When your husband is the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic and your son is ready to become a Bar Mitzvah, what do you do when the Torah in your congregation is found to be pasul (not kosher)? If you are Tamar Newberger, you find your way to Project Kesher. For the past twelve years, Project Kesher has placed Torahs throughout eastern Europe, working to maximize access for women whether a community is Progressive (Reform), Masorti (Conservative) or Orthodox. The placement in Prague is Project Kesher’s 32nd, with six more Torah scrolls in the pipeline.
Project Kesher became fully engaged in its “Torah Return Project” in 2004, when it delivered 6 Torah Scrolls to the region as part of its Voyage on the Volga trip, bringing Jewish women from around the world to celebrate the return of Jewish life in communities many of our families had left. Rabbi Abby Sosland, WGF Alum (Class 6), Debbie Friedman z’l and Carole Caplan, WHP Alum (Chicago 06) were a joyous part of the 250 woman delegation. As a grassroots organization which trains and empowers Jewish women and girls, Project Kesher has long understood the importance of highlighting the role of women in bringing Torah Scrolls into their communities and in making sure that Jewish women of all denominations have the opportunity to read, study and pray from a kosher Torah scroll. One of the previous Torahs taken to the region belonged to Janet Resnick, WHP Alum (Chicago III-99).
The Wexner Community has many connections to the simcha in Prague. Rabbi Asher Lopatin, WGF Alum (Class 5), and his wife, Rachel Tessler, WGF Alum (Class 3)/WHP Alum (Chicago Pro-99), traveled to Prague where Rabbi Lopatin officiated at the ceremony. Tamar is also the cousin of Wendy and Scott Newberger, WHP Alumni (Chicago I-99). And, the introduction to Project Kesher was made by an old Wexner friend, Barbara Spectre, founder of Paideia, in Sweden.
Thanks to Wexner’s own Director of Wexner Heritage Alumni Angie Atkins, Project Kesher is currently working with Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center to repair a Torah scroll that it needs for its growing programming. Isabella Freedman is part of the Hazon network, run by Wexner educator, Nigel Savage. And, Wexner Alum, Daryl Messinger, WHP Alum (Palo Alto 00), helped arrange for a loaner Torah while Isabella Freedman’s is being repaired.
Project Kesher is able to do this work through the support of a funder who is committed to repairing and placing Torahs in communities that need them. If anyone in the Wexner network knows of Torah scrolls that are available for placement — whether in your recently merged synagogue or, in your closet from your 1970’s minyan — please let us know. In September, Project Kesher will be delivering Torahs to the Progressive communities in Odessa and Uzhgorod, Ukraine and the Jewish community of Ryazan, Russia. A fourth Torah will go to Israel where Project Kesher Israel leaders will take it from community-to-community to engage Russian-speaking Jews who have not yet found their way into Jewish communal life.
Today, while Project Kesher’s core programming in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova engages a multi-faith community in collaborative efforts to ensure the health and safety of all, all its work is rooted in text study and Jewish values. You are invited to help Project Kesher find Torah Scrolls to place in communities that have been waiting so long to have them.
Karyn Gershon, WHP Alum (Chicago-Pro 99) is a native New Yorker, but lived in Chicago and its Northern suburbs for the past 30 years until returning to New York in June 2015. Trained as a lawyer, Karyn became the Executive Director of Project Kesher in 1994 and has overseen its emergence as the financial and programmatic supporter of the largest Jewish women’s network in the Russian speaking community with more than 200 Jewish women’s groups and 90 interfaith women’s coalitions in Belarus, Georgia, Israel, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. Karyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.