Cabarrus

Rare opportunity to get close look at ancient Torah

It's called the "Torah Restorer Hora Galore-a," and the evening will offer as much as the name promises.

Temple Or Olam, which serves Cabarrus County and the University area, will host an evening of dancing July 31. Those who attend will have the rare opportunity to view the Jewish congregation's Torah scroll close up and hear the stories behind it.

"I'm going to be rolling and unrolling it and pointing to the sections," said Barbara Thiede, a rabbinical student and spiritual leader of Temple Or Olam. "They will get a close look at a century-old Torah. I would say that's very uncommon."

Thiede said it's not unusual to pair dancing with the Torah. Traditionally, congregations read through the Torah each calendar year; when they are finished, they celebrate with dancing.

"There's a very long history of acknowledging your joy in receiving that gift through dance," Thiede said.

The Torah is a handwritten collection of the writings that, in the Christian Bible, are the first books of the Old Testament, in scroll form. It is a congregation's most sacred ritual object, Thiede said.

The Torah is used in worship, as leaders chant and read portions of it. Reading the Torah, which is in Hebrew, can be difficult, because the language has no vowels, and readers must interpret the musical notations while reading.

Or Olam acquired its Torah from Temple Emanu-El in Weldon. That congregation bought the Torah after World War II. When it disbanded in 2004, the Weldon congregation gave it to the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina.

The foundation then gave it to Temple Or Olam on permanent loan.

The Torah was in bad condition. Or Olam spent a year raising thousands of dollars to send it to New York for restoration.

Thiede said this Torah appears to have been written by four master scribes (most Torahs are written by a single person). One theory, she said, is that it was pieced together from partial scrolls that survived the Holocaust.

On July 31, Thiede will tell the stories of this Torah, including how the late comedian Jackie Gleason once worked as a hired cantor and chanted from it.

She will point out details common to all Torahs: how some letters are bigger than others, where to find the Ten Commandments and why some sections look different from others.

All are invited to ask questions. Thiede said the Torah session is a good opportunity for people of all faiths to learn more about it.

"I don't think that most people have ever gotten to see this kind of thing," she said. "Even in a ... Jewish service, they wouldn't be right up there looking at the Torah."

The eclectic mix of dancing will reflect the congregation's multiethnic makeup, Thiede said. Participants can learn Israeli dances as well as salsa and swing.

The family event is open to everyone. For tickets call 704-720-7577. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, $6 for seniors and $25 per family.

"Torah Restorer Hora Galore-a" will begin at 7 p.m. at McGill Baptist Church, 5300 Poplar Tent Road, Concord. Details: www.or-olam.org.

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