A Visit with OUR Scribe
By Daniel Kirwin
I have just returned from a weeklong trip to Israel a wonderful visit that was my first in almost 25 years. I enjoyed many things about my trip but by far the most memorable part of my holiday was my visit to Sofer (“Scribe”) Jamie Shear’s studio and watching him creating the UJC’s new Sefer Torah.
As you know, the UJC is celebrating our 20th anniversary with a “Year of Torah” learning and programming and the commissioning of a new Torah. As the co-chair of the 20th Anniversary Committee, I have been privileged to take part in all of the planning that has gone into this momentous project. But even though I thought that I had learned everything there is to know about the commissioning and writing of Torahs... nothing prepared me for the experience of actually seeing OUR Torah being written.
The day of my meeting with Jamie was a beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon in Jerusalem. His studio is in the old Diplomat Hotel, which has been converted into an complex of artists’ studios, an arts & crafts museum as well as interesting diamond "museum" (for the requisite Russian tour groups). Jamie’s studio is at the end of a quiet hallway in a room overlooking the hills of Jerusalem and feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem (not to mention the hustle and bustle of Hong Kongl).
The studio’s tranquility helps to keep Jamie focused. This focus is critical – in order to complete OUR Torah in time for us to use it this coming High Holidays, Jamie has to write approximately 320 words every working day or 6,250 words a month. In total the Torah has 79,847 words which just as importantly also need to be properly spaced. Interestingly, the world "sofer" does not mean one who writes, but rather one who counts! Jamie does all this while staying mindful of the “kavanah” (the holy spirit) of what he is doing.
When Sofer Jamie was selected as the UJC’s scribe he agreed to work exclusively on our Sefer Torah for the duration of the commission – 14 months (over 300 working days!). Take a moment to consider the enormity of this -- while we have been busy taking part in our yearlong celebration of the founding of the UJC with visiting Rabbis, special programs, receptions and dinners, fundraising and "get out-the-word campaigns" -- OUR scribe Jamie has been dutifully writing OUR Torah day-in and day-out.
The accompanying photos should help give you a sense of our Torah being “born”. These snapshots of course can’t really convey the power of the experience - Jamie’s dedication and sense of spirituality in creating this most sacred of objects is overwhelming. Jamie let me help scribe a few words using a feather quill and organic ink --the same methods that have been used to create Torahs for thousands of years. It was so much harder than I would have thought- requiring not only tremendous coordination but also utter patience. I was nervous just watching him work!
My time with Jamie went quickly, but I left with a deep feeling of respect and admiration. It was utterly moving. lt was also comforting to know that OUR Torah was in such good hands. In a few short months, this extraordinary object will come “home” to the UJC and our congregation will have helped to affirm the life of the Jewish people by bringing a new Torah into the world.
I was very lucky to be able to see Sofer Jamie in Israel but I am thrilled that ALL of us will be able to participate in the writing of OUR Torah. In just one short week, Jamie will be making his 2nd visit to Hong Kong. Although his studio here (the UJC Auditorium) does not have a breathtaking view of the hills of Jerusalem (or anything, really), I know that the atmosphere will be no less inspiring. I encourage all of you to sign up for one of the scribing sessions and experience first hand the Mitzvah of writing a Torah. Trust me -- it is an experience you will remember and treasure all your days.
Daniel Kirwin is Vice President of The United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong And co-chair of UJC’s A Year of Torah writing project.