Temple's Torah helps families spiritually connect

When Kurt Lorig helped add the Hebrew letter "Lamed" to the Torah, it was just one of 304,805 letters written by hand into a copy of the holy book being completed at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach.

But for him, those few strokes of the pen brought back memories of Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass. It was a prelude to the pain Lorig endured during the Holocaust.

"They took us as the devils of the world," said Lorig, 83, recalling Kristallnacht, the 1938 Nazi program against Jewish homes and businesses. "They made it propaganda and blamed us for everything."

At the time, Lorig, was a 10-year-old Jewish boy growing up in Germany.

"The temples were destroyed," Lorig continued, "and they took our holy scriptures, our Torahs, and they threw them in the street and danced on them."

During Kristallnacht, which unfolded on the nights of Nov. 9 and 10, tens of thousands of Jews were detained and sent to concentration camps.

Lorig and members of his family were taken to Auschwitz, where, he said, he was the only one to make it out alive after three years of internment.

When the Newport Beach synagogue finally completed its Torah in a special ceremony on Sunday night, it brought Lorig a small measure of peace.

Lorig, his wife Phyllis, 75, and other relatives were among 500 families involved in the year-long process of writing the synagogue's copy of the Torah by hand. It was October 2009 that the Lorigs added "Lamed," or the 12th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, to the holy book.

Rabbi Mark Miller, the temple's senior rabbi whose own history includes more than 30 years of service to Temple Bat Yahm and Orange County Jewish families, formulated the plan about three years ago when plans to build a new temple were underway.

Rather than buying or seeking a donation for a completed Torah, which by tradition is hand-written in Israel by specially trained scribes, Miller said he wanted something more intimately connected with the congregation.

While the bulk of the 304,805 letters were still inked out in Israel, a section from the first and last pages of each of the five books of Moses that comprise the Torah was penned by the individual families of the congregation with assistance from a trained rabbi.

"I wanted our children to understand that a Torah doesn't just appear in the Holy Ark," Miller said. "It is a painstaking labor of love … this is the end result of a sacred process. Our children have learned this and it has increased their connection and respect for the Holy Scriptures."

Patty Seyburn, husband Eric Little, and their two children Sydney, 9, and William, 7, had the honor of assisting in the penning of the first letter of Torah by winning a raffle, Seyburn said.

"It made such an impression on them to be a part of this legacy," she said of her children holding the quill as the rabbi inked the first letter of "Bereshit," or "In the Beginning," onto the parchment. "The scripture really came alive to them and the fact that they're part of this congregation."

The Torah will be officially dedicated on the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah, which Temple Bat Yahm will observe Oct. 1. The day marks when the yearly reading of the Torah is completed and begun anew, Miller said.

The book will be kept in the new chapel, which opens for its first service on Friday. Miller said that the chapel was designed to be a more intimate space than the larger Temple Bat Yahm synagogue and will aid in families not only feeling now more physically connected to the Torah s and Jewish history, but spiritually connected as well.

For Lorig, it represents a history being passed on and his hope for the future generations of Jewish families.

"There is so much history written into the Torah, so many phases of life and how the Jews survived," Lorig said. "It was wonderful to experience and participate in [writing the Torah]."

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