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The Zion King Returns Home with Jewtah

08/05/2022 03:36:37 PM

Aug5

Patrick Gibbs, SLUG Magazine

"Jewtah," Photo Courtesy of Third Wing Media and Silver Sound

Growing up in Utah is a slightly different experience for each of us, and we each have our own story. Jeremy Rishe grew up in Utah in the ’80s and ’90s, raised in Mormon-centric culture, as a practicing Jew. Though he moved to New York decades ago, he learned that while you can take the Jew out of the desert, you can’t take the desert out of the Jew. Jewtah, Rishe’s whimsical and satirical comedy loosely inspired by his life experiences, is finally returning to Zion in the Mountain West for a special screening on August 4.

“A lot of people in New York are not from New York,” Rishe says, explaining that fellow actors and writers would frequently inquire about where he grew up. “I’d say ‘Utah,’ and they’d go ‘ Oh, are you Mormon?’ That was always the question. I’d say no, I’m Jewish, they’d be like oh, really? That’s so interesting. What was it like being Jewish in Utah?” Rishe, a graduate of the Actor Training Program at the University of Utah and who had his Bar Mitzvah and confirmation with the Congregation Kol Ami, found that the question always hung over him. 

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Expert repairs Utah synagogue’s sacred scrolls — It’s ‘more than calligraphy. It is Torah magic’

07/22/2022 07:20:04 AM

Jul22

Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune

Rabbi Moshe Druin, a sofer, or Jewish text expert, restores a scroll of the Torah belonging to Congregation Kol Ami using a turkey feather quill at the synagogue in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 18, 2022.

If your Torah scroll has cracked or faded letters, who you gonna call?

A sofer.

This Jewish craftsperson is trained in the art of copying holy texts.

Thus, Rabbi Samuel Spector of Congregation Kol Ami, Utah’s largest synagogue, engaged Rabbi Moshe Druin of North Miami Beach, Fla., to spend this week in the Beehive State, working over 10 sacred scrolls.

On Monday night, Druin, president of Sofer On Site, offered a crowd of about 70 attendees, many of them members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a glimpse of what his exacting work entails.

A Torah scroll is handwritten in Hebrew, using kosher ink, drawn with a feather pen on parchment made from the skin of kosher animals, the ebullient Druin explained, standing behind his work table, telling stories and gesturing excitedly.

Every letter in Judaism’s holy book — which roughly corresponds to the first five books of the Bible and when laid out flat would be the approximate length of a football field — “is counted and calculated,” Druin said. Each letter must be drawn by following strict standards for size, style and layout.

In addition to Torah scrolls, sofers also produce the handwritten texts for tefillin (black leather boxes some Jewish men wear on their heads or arms that contain verses) and mezuza (small parchments with 22 lines from Deuteronomy attached to doors) he said, and the Book of Esther.

A scribe must be able to hold his (nearly all are men) hand steady, sit in a chair for hours at a time, Druin said, and be fluent in the “art, wisdom and knowledge of writing Torah.”

Doing it is a religious act, he said. It is “more than calligraphy. It is Torah magic.”

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What is a Sofer? The Sacred Scroll Restoration Taking Place at This Utah Jewish Synagogue.

07/20/2022 06:59:44 AM

Jul20

Trent Toone, Deseret News

Rabbi Moshe Druin, a sofer from Miami, repairs one of congregation Kol Ami’s Torah scrolls at the Kol Ami synagogue in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 18, 2022.

In Jewish tradition, a Torah scroll is a sacred document containing the five books of Moses that is handwritten in original Hebrew on parchment.

Rolled up in two ornate wooden shafts, the words given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — are read multiple times a week and on holidays and include the 613 commandments that Jews live by.

“Our Torah scrolls are really the most important item in our tradition,” said Rabbi Sam Spector, rabbi of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami.

But every few years the historic scrolls need maintenance and repair.

This week Kol Ami, Utah’s largest Jewish congregation, is hosting a sofer/scribe who specializes in restoring these ancient scrolls, often hundreds of years old.

Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Miami, Florida, has restored ancient Torah scrolls all over the world.

“I’m a conservator. There is extremely few of us. I’m talking about you can count them maybe on two hands,” he said. “It’s a very specialized art, mastering that Hebrew calligraphy on parchment. We use feathers and ink in the same way it’s been done for thousands of years and I’m here for the whole week. I’ll be going over all their Torah scrolls and hopefully restoring a large number of things.”

Rabbi Druin will be working on Kol Ami’s 10 Torah scrolls at its synagogue this week. His last visit to Kol Ami was in 2017, when he remembers fixing two or three scrolls. Members of the congregation and community can sponsor or contribute to the restoration effort by donating to dedicate a letter, word, verse, portion, book or Torah for themselves, family or friends.

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Faith leaders: Abortion conversation has changed, not religious stances

06/26/2022 09:15:08 AM

Jun26

Erin Cox, KSL-TV

Rabbi Spector speaks on Jewish values and abortion

SALT LAKE CITY — Faith leaders were some of the first to respond to the Supreme Court's landmark decision on abortion in 1973, and the conversations have continued in their congregations for the nearly five decades since.

KSL spoke with some of Utah's most influential faith leaders about how their stances have not changed, but the conversations surrounding them have.

At Congregation Kol Ami, Rabbi Sam Spector said they are part of both reform and conservative movements of Judaism, meaning they focus on conserving certain traditions while embracing more modern beliefs.

"There are different Jewish perspectives and a lot of debate within Judaism of when exactly does life begin," Spector said. "The most important commandment is to save a life, which overrides everything else."

In Israel, Spector said panelists decide whether or not someone is allowed to have an abortion — in all situations, prioritizing the life of the mother.

"They have different criteria — quality of life is one of those, rape, incest situation, a mother is the, you know, life of the mother, is the child, is the mother going to be a single mom, will this put financial burden on her where she goes into poverty."

But there is no panel here in Utah. Instead, Rabbi Spector counsels couples one-on-one, even discussing abortion before marriage.

"I talk to them about the importance of getting genetic testing done," Rabbi Spector said. "I talk to couples, too, and say, 'Do you have the same stance?'"

"There are 613 laws in the Torah. Most of those are only for Jewish people, but eight laws that apply to all people are preventing unnecessary suffering on living creatures. And I think you can use that law to make an argument on either side of this debate," Rabbi Spector said.

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How Utah religious leaders view abortion

06/24/2022 10:18:01 AM

Jun24

Max Roth, Fox13

Rabbi Spector speak on abortion

"We're thinking, 'How can we support families who don't have access to sex education, who maybe live in rural communities where they don't have a doctor, can't get reliable information from doctors and health care providers?' It's just a mess."

Rabbi Sam Spector of Congregation Kol Ami expressed similar concerns.

"I'm worried about a situation where people with economic means are able to go to states where they can get abortions, while people, women from lower socio-economic statuses are unable to do so and then resort to illegal and unsafe abortions that put their lives in danger," Spector said.

Spector said he knows there are supporters and opponents of the decision in the pews of his congregation.

"There's a lot of gray in this in this situation, and I think we need to listen to people's stories and to see holiness and goodness in one another," he said.

He added that Judaism in general sees life beginning at birth, in contrast with the view of the Roman Catholic and Latter-day Saints faiths saying it begins at conception.

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Sat, August 13 2022 16 Av 5782