Debby Cherry, former president of Temple B’nai Israel in Revere, delivers her old shul’s last Torah to Kehillat Israel in Kenya.

Once lost, Revere’s last Torah finally makes its way to its new home in Kenya



Once lost, Revere’s last Torah finally makes its way to its new home in Kenya

Debby Cherry, former president of Temple B’nai Israel in Revere, delivers her old shul’s last Torah to Kehillat Israel in Kenya.

Temple B’nai Israel in Revere was where I spent my first year as a cantorial soloist. Unfortunately, my first year was its last year. An aging membership and lack of volunteers took its toll, despite the spirit and energy of its last president, Debby Cherry. Debby became my mentor and friend – and I knew that her spirit would extend long beyond the closing of Temple B’nai Israel’s doors in 2019.

After the temple closed, I moved to Florida to accept another cantorial position. In 2021, I stumbled across an article in the Jewish Journal that featured a story about Debby Cherry’s idea to extend the spirit of Temple B’nai Israel by bringing its last remaining Torah to an eager Jewish community in Kenya called Kehillat Israel. Unfortunately, the airline she flew lost the Torah. Luckily, it was recovered, but only after Debby was back in the US. Both Debby and the Kenyans were devastated.

I shared the article with my partner, Cantor Rachel Slusky, who also had gotten to know B’nai Israel through substituting for me at Shabbat services and participating in a choir concert honoring the legacy of the temple, held just before its closing. It was at that concert where we were introduced to Debby Cherry’s boyfriend, now fiancé, Simon Mwangi. When we met Simon he told us about his work as a safari guide in Kenya and encouraged us to make the journey someday.

After reading the article about Revere’s last Torah, lost on its journey to Kenya, Rachel had the idea for us to take Simon up on his offer, travel to Kenya for a safari, and deliver the Torah in person. We reached out to Debby and Simon and in no time our plans were set. In July, we made the trip from Miami to Nairobi, where we were picked up by Debby and Simon. We embraced each other with tears of joy, realizing that the last time we had all been together was at the closing of the temple back in 2019. We were now engaged in both a personal adventure and a spiritual mission.

We traveled from Nairobi to a series of magnificent camps and safari parks, each more beautiful than the last, on our journey to the village of Nyahururu, where the temple is located and where, coincidentally, Simon grew up. We were blessed to see majestic animals, dramatic landscapes, and welcoming people. Simon was knowledgeable about many aspects of nature as well as the socioeconomics of Kenya.

On Erev Shabbat, July 15, we finally reached our destination and had the pleasure of meeting Yehuda Kimani, the spiritual leader of Kehillat Israel – Kenya. We shared a Shabbat dinner with his family and planned the service for the next day. We were thrilled to learn that we shared many of the same melodies – the music bound us together as a community.

Upon our arrival at the temple the next morning, we were greeted by many eager faces. With much excitement, Debby carried the Torah out of the truck and was quickly joined on either side by the loving congregants. As the Torah entered the temple, we all erupted in a rousing song, “Torah Tzivat Lanu Moshe.” Rachel and I were introduced to two young Kenyan cantors with whom we would lead the service. After a brief conversation, there was a hush, and we began.

Rachel and I felt like we were right in sync with the two other cantors as our commonly known melodies juxtaposed with new melodies we shared with one another. Debby gave a speech about the history of Temple B’nai Israel and Simon spoke about what the Torah’s journey had meant to him. Afterward, we went to the home of Yehuda’s father and we all had Shabbat lunch together. As we sang songs and ate, thunder erupted and heavy rains began to fall. Since the season had been very dry up to that point, the rain and its intensity was an unexpected relief. Simon smiled and said, “It’s a sign!”

After the sad closing of Temple B’nai Israel and the dispersion of the people who loved it, the delivery of the last Torah meant their efforts to sustain and further the message of Judaism were not in vain. The wonderful people of Kehillat Israel – Kenya have a Sefer Torah for the first time. As we bade farewell to the incredible people of the congregation, Debby, Rachel, Simon, and I all felt a bittersweet joy. Our trip was ending, but the Torah and community would live on.

Revere’s last Torah had made it to its new home.

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