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June 12, 2009

Torah procession to Chabad


An historic event will take place in Downtown Vancouver this month. On Sunday, June 28, the area's first Sefer Torah will be dedicated at the Downtown Holiday Inn and then escorted through the streets of the city to its new home at Downtown Chabad.

The Torah, which will be sheltered under a chuppah (a wedding canopy), will be accompanied on its journey by members of the Vancouver Jewish community and a specially designed Torah truck. The Unity Sefer Torah, as it is called, is being dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, the directors of Chabad Lubavitch in Mumbai, India, who were killed in a terrorist attack. According to Rabbi Binyomin Bitton, director of Chabad Downtown, "Since the Holtzbergs embodied the concept of Klal Ahavat Yisrael, it is only fitting that we are engaging in an act that will benefit the entire Vancouver Jewish community." By dedicating this Torah scroll in their memory, he said, "We are affirming the continuity of Jewish life through all adversity."

Bitton noted that what also makes this Torah special is that many Jews from all walks of life have reached into their pockets and donated whatever amount they could afford. "This is what the Unity Sefer Torah is all about," said the rabbi, "as everyone who donates should feel like they are a part of this and everyone who donates should feel united with all the other Jews who are mirrored in this Torah." He stressed, "This is not just an event for Downtown Chabad, it is an event for the entire Vancouver Jewish community and we encourage everyone to come and join us in our simchah."

The Torah dedication ceremony will feature food and beverages and a children's Torah discovery program. In addition, several people from Chabad of Downtown and the Vancouver Jewish community will be invited to write letters in the Torah. A commemorative video about the Holtzbergs will also be shown and Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, the father of Rivky Holtzberg, will address the crowd by phone from Israel. The ceremony at the Holiday Inn will culminate with the writing of the final letters of the scroll and the raising and covering of the Torah.

The Torah will then make its journey down Howe Street alongside a festive Torah truck, which will feature balloons, flowers, torches, a sound system and will possibly be capped off by a huge Torah crown. Members of the community will escort the Torah, dancing and singing on the sidewalks of Downtown Vancouver. According to Bitton, this chuppah escort will be just like a wedding procession because, "When we dedicate a Torah, it's like a wedding between the children of Israel and the Torah: the Torah is the chatan (groom) and we are like the bride."

When the Torah arrives at Chabad Downtown in the B'nai B'rith Manor, the existing Torah, which is on loan to the synagogue, will be taken out of the aron kodesh (holy ark, which was recently donated by Chabad of Richmond) and brought out to greet the new Torah. Inside Chabad, the festivities will conclude with live music, hakafot (circuits around the Torah) and a dessert buffet on the patio.

The dedication takes place at the Holiday Inn, 1110 Howe St., at 4:30 p.m., and gets taken to Downtown Chabad at 1260 Howe St. For more information or to make a donation towards the writing of the new sefer Torah, contact Chabad of Downtown at 778-688-1273 or visit

David J. Litvak is a freelance writer and publicist living in Vancouver.