As COVID cases in their state spiked for a second time, Meir and Shawna Waizman wondered what more they could do to protect their friends and neighbors in Orlando, Florida.
Then the couple heard a story about how Rabbi Yisroel Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, reacted to an epidemic in his town: In 1751, a plague swept through Medzhybizh, Ukraine, sickening young and old alike. The townspeople approached the Ba’al Shem Tov, renowned for the miracles he performed, and asked for help. But Rabbi Yisroel told them they would have to help themselves. Quoting a verse from the daily Amidah prayer, “And may the service of Your people Israel, always find favor,” he explained that Jews have the power to nullify harsh decrees through the service of G-d, in this case, devotion to Torah. To unite the town in this cause, he suggested that every person in the community should contribute towards the writing of a new Torah scroll.
Inspired by the story, the Waizmans decided to spearhead a campaign to write a Torah that will be donated to Nate’s Shul at Chabad of North Orlando in Longwood. They provided the initial dedication costs and encouraged their peers to contribute too, making the Torah a communal project. “In times of such distress, we need something to celebrate, and there’s no better way to celebrate than by going back to our roots and embracing our belief that G‑d has a plan for everything and everyone,” Meir says.
Rabbi Yanky and Chanshy Majesky, directors of Chabad of North Orlando, say the campaign has generated energy and joy at a time of worry and restriction: “A new Torah is a sign of a vibrant community, and we were thrilled to celebrate a simcha [joyous occasion] virtually together as a community.”
On Sunday, November 22, around one hundred people tuned in to watch a scribe begin writing the Torah in a ceremony streamed live on Zoom. The Torah is expected to be completed next year. By then, the Waizmans and Majeskys hope they will be able to celebrate with their community in person.