Jewish woman explains why damaging a Torah isn't just anti-Semitic—it's a historic tragedy

On December 15, 2019, a man broke into the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA in the middle of the night and vandalized it. Furniture was overturned, brochures and other papers were strewn about, prayer books and prayer shawls were destroyed, and parts of the sacred Torah scrolls were tossed on the ground.

The vandal has not been caught, but the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.


While desecration of a sacred book is always disrespectful, damaging or destroying Torah scrolls is a particularly weighty offense. Not only are the scrolls sacred scripture—they are also priceless, handmade, historic artifacts.

RELATED: A man was shouting anti-Semitic slurs at two children, so a woman in a hijab stepped in to stop him

Paige Leitman, a Jewish woman, explained in a viral Facebook post what makes a Torah unique among religious scripture, and why the loss of one Torah is a loss for all Jews.

She wrote:

"Damaging a Torah is not like damaging a bible, even an expensive and valuable one.

A Torah scroll is written, BY HAND, with a quill, and specially prepared ink on specially prepared animal hides. Every one. It takes a scribe the better part of a year to write it, and there are special calligraphic standards. They are not mass-produced. You won't find them in your nightstand in a hotel.

A Torah scroll is a historic object. For instance, many of them are hundreds of years old and few new ones are made. The Torah in my temple was smuggled out of a Jewish town in Russia before it was burned to the ground. Bibles are mass-produced and have been for years. There are a few priceless bibles. EVERY Torah scroll is a historic object.

A Torah scroll is HELLA expensive. Many are literally priceless - as in no amount of money can buy them. They are gifted, loaned, and tracked carefully. A person doesn't own one - a person really can't. There are too few and they are too valuable for one person (generally speaking). A **congregation** owns one. ONE Torah for the whole congregation. Unlike bibles where each congregant may own many copies.

A Torah scroll is paraded proudly around the synagogue while people stand in respect and sing the special Torah-appreciation song. People reach out their prayer shawl or prayer book to touch it so it's not accidentally gotten dirty by someone's hand. People on the edges of the pews that touched the Torah "transfer" the touch by touching prayer shawls or prayer books to their neighbors and then kiss that book spine or prayer shawl because THAT is how important a Torah scroll is.

The Torah is so valuable that we do not touch the scroll with a hand while reading it. We have a special pointer stick, often with a tiny sculpture of a human hand at the end, made of metal or wood, to hold one's place in the line of text just so your hands don't accidentally get dirt on it, and so generations of use don't smudge the text.

The Torah scroll has specially made rollers to put it on, a special belt to put around it, a decorated velvet or brocade cover to put over it, and the gold and silver crowns are placed on the top of the rollers. Every one of them. ALL of them. It is a huge production to make. We literally put jeweled crowns on every Torah.

The Torah must be held in a special ark, which is a huge and valuable large cabinet. Every single one. You can't just throw it in a nightstand, a backpack, or a classroom.

The Torah is so spiritually important to us that we will never allow it to be in the dark. A special light burns in every sanctuary, never to be extinguished (nowadays with special generators in case of a power outage). My last name is Leitman, which meant my family were the people who showed up at the sanctuary in snowstorms, in the middle of the night, to make sure that light never went out. Just keeping the Torah under light is a job so important that it becomes a family legacy for the rest of the line.

In Judaism, you need a minimum quorum of ten Jews to have official prayers. The Torah is so important, it's considered as counting for a whole Jew so you need only 9 if you have Torah scrolls. (Note this is from family oral history, and the actual rabbinical ruling on this is not clear.)

Sure SOME folks are buried with bibles. However, when a Torah scroll is damaged beyond repair, the SCROLL ITSELF gets a full Jewish burial. Individual cemetery plot in a place of honor, a full headstone, a nice casket. Everyone shows up and mourns. It's a big honkin' deal and hugely expensive, but they are THAT important.

Anything less than this and a Torah is not considered kosher and may not be used in a synagogue. Yes, there are plenty of knock offs out there to buy that are machine printed, or not calligraphied appropriately, or whatever. But they're not real.

Please, I beg you, don't say a Torah is anything like a bible or that Torahs are treated like bibles are treated. Vandalism of Torah scrolls is a HUGE thing.

Ask three Jews a question and you'll get four opinions, it is known. Talk to your Jewish friends about how serious this is. A lot of us are really weary of the murders, the vandalism, and the blatant hate."

Unfortunately, the U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in anti-semitic hate crimes in the past few years. According to The Wall Street Journal:

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents—including harassment, vandalism and assault, as reported to the league by victims, law enforcement and the media—jumped 57%, the largest single-year increase since the group began tracking such data in the 1970s. While 2018 was slightly better, it still had the third-highest total of anti-Semitic incidents the group has ever recorded, with anti-Semitic assaults more than doubling from 2017.

In addition, New York City, with the largest population of Jewish people in the U.S., has seen a 51% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes so far this year compared to the same period last year.

But hate crimes are only the most obvious manifestation of antisemitism. Jennifer Rosen Heinz, a Jewish American woman, shared with Upworthy how she feels living in this time period as a Jew:

"There's anti-Semitism in America on the right and the left. There's anti-Semitism in even well-meaning support of Jews, Judaism, or Israel. It's never been so pronounced in my lifetime. I always thought that it existed in some deep, dank caves of America where people didn't know better. But to see that people who should know better don't... to see that repeated and propagated and developed, to see folks espouse these things openly, with some measure of glee... that has left me breathless."

RELATED: A Jewish mother's warning on migrant detention centers: "This is not just the start."

Heinz points to a recent executive order from the White House, which equates Judaism with the nation of Israel in the definition anti-Semitism, as one example of how Jewish historical trauma plays out in political discourse:

"Last week, when the NY Times published reporting about a proposed executive order which, on its surface, was announced to fight anti-Semitism, American Jews panicked. Because the details of what was being proposed were firmly aimed not at curtailing anti-Semitism, but in restricting political discourse in universities. It became apparent to me that most non-Jews had no idea why Jews were freaking out about this thing that, on its surface, seemed to them would be something we would support, that would protect us.

Yet defining Jews as on par with a race or nationality has historical precedent, and spoiler alert: It's all bad. Like, really bad. Throughout history, when other groups have sought to define us for political purposes, it's led to exclusion, anti-Semitism, expulsion, and genocide. These things are not academic words to a Jew. They are not history. They're a trauma which is encoded in our DNA. It may be quieted by long periods of peace and inclusion, but it's always, ALWAYS present in some form. Anti-Semitism feels like some virus which has been encased in arctic ice so long and is now let loose. Freed and activated.

Only those with personalized memory of what happened are sounding the alarm because we know the plot to this story. We know the virus has been relegated long enough, the general population's immune systems have forgotten how to fight it. But we remember. Our bodies remember. Anti-Semitism quakes our very cells."

Learning from history, and especially from those with personal ties to specific history, is important. As with any marginalized group, listening to the feelings and experiences of the people within that group—and believing them—is vital. And hearing the alarm when it's sounded—not after the worst has taken place—is how we keep human atrocity from being repeated in our lifetime.

The alarm is being sounded now.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

Keep Reading Show less