weekly reading, Vayetzei, and described how Jacob, like many generations of Jews, experienced a dream.

Esther Nathanson, a 72-year member of Temple Sinai, said the ceremony was a fitting way to mark a process that began months before “COVID-19” entered common parlance.

“To be able to do this with people we’ve known for years is very special,” Nathanson said.

Lynn Schreiber and her husband, Brian, remarked how moving it was to see Gibson literally pass the Torah to Fellman, Gibson’s rabbinic successor.

Throughout the morning program, speakers — including Gibson, Coppleson, Temple Sinai’s Associate Rabbi Keren Gorban, and Temple Sinai member Nancy Gale — stressed a theme of continuity. The congregation’s choir echoed the sentiment by singing “L’ Dor Vador,” a piece by musician Josh Nelson whose lyrics include, “L'dor vador, we protect this chain from generation to generation / L'dor vador, these lips will praise Your name.”

Temple Sinai member Ellen Katzen, right, and her grandson Jack Bransome, attend the Nov. 7 program. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Temple Sinai member Ellen Katzen attended the ceremony with her 15-year-old grandson Jack Bransome.

The two often attend Temple Sinai services together, Jack said, adding that he appreciated the opportunity to attend the dedication of a new Torah beside his grandmother.

The program highlighted the “hard work” that the Temple Sinai community and Gibson have contributed for so many years, Jack said. “I have a lot of respect for Rabbi Gibson.”

Fellman also praised his rabbinic predecessor.

“I have profound respect for what Rabbi Gibson has accomplished over the past 32 years,” Fellman said. “It is a privilege for me to continue that dream.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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