PEABODY – Chabad of Peabody is commissioning a Torah scroll to celebrate its lucky chai 18th birthday year, what the rabbi and his wife have called the “Year of Love.”
However, Torah scrolls don’t come cheap, so they are inviting the community to be a part of its commissioning, which would fulfill a mitzvah in the process.
“The 613th Commandment of the Torah is to write a Torah,” said Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman, Chabad’s spiritual leader, “but it’s a very expensive commandment to observe. So, one of the ways you can observe it symbolically, and actually, is to own a letter of the Torah.”
Donors can sponsor a letter, word, or verse in the new Torah.
The commissioning of the scroll is part of a yearlong celebration that includes a number of initiatives, including a mezuzah campaign, Shabbat activities, and a social distancing drive-in Hanukkah movie and menorah lighting at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 in the parking lot of the Northshore Mall.
The “MezuzahItForward” campaign has the goal of installing 180 kosher mezuzahs – each containing a scroll made of parchment – in homes across the North Shore. These usually cost $45, but the program has been underwritten, lowering the cost to $18. (You can learn more about these and other programs at jewishpeabody.com.)
Raizel Schusterman, the rabbi’s wife, codirector of Chabad and director of its Hebrew school, said they are also planning a program after Hanukkah called “Shabbat Across Peabody,” which includes supplying the materials for Shabbat observance, and a class explaining how it’s done. The program is not just focused on families, but singles and empty-nesters as well.
“And you get to have some of Raizel’s magical cooking for free if you want,” Schusterman said. “It’s like all the programs, we are calling it ‘Year of Love pricing,’ everything is free and donations are appreciated.”
The rabbi said other initiatives include mailing out a free box of candles around Hanukkah and decorative tzedakah boxes around Passover to those on its mailing list.
One big wish for this year was to commission a Torah, and David and Harriet Moldau of Peabody have stepped up to become lead donors in honor of Harriet’s family members who were killed in the Holocaust.
Her mother came to America a couple of weeks before the war started, David Moldau said. Both her mother and father came from Poland. While an aunt and uncle managed to survive, everyone else in her family perished.
Independent of the Torah scroll commissioning, David Moldau had wondered about the 613 Commandments. He knew the first one, “to be fruitful and multiply,” but he had never read the last one.
“So, I looked it up, and it was ‘You shall write your own Torah,’” Moldau said. He knew he couldn’t write one, so he put the thought to the back of his mind. When Schusterman mentioned to him the idea of commissioning a Torah, the thought clicked in his head to help sponsor it.
“We need healing,” Moldau said. “It just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”
Chabad of Peabody already has three scrolls, including two from a temple that closed in Rhode Island. The congregation also obtained two from Temple Shalom in Salem when it was closing. These were old and beat up, and so they bartered one of the scrolls with a scribe in Brooklyn as payment to repair the other three.
“It’s like an old car,” Schusterman said. “You can fix the tires and you can fix the engine, but its age, you know keeps on popping up.”
Chabad of Peabody hopes to conclude the writing of the new scroll by August 2021 with the goal of having local Jews fulfill their mitzvah to write a Torah, and in so doing bring unity and healing at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Baal Shem Tov [Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), considered Hasidic Judaism’s founder] said write a Torah and that will help with the pandemic,” Schusterman said about an epidemic that was raging in the Baal Shem Tov’s Polish town at the time.
The writing of a Torah scroll brought healing to the town, according to the story.
Chabad of Peabody is now in its 18th year after it was established in 2003 as an affiliate of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott.
A little over 18 years ago, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, the spiritual leader of Chabad of the North Shore, reached out to the Schustermans, who were then young newlyweds living in Marina Del Ray, California. The rabbi comes from Long Beach, California, while his rebbetzin comes from Morristown, New Jersey. The couple has seven children, four boys and three girls, ages 4 to 19.
Their bosses in Marina Del Ray happened to be Lipsker’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who connected them. They met and toured the North Shore, and Lipsker offered them the chance to open a Chabad branch in Peabody.
Back then, Chabad of the North Shore had started a Hebrew School in Peabody, which proved successful, “but the regular back and forth was taking its toll and we realized we had taken it as far as it could go under the circumstances,” Lipsker said in a text message. “In order for the Peabody community to really grow it would need a permanent presence of its own. Rabbi Nechemia and Raizel Schusterman were tapped to join the growing north of Boston Chabad team in its efforts to broaden the North Shore footprint.”
“We didn’t want just anybody,” Lipsker said. “In order to be effective in meaningful ways it required a unique kind of couple with good and positive energy. Suffice it to say, this was one of the most rewarding decisions I ever made and the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.”
The couple took over the Hebrew School and Chabad of Peabody was at first located in their house on Lowell Street for three years.
Then, they rented a space in the former Kennedy Junior High for eight years. They moved to the site of the former West Side Diner at 682 Lowell St. in 2014.
Chabad of Peabody is one of five synagogues in Peabody, including Temple Ner Tamid, Temple Tiferet Shalom, Congregation Sons of Israel, and Congregation Tifereth Israel.
Turns out, while Chabad of Peabody is the newest congregation in Tanner City, its rabbi is no longer the new kid on the block.
“The irony is we are in our 18th birthday year, as I like to call it, I’m the longest-serving rabbi in Peabody, of all the five temples,” Schusterman said.