Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, begins at sundown on Sunday, and the oldest Jewish congregation in Santa Clara Valley will be celebrating in a special way.
The careful process at Temple Emanu-El of creating a new Torah, which has taken more than a year, is nearing completion, and the scroll will be dedicated when members gather at the Heritage Theater in Campbell on Sunday.
"Rosh Hashanah is all about rebooting our lives and taking an opportunity to re-think about how we should be living and treating others," said Rabbi Dana Magat. "What better way than having a new beginning with a new Torah. It really takes the energy to a new level, and we're all very excited about this moment."
Temple Emanu-El, which means "God is with us" in Hebrew, was founded in 1861. It has been located on University Avenue in San Jose since 1948 and serves about 400 families.
About five years ago Magat, who has been the synagogue's spiritual leader since 1999, began thinking about how to mark the congregation's 150th anniversary.
"We decided the best way to celebrate would be to create a Torah that could last another 150 years," Magat said.
It would be an understatement to say the writing of a Torah, a sacred scroll of scripture, is involved.
Neil Yerman, a well-known sofer -- which is a Hebrew word that translates as "scribe" -- was commissioned and the project began in August 2011. But while Yerman has done the vast majority
Yerman, who traveled to San Jose from his home in New York numerous times, would hold the quill and congregants put their hand over his and guided the writing instrument.
"The most important part of this particular scroll is that they wanted it to be inclusive," said Yerman, who has been involved in Torah restoration and writing for more than 25 years. "It might have been me actually holding the quill, but they were literally writing it. That's important because the soul signature of each person now is part of that scroll."
That fact is not lost on Mark Cahn. He, along with his wife, two children and parents, penned a letter.
"There was an intensity to the experience that was a little bit scary because you didn't want to make a mistake," said Cahn, the head of academics at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. "But it's amazing for all of us to know that somewhere in that Torah is a little piece of us."
More than 400 people took part in the writing, and not just members of Temple Emanu-El. They decided to make it a community project by inviting others to participate, including San Jose Catholic Bishop Patrick J. McGrath.
"We wanted all the major religions represented as well as other members of the community," Magat said. "At a very basic level, the message of the Torah is for everyone. It's not just for Jews. We thought this would be a great way for people to learn more about Judaism and get to know each other better."
Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the birth of the world and humanity, marks the beginning of the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar. They will conclude 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
But the creation of the Torah literally can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yerman said there is no reason why a properly maintain scroll cannot last hundreds of years.
At Temple Emanu-El, Sunday will mark Day One for their new Torah.
"The amount of work that goes into this is unbelievable," Cahn said. "I don't think anyone involved in the process is ever going to forget this."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.