The Torah scroll recently dedicated at Bucknell's Berelson Center for Jewish Life crossed continents before arriving on campus, where its placement in the center's sanctuary also served as a symbolic homecoming for the alumni who raised funds to purchase the scroll.
The dedication and a simultaneous open house, which took place Saturday, Nov. 4, as part of Homecoming Weekend, also celebrated recent University investments in the center, which has been a hub for Bucknell Jewish life since its establishment in 2001.
"The event gathered students, welcomed back alumni supporters, honored treasured members of the local Jewish community and recognized Bucknell's new investments in the center," said Rabbi Chana Leslie Glazer, chaplain for the Jewish community. University upgrades to the center include new furniture, the installation of central air conditioning and heating, and the establishment of a certified kosher kitchen. "Along with making the center even more welcoming for our students, the improvements demonstrate Bucknell's support for Jewish life," she said.
Glazer added that the Torah scroll is a gift from 14 alumni of the Class of 1967, all of whom were members of the Sigma Phi chapter of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, also known as "Sammy." Led by Arnold Cohen '67, the Sammy brothers raised money to secure the scroll, which is the second to reside at the center. Two scrolls are needed for the celebration of high holidays and other special services.
"There was a void that prevented Rabbi Glazer from conducting some services without borrowing a second scroll," Cohen said, adding that he and several Class of 1967 Sammy brothers visited the Berelson Center during a 50th Reunion celebration and decided to undertake a project to support a new generation of Jewish students at Bucknell. "We thought purchasing a scroll was a good way to honor Jewish life here."
Glazer said the scroll was imported from Israel and last belonged to the family of the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. At the dedication, she opened the document, explaining how Torah scrolls are painstakingly handwritten in Hebrew calligraphy. "This one is very special, and the writing is so exact and artful," she said. "A Torah scroll is one of the most precious possessions a Jewish community can have."
The new scroll also honors the memory of Harold and Jacquie Stiefel, who managed the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg from 1953 to 1988 and served as advisers for the Sigma Alpha Mu brothers.
"The Sammy house was our home," Cohen said. "It's important for Jewish students to have a place on campus. And it's a good feeling to do something for Judaism at Bucknell."
Other participants in the dedication included Bucknell President John Bravman; Joel Berelson '85, who represented the Berelson family, for whom the center is named; Sigma Alpha Mu brother David Gordon '67; and Jake Rubin '19, president of the Bucknell Hillel student board.
"Having alumni, faculty, staff and students gather to celebrate the recent investments in the center was a powerful experience. I was particularly moved by the connection formed between our Class of 1967 alumni and our current students," Bravman said. He added that the event reflected broad-based support for increased diversity on campus, noting that Bucknell recently hired the University's first chaplain for the Muslim community and established an on-campus Muslim Prayer Room and social space. "We continually strive to do more to warmly embrace people of all traditions and backgrounds."