It was a sight that turned more than a few heads in the Bloomingdale area.
On Sunday, a group of rabbis danced through the streets, taking turns carrying a newly completed Torah in a celebratory parade that ended at at 3005 Waylon Ln., Valrico, the home of the new Torah.
The ceremony was the culmination of a 18-month campaign to raise funds for and then commission the new Chabad of Brandon Torah.
Formed in 2004, Chabad of Brandon had been using a loaned Torah for its Saturday services. However, 18 months ago, members began raising the $35,000 for a Torah of their own, explained Chabad of Brandon member Raymond Pinto, who was instrumental is helping to get donations for the new Torah.
With the funding in hand, scribes armed with only quill pens and a specially mixed natural ink spent a year re-creating the more than 300,000 handwritten characters that make up Chabad of Brandon's new Torah scroll.
On Sunday, scribe Rabbi Yochanan Klein put the finishing touches on the scroll, adding the Hebrew names of Chabad of Brandon members as members looked on. It is customary to leave the new Sefer Torah incomplete to afford people the honor of adding a letter to the Torah.
"By doing this, it is as if they participated in the writing of the whole Sefer Torah, for without their letter, the entire Sefer is incomplete," explained Chabad of Brandon leader Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin.
Klein explained to spectators that the ink used in the Torah is made from a gum arabic, a natural gum taken from the acacia tree, and that he must redip the pen once every two letters.
"The Torah scroll is one of the Jewish people's most sacred objects," said Rubashkin. "The average process takes over a year to produce the beautiful workmanship of a Torah scroll. When a scroll is completed, it calls for great celebration by the city greeting it to its new home, the Holy Ark of the Synagogue."
The Chabad of Brandon members dedicated the new Torah, which includes the five books of Moses on 54 pieces of parchment, to a young rabbinical student, Nosson Deitsch, 21, who was killed in a jet ski accident while visiting Chabad of Brandon to assist in the Jewish Lag B'omer celebration.
In the Jewish faith, it's traditional to bring something good from tragedy, said Rubashkin.
“Even though Nosson was only here for a few days, he made a strong impact on our community," said Rubashkin. "We were looking for a fitting memorial and so, at an event in his honor 30 days after his passing, we launched the campaign to raise the funds needed to write a Torah in his memory.
On hand for the completion ceremony were members of Deitsch's family including his brother, Rabbi Sruly Deitsch, who had the honor of having his Hebrew name as the last added to the scroll.
The Torah was then enfolded in a mantle bearing Dietsch's name and paraded under a chupah, or bridal canopy, from the rabbi's home to the synagogue on Waylon Lane.
"The Torah, under the chupah, is the bride, and we, the Jewish people, are the bridegroom, the mate of the Torah," said Rubashkin.
At the synagogue, the celebration continued with a Seudat Mitzvah consisting of a fine meal and L'chaim, or toasts.
"It's tradition to read from the Torah on Saturday mornings, and when Nosson was here, he read from our Torah. We felt purchasing a Torah in his memory was a befitting way to keep the lessons learned from Nosson alive," said Rubashkin. "Each week as we read from the Torah, we will be reminded how Nosson was a living example of a young adult who identified with the Torah and lived his life according to its teachings with great joy."
The event attracted more than 100 people, including Chabad rabbis from around the country.
"This is a big event," said Sheila Fishman of FishHawk Ranch, who was on hand with her husband, Erol. "Any time we receive a Torah, it provides to God, our history and our people."
"This represents the spread of Judaism here in Brandon," said Jonathan Benjamin of Bloomingdale, who has been a member of Chabad of Brandon for about a year. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's a huge blessing to be part of it."
"This event is a moment in time, bringing spirituality to the physical world," said Rubaskin's mother, Bella. "It's just so beautiful that our son has had the opportunity to bring this tradition to this community."
Rubashkin noted that the Torah is never complete if a single letter is cracked or damaged. "No single letter stands along," he said. "It's like, if one sheep is lost, the entire herd must wait. Just as no Jew is complete without his fellow Jew."
For more information, call 813-657-9393 or visit chabadbrandon.org.