How Did The Aquarian Minyan Get our First Torah?

How Did The Aquarian Minyan Get our First Torah?

By Reuven Goldfarb and Ljuba Davis

Ljuba:
I remember the events around the acquisition of the Minyan's Torah well. I brought my godparents Marie and Lew Winston to Barry and Debby's wedding and that was Marie's first exposure to the Minyan. When she found out that the Minyan did not have a Torah of its own she told me, "This is what I've been waiting for, finding the right community who would welcome a Torah as its own and really treasure it!" When she heard that there was a Torah available in SF we went together to look at it----and she fell in love with it!

Marie's parents were orthodox (from Tacoma, Washington) and her father was the rabbi of a little shul. Marie's mother donated a Torah to her husband's shul years before when Marie was a child and, as Marie had told me on numerous occasions, she knew that someday she would do the same thing - She just needed to find the right community for her to fulfill this mitzvah. For, though they were long-time sustaining members of Cong. Beth Abraham of Oakland during Rabbi Shulweiss's rabbinate there, Marie felt that CBA had many Torahs and was not in need of another one!

I have pictures of my 6 year-old daughter Sabrina holding one of the poles of the chuppah during the Torah's procession down Bancroft Avenue.

Reuven:
As I recall, Ljuba Davis invited her friends Marie and Lou Winston to attend Barry and Debby's wedding at the Brazil Room in Tilden Park on Labor Day in 1976. They were greatly impressed by the spirit of that event. Two days later, Ljuba and Leo hosted Sheva Braches at their home on College Avenue. At some point during the festivities, Marie announced that she wanted to donate a Sefer Torah to our community. She said that her mother had donated a Torah to a synagogue, many years before, and that she, Marie, had always harbored the intention of performing the same mitzvah herself.

She went on to say that she had visited many synagogues, but all of them were replete with Sifrei Torah and therefore had no need of an additional one. Our community however, despite its evident spiritual wealth, did not have even one. She was delighted, therefore, to have happened upon the Aquarian Minyan, through the offices of her good friends Ljuba and Leo, and thought that we were the perfect place for her intentions to manifest. She was prepared to spend her own money, earned from the spiritual counseling work she did, to purchase a suitable Sefer Torah for us.

Burt Jacobson, Sue Goldberg, Yehudit and I went shopping for a Sefer Torah for the Minyan. At the time there was a Hebraica/Judaica bookstore located in the Richmond District of San Francisco, owned by a sofer (a scribe), Rabbi Reisman, who had recently moved there, with his wife, from Brooklyn. He offered us two Sifrei Torah, and we chose the older one. He repaired it, obtained a pair of axle-trees and attached the scroll to them, included a new mantel, and placed it in our hands.

We held a welcoming ceremony at the Berkeley Hillel Foundation on January 22nd, 1978, the 14th of Shevat, one day before T"U b'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees. Our friend Arieh Lev Breslow, and a violinist performed at the event, and among the speakers were Rabbi Burt Jacobson and Rabbi Yosef Langer of CHaBaD. Marie and Lou formally presented the Sefer Torah to the Minyan, with Yehudit and I receiving this gift on behalf of the community. Afterwards a crowd of us carried the Torah, under a chuppah, in procession down Bancroft Avenue, with Sara Shendelman singing and playing guitar.

These are the highlights as I remember them. I'm sure that others who were present can add to these recollections.

Kavod laTorah!
Reuven Goldfarb, writing from Tzfat

May 5th, 2017 / 9 Iyar, 5777

Drash on Sh’lach L’cha

Drash on Sh’lach L’cha
By Abigail Grafton

We are at Numbers 14, verses 20-25: which opens with words we know from the Holy Days: selacti kidvarecha: I pardon you as you have asked. The terms of this pardon are that all the adults who have seen signs and wonders will wander until they die and their carcasses drop in the wilderness. That generation will not see the holy land.

That’s a tough pardon. That’s a disaster. Forty years wandering in the wilderness. What happened? What did they do?
What was HaShem so angry about?

HaShem had told them they were going to have the promised land (and please we are not discussing this in terms of modern politics). They may have listened, but they didn’t hear.

The scouts came back from the Promised Land terrified. They saw people 9 feet tall, saying “and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” Joshua and Caleb saw differently: nothing to fear here: a land of milk and honey, a people whose protection has departed them.

The people heard the frightened scouts. They were panicking: “We’re all going to die! Let’s go back to Egypt!” Except for Joshua and Caleb, they forgot, or lost faith in, HaShem’s promise.

Taking this story out of its antiquated trappings, I read it as an allegory about how we receive and process information.

There are the things we see in our world. The scouts brought back a single bunch of grapes so huge it had to be carried on a plank. That was physical evidence, but the frightened people ignored it. Then, there are our impressions of what we see. The scouts either did or did not see giants who did make them feel very small and scared.

There are the emotions of the people around us: the panicky crowd wanting to go back to Egypt; the calm certainty of Joshua and Caleb. We have a choice of whom to hear.

Then there is HaShem’s voice. The generation that came out of Egypt saw signs and wonders, they heard a voice, and still they forgot when they were frightened. Today, we still have the opportunity to hear and to remember.

We can hear God’s voice in words of wisdom, in beauty around us, and in other people. And we can hear it inside ourselves, in our inner silences and our deepest places.


Like our forefathers and foremothers we have choices. We can hear or not; listen or not; remember or forget; go with the mob or listen to the truth; and we still have the possibility of dying in the wilderness or living in the land of milk and honey. We can choose what to see, hear and remember, inside ourselves and outside, with our hearts and minds, and most of all with our skill of holy discernment.

Please come up to the Torah if you are interested in developing and using the skill of holy discernment.