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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Woodland Hills

Temple Celebrates Its 1st New Torah

March 13, 2000|ZANTO PEABODY

Abe Walg on Sunday honored his deceased parents with the most precious gift he could give his synagogue.

He presented the Beit Hamidrash temple of Woodland Hills with its first new Torah. The religious texts contain the Five Books of Moses--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy--in handwritten calligraphy.

In the Orthodox synagogue, about 50 temple members sang Hebrew songs and danced around the 3-foot-long scroll with its hand-carved wooden handles, silver crown and navy blue velvet cover. They kissed the Torah's ornate gold Hebrew lettering each of the seven times rabbis marched it through the aisles.

Then they escorted the $50,000 Torah, made in Israel, from the synagogue on Fallbrook Avenue to the temple's West Valley Hebrew Academy three blocks away. The procession was accompanied by Hebrew tunes played by a keyboard player in the back of a pickup truck.

Walg, whose mother and father both died in the last three months, said his parents' lives were cause for a spiritual celebration.

"When someone dies with a smile on his face, we all stand around and cry because we don't understand what they know. They know they get to go on to heaven and leave this hard world," Walg said. "I wanted everyone to celebrate because my mother and my father and my grandmother died with smiles on their faces."

Rabbis from Beit Hamidrash gave prayers honoring Walg and his family and reasserting their bond with God.

"It's like a wedding ceremony," said Rabbi Zev Don Rauch. "The [ceremony] 'Joy of the Torah' is like a renewing of our vows with our lord."

The celebration also marked the growth of Beit Hamidrash. Walg co-founded the Orthodox synagogue 15 years ago when he moved to Woodland Hills from Holland to start his importing business.

For even the most prominent Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur, he managed to gather only six people to his Oakwood corporate apartment.

Now, with 60 members at the Fallbrook temple and 200 students at its West Valley Hebrew Academy, the congregation has its first new Torah.

"It is rare for a congregation our size to get a new Torah," said Alan Shapiro, president of the synagogue and school. "It just costs too much if you're not one of the wealthier synagogues."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, temple members wrote the final lines of Deuteronomy by hand, fulfilling their commitment to write their own Torah.

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