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Kansas congregation donates Torah to Sandy-flooded LI synagogue

Congregation Kehilath Israel of Kansas City, Kansas donated

Congregation Kehilath Israel of Kansas City, Kansas donated a Torah scroll to Congregation Ahavas Yisroel of Woodmere to replace a scroll that was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. (Dec. 4, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

For the members of Sandy-flooded Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Cedarhurst, salvation came from above -- via Kansas.

The members of the small synagogue all made it through superstorm Sandy, but the same couldn't be said of the synagogue's next most-precious resource: its four sacred Torah scrolls, which had been under 4 feet of water, rendering them unusable.

So a synagogue in suburban Kansas City, Kan., which had 20 Torah scrolls of its own, decided to help by donating one to the Cedarhurst synagogue.

"Faith congregations shouldn't just keep jewelry in the jewel box," said Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Kehilath Israel in Kansas City. "It should be used to further Jewish life."

The scroll, which was written in the 1920s or '30s, was flown to New York this week, where Yanklowitz presented it in a small ceremony Tuesday night.

"I keep saying it's the silver lining in this disaster," said the Cedarhurst synagogue's rabbi, Yissachar Blinder. "We're getting our own Torah and it's very meaningful."

Jeff Leb, New York political director for the Orthodox Union, made the match between the two synagogues.

The dedication ceremony marked a return to near-normal for the 2-year-old storefront synagogue with about 100 members -- far from the morning after Sandy, when members arrived to pray, only to find tables overturned, ruined prayerbooks, waterlogged walls and the soaked scrolls.

"The holiest item, physical object, in Judaism is the Torah scroll," Blinder said, calling the discovery "disheartening."

The insurance policy that the synagogue had taken out on its Torah scrolls, each lent to the synagogue and worth tens of thousands of dollars, covered fires, but not floods. The scrolls themselves were stored in a safe that was strong enough to hold up to fire, but not water, he said.

"No one thought that we'd have that much water in the synagogue," Blinder said. "You figure if they're in a safe, they're safe."

Yitz Mendlowitz, president of the synagogue, said the synagogue looked ransacked the day after the storm.

But, he said, "the adrenaline kicks in. We knew whatever was destroyed, we could recover from."

The gift from Kansas City, Mendlowitz said, was part of that recovery.

"It makes us feel that we're not alone in this," he said. "That people are thinking of us and remember our pain. Someone in Kansas."

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