It was a celebration unlike any other in Grand Cayman.
The Jewish community on the island Monday night welcomed its first Torah, which was delivered to Grand Cayman from Israel by an anonymous benefactor and will reside next to a borrowed Torah at the home of Rabbi Moshe Katz. His home, for the time being, serves as a synagogue for the small congregation.
The sefer Torah, the holiest book of Judaism, was feted with the traditional Hakafot – chanting, singing and dancing, in this case by men only, led by the Hasidic Orthodox rabbi. About 80 people gathered in a ballroom at the Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Resort for the gala reception and kosher dinner, with music by Brooklyn, New York-based Yosef Benshimon, accompanied on congas by Cayman’s own Ed Solomon.
Rabbi Katz, co-director of the Chabad of the Cayman Islands, said he believes this is the first time such a ceremony has been held in Grand Cayman.
“We are grateful to all those who have come to join us. L’chaim,” he said, offering the traditional Jewish toast, “to life.”
“L’chaim to all that we should have a very successful year,” the rabbi said.
Fittingly, the Torah arrived between Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, often referred to as the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar.
Originally, an unfinished Torah scroll was to have been delivered to Cayman and a trained scribe was to have handwritten the last letters of the Torah. This was to have been followed by a procession with music and dancing along Harbour Drive in George Town. A chupah, or canopy, had even been commissioned, designed by Larry Funk and built by Cayman Metal Works, to protect the Torah as it was paraded through the street. However, inclement weather required a change of plans, and the entire celebration was moved indoors. No explanation was given as to why a finished Torah was delivered instead of the unfinished scroll.
The new Torah and the borrowed one that the Jewish community had been using were both hoisted during the Hakafot, accompanied by much clapping, photo-snapping and shouts of joy.
In anticipation of the arrival of the Torah on island, Rabbi Katz previously told the Caymanian Compass that the size of the scroll necessitates a second Torah.
“Let’s say we read one portion out of one Torah and we need to read a completely different portion, so we don’t want to have to scroll through the Torah and have everybody wait,” he said.
The Torah consists of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. A scribe writes the roughly 600,000 characters by hand, and since even the slightest error makes the scroll unfit for use, it can take more than a year to complete.
Reflecting on the significance of the event Monday night, the rabbi said, “A Torah celebration is a very, very big celebration, not only down here, but upstairs in heaven.”
While this is the first Torah dedicated to the Jewish community in Grand Cayman, another Torah resides in the Cayman Islands at the Beth Shalom synagogue on Cayman Brac.