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This past Sunday and Monday, the middle Mohawk and Seneca campers, as well as a handful of oldest Mohawk and Seneca campers, were given the opportunity of a lifetime when they participated in the CSL Hiddur Mitzvah titled “Bread and Torah.” Hiddur Mitzvah means to make beauty out of a commandment, a mitzvah. Specifically, the mitzvot these campers partook in dealt with the baking of Challah as well as the creation of a Torah. Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein and Rabbi Linda Motzkin, a husband and wife team, lead this workshop. They are both rabbis at Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs, New York, and in addition to serving as congregational rabbis, Rabbi Jonathan works as a baker and Rabbi Linda works as a soferet, a female Torah scribe. Both Rabbi Jonathan and Rabbi Linda lead their own workshops over the course of these two days, giving all of the campers an introduction to their crafts.

Beginning on Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Linda showed the campers the step by step process of how a raw hide skin becomes a piece of parchment suitable for Torah. The campers all helped her to stretch out the hide as well as dry it out, and the following morning, Rabbi Linda sanded down the hide and cut it out to produce the parchment. Following that segment of the workshop on Sunday afternoon, half of the campers headed to the Dining Hall to learn how to bake Challah with Rabbi Jonathan while the others stayed with Rabbi Linda. Not only did they learn how to bake, but the campers performed all ten mitzvot required to bake Challah as Rabbi Jonathan explained them to the campers. Finally, he taught all of them a proper six-stranded braid for their finished products which all came out better than anyone could have imagined.

While the bread baking was happening, Rabbi Linda taught the other half of the group her process for making a Torah. Typically, a full time scribe can complete a Torah in roughly eighteen months, but Rabbi Linda is only working on hers as a side hobby, so it is going to take her closer to eighteen years. Because of this, she has turned her Torah writing into a community project where volunteers help with every step of the process, including the final proofreading. Everyone who participated in the workshop proofread at least one line of Rabbi Linda’s Torah, checking for any spelling errors or omitted letters. Being apart of the creation of a Torah is a mitzvah that so few people ever get the opportunity to be a part of, but all of the campers who participated in Hiddur Mitzvah can say that they were a part of this. Finally, Rabbi Linda spoke about the struggle it was for her to become a scribe. She is one of only thirteen female Torah scribes in history! All thirteen are currently living, but every one of them, including Rabbi Linda, has struggled to write Torah in a trade dominated by men. Her struggles ranged from anywhere between finding a teacher to purchasing materials, but nonetheless, she persevered and is now well over halfway done with writing her Torah. In that context alone, what the campers were able partake in this past weekend is beyond special. Each camper was able to learn about and participate in Rabbi Jonathan and Rabbi Linda’s mitzvot.

On Monday morning, the Bread and Torah workshop culminated with a final hands on activity. Rabbi Linda instructed all of the campers how to write Hebrew calligraphy, scribe style. The medium on which they wrote their calligraphy was the parchment that they helped to create the day before. Each camper was able to take home their own small square of parchment with a Hebrew word or phrase that they wrote on it.

As a whole, the Bread and Torah Hiddur Mitzvah program was a great success. Each camper walked away with memories and physical products of hands on activities where they engaged in mitzvot and furthered their connections with their Judaism. Regarding the program as a whole, the activities these campers participated in become even more meaningful as it is written in The Pirkei Avot (The Advice of Our Fathers), “If there is no bread, there is no Torah, and if there is no Torah, there is no bread.”

L’hitraot,

Josh Hurwitz

 

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