Joy greets new Torah and Santa Rosa Chabad Center groundbreaking

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For more information about the Joseph Weingarten Chabad Jewish Center, call 707-577-0277.

The completion of Sonoma County’s newest Torah was met with jubilation and, literally, dancing in the street on Sunday afternoon — Hoen Avenue, just west of Summerfield Road, to be exact.

During a groundbreaking ceremony for the Joseph Weingarten Chabad Jewish Center in east Santa Rosa, attendees giddily took turns carrying the newly completed handwritten Torah under a chuppah, or canopy, as many danced and sang. Some men, dressed in black suits and hats, carried each other on their shoulders.

The Torah, which consists of the five books of the Hebrew Bible and is the central foundation of Judaism, was completed during the ceremony Sunday by a scribe, or sofer, from Brooklyn, with members of the local Jewish community given the opportunity to assist in the writing of its final letters with a feather quill dipped in ink.

Oakmont resident Ed Sutter, 75, recalled attending, at his father’s request, a similar ceremony many years ago when he was a youth growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sutter said while the Torah is the beginning of the Bible for Jews and Christians “everybody can learn something from the wisdom of Torah.”

The celebration, which drew Santa Rosa City council members Ernesto Olivares, John Sawyer, Julie Combs and Chris Rogers, marked years of efforts by Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky and his wife Altie to bring a new Chabad community center to Santa Rosa.

Wolvovsky said the 3,500-square-foot building near the corner of Summerfield Road and Hoen Avenue was recently purchased by former Sonoma County resident Monroe Weingarten and donated to the Chabad Jewish Center of Sonoma County. The new center will named after Weingarten’s father, Joseph. The local Chabad center will now embark on a $500,000 capital campaign to raise funds to gut and remodel the building, which was formerly a medical office building.

The remodel will require tearing down walls to make space for a large, multipurpose space for events, prayer and dinners. The center will include a welcoming lobby, two offices, a kosher kitchen, and a classroom for kids and adults.

“It’s a complete redo of the building,” Wolvovsky said.

Jerome Cobert, president of the board of the Jewish Community Center in Santa Rosa, called the dedication of a new Torah a “pretty big deal,” one that brings together people from all levels of Judaism.

Rabbi George Gittleman of Shomrei Torah, a Reform Jewish congregation in Santa Rosa, echoed Cobert’s excitement.

“It’s considered a great ‘mitzvah’ to have another Torah scroll brought into the world,” he said.

Gittleman said the public celebration was also significant in light of recent far-right and neo-Nazi demonstrations in various parts of the country.

“The Jewish community is freaked out about the events of Charlottesville,” Gittleman said. “Having a public ceremony says something.”

Sutter applauded Wolvovsky’s efforts to bring a Chabad House, which he considered an important “facet of the diamond Judaism,” to Santa Rosa. Sunday’s event, he said, took him back to the streets of Brooklyn.

“It was wonderful for me to get back to more of my roots,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

For more information about the Joseph Weingarten Chabad Jewish Center, call 707-577-0277.

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