For the orthodox Jewish congregation of Reno, the word of God has come full circle.

On Wednesday, a sofer (scribe) at Chabad House synagogue wrote the final Hebrew letters on a parchment scroll in a manner handed down for thousands of years. He was completing work that began more than a year ago, when another scribe with a turkey quill wrote the first words in the Reno torah: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.”

The 60 sheets of cow-skin parchment were sent to Israel, where specially trained Chabad scribes did the bulk of the writing.

Wednesday, before the congregation, scribe Shimon Soaaenfield of Israel, who oversaw the work, wrote the final Hebrew letters — the last sentences of Deuteronomy — in the sacred book:

“No other person stood up like Moses. No one else speaks to God as he has; all the miracles he has done … All Israel has seen Moses is the true leader.”

Rabbi Mendel Cunin, leader of Chabad of Northern Nevada, said the completion of the scroll is a landmark occasion for all Jews in Northern Nevada.

“We have waited seven years for this,” he said. “What is unique about this Sefer Torah is that it’s a community effort. The honor goes to many Northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe families who donated sections of the torah.”

Cunin said the scroll is a symbol of how the Jews are united. It is considered the holiest of all books, he said.

“Torah means instruction,” Cunin said. “It is a blessing, a showing of a blessing. It unites all humanity.”

The torah contains 304,805 letters in 245 columns, and all must be perfect. No letter may touch another. About 5,000 laws exist on how to write a torah. The completed scroll is as long as half a football field.

The torah was double-checked — to make sure every word, every letter, every stroke was perfect.

“But if there is a mistake found, it can be corrected,” said Rabbi Moshe Liberow of Colorado Springs, Colo., who began work on the scroll more than a year ago in Reno. “One tiny mistake won’t invalidate all of the work. It can be fixed. God is strict, but he is not cruel.”

As the last sentences were written Wednesday, each of the final letters were dedicated to individual community members. Each Hebrew letter has its own story and symbolism, Cunin said.

Even the day — the 15th of Av in the Jewish calendar — was significant, he said.

“In the month of Av, God is in the fields,” Cunin said. “It’s like God is on the campaign trail, shaking hands with the farmers and all the people.”

When the last letters were glistening wet on the page, the congregation broke into song and congratulations. “Mazel Tov! (congratulations, happiness to all),” the guests exclaimed, and drank toasts of vodka and coffee with the word “L’Chaim!” (to life).

The torah will be kept in the Chabab synagogue to bring God’s word to the congregation and to generations yet unborn, Cunin said.

When the ink had dried, the rabbis and community members wrapped the torah in a special garment, put a silver crown on the scroll and walked beneath a wedding canopy as they took the torah to Bartley Ranch Park for a reception.

“It’s a once in a lifetime affair,” said Bill Maniaci of Reno, international chairman of the Jewish Defense League. “Completing a Sefer Torah is a very auspicious occasion. It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen it.”

Ken Halfan, a member of the congregation, said a community is married to its torah.

“Scribes dedicate their lives to writing torahs,” Halfan of Reno said. “It’s such important work because it perpetuates the faith.”

At Bartley Ranch, the congregation admired the scroll, danced, listened to music and enjoyed a kosher feast. Members also prayed in Hebrew, thanking God for the blessings of his word. The prayers were those that have echoed in deserts and cities for thousands of years:

“Hear, O Israel, the lord our God, the Lord is one!”


o The Sefer Torah, a handwritten scroll made of kosher animal skin, such as cow or goat, contains the first five books of Moses. (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.)

o The Sefer Torah is written by a sofer (scribe).

o The scroll is kept in the ark in the shul (synagogue) and portions are read publicly during shabbat (Sabbath day) and on holidays, fast days, Mondays and Thursdays during prayers.

o The rabbi, cantor or member of the community chants the torah passages.

o The word ‘torah’ also can be used in a figurative sense to mean Jewish learning in general.

Source: Chabad of Northern Nevada, Dictionary of Hebrew, Yiddish and Jewish Terms.