The Case of the Deficient Torah…

The Case of the Deficient Torah
as told by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
*aka CJE SeniorLife’s own Chaplain, Rabbi Michael J. Schorin

“You know, Dr. Watson,” said the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, “this case of the deficient Torah is one of the most difficult I have ever had to solve.”
Watson replied, “I find that hard to believe, Holmes, after all of the cases we’ve been through together. Suppose I stoke the fire a bit, you light your pipe, and pray tell me about this most enigmatic case of yours.”
Holmes began his telling: “Well, it all started a few years ago—2007 if memory serves. I was across “the pond” on a
highly secret case for Her Royal Highness. I was summoned to Chicago and while I was there, I was contacted by the Department of Religious Life at CJE SeniorLife (actually, back then it was called the Council for Jewish Elderly, but that is another story entirely). Well, what they found out is that all four of their Torah scrolls were deficient. Allow me to explain, Watson, I see the question ready to burst out of you.
“You see, Watson, the Jewish religion believes the Torah is sacred. If one of the letters of the good-size scroll is
erased, or unable to be read, that Torah scroll is no longer…”kosher” is the word I think they used. But what was most extraordinary about this case is that all four of their Torah scrolls were checked by a scribe and found to be deficient. For all four to be deficient at the same time, well, that is a most unfortunate thing, because their worship is dependent on the regular reading of the scroll. What Susan Buchbinder, the Director of the Department of Religious Life, explained to me was that their Torah scrolls had come from other nursing homes that had closed, and they were probably old and worn, to begin.”
“Why do they need four, Holmes? Wouldn’t one be enough?” asked Watson.
“That is a fine question you ask, but the answer is elementary, Watson. They have two facilities—a skilled nursing facility called Lieberman Center and an assisted living facility called Gidwitz Place. Throughout their Sabbaths and holidays, they have occasion to read from two different sections of the Torah on the same day. Thus, the practice in synagogues is to have a minimum of two Torah scrolls present.
“Since these are costly to repair and even more costly to purchase new, Ms. Buchbinder and CJE’s new rabbi, Michael Schorin, debated how to proceed. Their resources were few and it was hardly the time to request money like this for a capital expense. One of the local synagogues was able to give them a long-term loan of a Torah. (Beth Hillel Congregation B’nai Emunah was the synagogue, a Rabbi Kensky, I believe was their rabbi.)
“You know, Watson, this story is taking a while to tell. Why don’t you pour yourself, and me, some sherry?”
“Capital idea, Holmes,” agreed Watson.
“Where was I?” Holmes continued. “Oh, yes. This is where the case gets exciting. Rabbi Schorin reached out to Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, whose synagogue, Northwest Suburban Jewish Congregation (NSJC), was about to close. It had been successful for many years, but times, and the neighborhood, had changed, members moved away, etc. Rabbi Cohen started looking into the proposal.
“But it turned out that all of NSJC’s scrolls had already been spoken for, so one of the Northwest Suburban Mens’ Club’s volunteers, Cy Jablo, suggested to the Board that NSJC give CJE cash. So, CJE used the gift to repair their Torah scrolls that could be fixed easily and saved the rest for a “rainy day.”
“Well, before Rabbi Schorin had come to CJE, he had worked for Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which is next door to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).”
“Holmes, exactly how long did you live over there? If I didn’t know better, I would think you were a life-long Cubs fan,
as well!” chided Watson.
The Case of the Deficient Torah
as told by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
“I’m sorry, Watson, but the world is not yet ready to hear about the other case that kept me in Chicago, so let me
proceed, OK?” asked Holmes.
“So, Rabbi Schorin became friendly with the Chaplain at the RIC, a Lutheran minister named David Kyllo. The reverend eventually left RIC and came to work at a parish in Deerfield. But Rabbi Schorin recruited him to lead the occasional Christian services at Lieberman—for Christmas, Easter and such.
“Well, one day, Reverend Kyllo and his wife, Nan Espenshade, called up the rabbi and said they would like to donate
some money to CJE SeniorLife. The rabbi told me he was ready to “plotz” when he heard this.
“Holmes, I need to warn you, you’re beginning to sound here like a religious man—something I’ve never known you
to be,” said Watson. “Never fear, Watson,” said Holmes, “I haven’t changed. But I have always told you that if you
eliminate the possible, whatever remains, no matter how impossible, must be the truth.
“Anyways, Watson, the case took a turn with the passing of Sherri Bilinsky. Ms. Bilinsky was a talented art therapist and mediator, who died a few years back at the very young age of 52. And she asked Nan Espenshade, Reverend Kyllo’s wife, to be one of the executors of her estate. Since Sherri was Jewish, Nan and David thought it would be highly fitting for the money to go to CJE SeniorLife. They gave half of her estate to the Department of Religious Life and half to Creative Arts Therapy.
“Watson, I tell you, the gratitude was enormous. Mark Weiner, CJE’s President said, ‘The generosity of Sherri Bilinsky, and our other donors, is truly remarkable. They have provided funds for an unbelievably important purpose.’
“Well, Rabbi Schorin and Ms. Buchbinder contacted a local scribe, Rabbi Yochanan Nathan. They discussed the matter of repair versus new purchase, and the scribe encouraged them to buy a new Torah for several reasons. His quote is helpful here: ‘I suggested a new scroll because I knew members of CJE’s community were older, and many might have some difficulty with lifting, and new Torahs are lighter than old ones. Another reason—a new Torah wouldn’t require any repairs for a long time.’
“Later on, the scribe contacted the Department of Religious Life and told them there was a brand-new Torah available for purchase. Another scribe in Israel had received a commission for it, but when it was ready, the party could no longer afford to pay for it. The only problem was that Ms. Buchbinder and the rabbi didn’t yet have all of the money they needed. They spoke with Allyson Marks-Greenfield, CJE’s Development Director, and she got to work. She was able to recruit some more funding from the Pearlstein Foundation, the Fineberg-Kraff Fund and the Rabbi’s Fund. But Yochanan Nathan, the scribe, called them back and said he couldn’t wait too long, or the Torah would be promised to someone else. Almost like a Biblical miracle, the leadership of CJE came together to back the acquisition of the new Torah.
“The new Torah was delivered in January of 2012 with Rabbi Nathan completing the last few verses, as is customary. Rabbi Schorin said, ‘In all of my 25 years in the rabbinate, I had never had the privilege of being in the presence of a brand-new Torah. The lettering was beautiful and the parchment so clean and white. I found the experience very moving.’ The scroll was dedicated at Gidwitz Place in February and will be formally dedicated before the CJE Board Meeting at 3:30 p.m. on June 12 at Lieberman Center.

“Holmes, that is indeed a fascinating story, but there is one thing I’m unclear about,” puzzled Watson.
“What’s that, my good doctor?”
“When the Torah’s last few verses were completed, why didn’t Rabbi Schorin write them in instead of the scribe?”
asked Watson.
 “Once again, Watson, the answer is elementary. Have you ever seen Rabbi Schorin’s handwriting? If he had written
the last few words, we would have another story of a deficient Torah!”
*aka CJE SeniorLife’s own Chaplain, Rabbi Michael J. Schorin
CJE SeniorLife is a partner in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. 6.2012