During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rabbi Shimon Stillerman wanted to give the Islip community something to look forward to.
“We’re usually a community that has a lot of engagement, where people are meant to be together and celebrate together in in-person events and seeing each other, gaining strength from one another,” Stillerman said. “Suddenly, people were very isolated and alone.”
“And in general, we were facing a situation where people didn’t have much to look forward to; only a lot of fear and anxiety.”
To help people, Stillerman came up with the idea of having a Torah written for the community to help bring them together.
“It’s not just one person writing a Torah, but rather the community writing a new Torah,” Stillerman said. “So, where we were separated from each other, now, with the writing of it, the community was going to be united.”
A Torah, the central and most important document of Judaism, is handwritten by an expert scribe on real parchment using a quill and ink. They take approximately a year to finish and about $60,000 needs to be raised for the funding.
To set a base donation, Stillerman turned to a couple he knew from the community, Dr. Jay and Rhoda Miller.
“When we were approached to dedicate the Torah, we had a lot of questions, but we really felt that we wanted to leave a legacy to the Islip community,” said Rhoda Miller.
Sadly, a few days after making their first installment for the new Torah, Jay Miller died. The community Torah is now being dedicated in memory of him.
“I’m very honored that the rabbi has gone to the extent that he has done to make it very public that it’s in his memory,” Rhoda Miller said. “It’s his [Jay’s] legacy to the community that he lived and practiced in for 46 years.”
Something that Stillerman really wanted to emphasize with the creation of this Torah was that it be for the community and for as many people to donate whatever it is they may have.
“The interesting thing about a Torah is, it’s made up of a few hundred thousand letters,” Stillerman said. “And if even one letter is missing, it isn’t kosher. So, the idea is that we want every Jew to be involved in this Torah as much as possible, showing the significance of each letter. Every person counts. So that’s why when it comes to making a dedication, there’s different options. You can dedicate a letter or a verse, a few words, or a whole section.”
On Aug. 15, there will be a celebration for the finishing of the new Torah, where the scribe will come down to write the last few words or verses.
There will be a procession down Main Street in Islip with the Torah, with music and celebrating.
“People are really excited about it because it’s something that our town has never really seen,” Stillerman added.
For more information on the new Islip community Torah, please visit isliptorah.com.