New CRC Torah cover represents pluralism, rabbi says


After nearly two years of conceptualizing and planning, Central Reform Congregation introduced a new Sephardic Torah case to the community. Unveiled at Selichot and debuted during the High Holiday services, the weighty case proved to be a “real work out” for member Dave Sentnor, who marched it through the congregation during the Rosh Hashanah family service.

“Having a beautiful case like this was a dream for me,” said a beaming Rabbi Susan Talve of CRC, “and now it’s here.”

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Rabbi Talve described how the case came to be a part of the synagogue as “an organic process.” The Torah case was donated by recently wed congregation members who asked to remain anonymous. The donors, members of the congregation for more than two decades, wanted to give back to the community and share their joy, so they approached Rabbi Talve and asked if there was anything the synagogue would like to have. As it turns out, there was a very special something on the temple’s wish list — a Sephardic Torah case, also known as a tik. Rabbi Talve’s family roots are Sephardic and she wanted to weave that side of Judaism into the fabric of the community. The synagogue’s Soul of the Building Committee reviewed and approved the donation proposal.

The donors were excited but found the task of fulfilling such a wish daunting.

“I didn’t know a thing about Torah cases,” one donor admitted. To their knowledge, they could find no other Sephardic-style cases in the St. Louis area, or just about anywhere else they looked. Trips to New York proved fruitless, and it became evident that due to lack of availability they would not be able to find an antique case as was their original plan. Antique cases are primarily made of silver, though some are made of wood. They also tend to run smaller than contemporary cases. The case completely encloses the Torah, which made carrying the Torah in ancient times when on the run safer. The tik style originated in Iraq as a way for small temples to recreate an Ark-like setting for their Torah.

Enlisting the help of several other congregation members, they went online to conduct exhaustive searches, which went on for weeks and occurred during an emotionally trying time for many members of the congregation in late 2006 as Rabbi Talve’s daughter underwent a heart transplant. As friends and family gathered at the hospital for support, they would look online for tiks together as a diversion.

Also around this time, Rabbi Randy Fleisher’s family was displaced due to a storm power outage, resulting in him and his family staying with congregation members for several days.

“It was such a blessing to have the Fleisher’s stay with us,” said the member, also a participant in the tik search. “Every night we would put the children to bed, then huddle around the computer and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over all the beautiful Torah cases, trying to decide which one would be the right fit for our congregation.”

Finally, like puzzle pieces fitting together and reflecting the spirit of the community, they found the right tik. It was custom made for them in Jerusalem, to the exact specifications of the Torah. The tik is made of hand carved maple, mahogany and cherry wood, has a silver latch, and is ringed with turquoise stars. The hard case is stood upright when opened as opposed to the more familiar horizontal position of an Ashkenazic Torah cover. Rabbi Fleisher said that “the tik is awe-inspiring and breathtaking. People are taken aback when they view it for the first time.”

Miriam Raskin, a member of the congregation for 21 years and a key player in facilitating the tik project, said, “I’ve never seen a Torah read that way,” referring to the vertical presentation of the Torah that puts the words at the reader’s eye level.

According to one source, “The rabbi who transfers the Torah by sewing it must be a certified sofer and use a ‘giddim’, which is a special thread made from the sinew of a kosher animal. The man who sold us the tik was worried that we would not have a ‘qualified’ rabbi here in the Midwest.” He needn’t have worried — an Orthodox rabbi in the area was able to perform the ritual.

The inscription in the case is engraved in silver and reads “Chadesh yameinu kikedem”…which translates, “Renew our days as of old.” When asked what the tik symbolized, Rabbi Talve offered this interpretation: “The tik represents pluralism and diversity — Jews all over the world may sing different melodies or wear different clothes or possess different customs, but inside their hearts are the same — the heart for all is Torah.”