AT the timeless time of High Holy Days in 2012, Jerry and Sharon Tinianow, who had just moved here from Ohio, came to services with our B’nai Havurah congregation. Some time later, after talking with Rabbi Evette Lutman and joining B’nai Havurah, an amazing Torah with an amazing story came to live with our community.
For Simchat Torah 2013, Jerry Tinianow brought out the Tinianow Torah and told its story. How did this Torah make its way here from Babruysk, Belarus? Therein lies a tale!
This extraordinary Torah’s birth and early life are shrouded in mystery. But, some of its story is revealed as I talk with Jerry. His family lived in Babruysk, Belarus for generations. He knows some of the story, and recently he contacted the oldest member of his family, his 98-year-old Aunt Rose Frank, in Ohio, to learn more. She fondly remembers the family Torah from her childhood.
The Tinianow Torah is around 175 years old. It was written by a sofer (scribe) probably in Babruysk, to honor a well-respected family in the community. It remained in synagogues there, and then moved with the family by boat, probably in a suitcase, to Lima, Ohio, in the early 20th century.
Someone had moved from Russia to Ohio earlier, and then more relatives journeyed to The Golden Land — America. The ultra-restrictive Russian bans were not in place yet when they came, so the family carried their treasured Torah with them. They knew its importance as part of their family legacy.
It was placed and used in a modern Orthodox synagogue in Lima for almost 50 years.
From Lima, the Torah scroll moved with the family to Cleveland and then to Columbus, Ohio, living in synagogue arks and used by B’nai Mitzvah celebrants in Jerry’s family, and also by members of the synagogues.
From Babruysk to Ohio, it was leined (read) from at the Bar Mitzvah of Jerry’s grandfather, father, and then himself. In this generation, Jerry’s two sons leined from their Torah for their respective Bar Mitzvahs.
In the early 2000’s, Jerry’s father in Columbus, Ohio, had the Torah repaired, a process that took two years. This was only the most recent of a number of repairs done over the Torah’s long life.
The sofer (scribe) said that this would probably be the last time it could be repaired. After repair was complete, the family purchased a yad (pointer) for reading from the Torah. They do not know if it originally had one.
This treasured Torah was passed down le-dor ve-dor, from generation to generation to the one who would most honor it. Jerry was the oldest Tinianow son of his generation, and the only sibling living in Ohio, so he knew he would be the next to receive the Tinianow Torah.
A few years after his father’s passing, Jerry moved to Denver with his wife Sharon in 2012, but the Torah did not come with them right away.
THERE is more to the story. When the Tinianows moved here from Columbus, Ohio, in 2012, there was still one Bar Mitzvah boy who had studied from the Tinianow Torah and wished to lein from it for his ceremony, so they left it with their chavurah there. Jerry and Sharon returned to Ohio later to retrieve it. “How did you ever get it safely to Denver?” I asked.
“UPS took extra special care,” he answered, with a laugh. “They have actually shipped many religious objects over the years.”
Once in Denver, Jerry and Sharon went “shul-shopping” and found a home with B’nai Havurah. They have now lent us the Tinianow Torah to live in our ark. It is still kosher, although fragile. The Tinianow Torah can still be leined from, especially for B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies.
Having B’nai Mitzvah celebrants read from it connects Jerry’s story to future generations. It is compact and light for carrying, and it carries generations of his family’s history.
“It is the oldest living member of my family,” he says.
Jerry has taken time to study this Torah over the years, and has found some interesting anomalies. It appears, by looking closely at the Hebrew letters in the Torah, that perhaps it was written by multiple scribes. The letters earlier in the scroll are different from later ones. Some letters are more ornately penned.
Jerry, Sharon, and their two sons have taken to referring to the Torah as feminine, which is traditional. Although it has a beautiful, very old red velvet cover, the Torah did not have a white cover for the High Holy Days, so Sharon handmade a lovely modern white cover.
This Torah has held mysteries. Through the efforts of Ed Towbin, Eli Reshotko and myself, we know the handwritten inscription on each of the “etz chaim” (Torah rollers): “In memory of Sarah Hinde bat Yosef ha-Levi Tinianow, 12 Tevet 1953” and “In memory of Natan ben Shraga Feivish, 3 Cheshvan 1937.”
What will happen to the Torah in a few years, once it becomes too fragile to read from? Which of Jerry’s six children and his two brothers will receive and cherish the Tinianow Torah?
For now, the Torah is in our ark at B’nai Havurah with two other Torahs, one of which is a Holocaust Torah.
Every Torah has a story: of which scribe wrote it, the occasion for which it was written, possibly its journey across years and miles, and what has happened to it along the way.
But the Tinianow Torah has a special personal place in the Tinianow family, and now has a special place in the B’nai Havurah community.
May we all be blessed by this Torah and the sacred words inscribed in it.
Cherie Karo Schwartz is a Denver-based storyteller, author and teacher.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News