Gonzaga University has acquired a Torah to support its community of Jewish students. The Torah will be housed in the Jewish sacred space, which has taken permanent residence in one of the nondenominational worship spaces in College Hall.
As the final pieces of the Jewish sacred space are coming together, a Torah dedication will take place on Friday Oct. 1, at noon at the John J. Hemmingson Center.
Beginning in January, Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein has been completing the process of getting a Torah to give Jewish students the opportunity to practice Judaism and celebrate holidays on campus.
According to Goldstein, the Torah represents everything needed to pray and symbolizes the priorities of a Jewish community.
“The Jewish community at Gonzaga is small, but mighty,” said Isaiah Krigel, a junior political science major and a member of Jewish Bulldogs. “Having a Torah makes me feel more represented in my faith and I am excited to read and practice from it.”
In order to receive a commitment on the part of GU, Goldstein wrote a proposal about the importance of the Torah to the Office of Mission and Ministry.
“We have an established Jewish community here and we needed something to center us,” Goldstein said.
Next, Ministry went to University Advancement to get assistance on the fundraising side. Advancement appointed Shanna Dunne, assistant director of Parent and Leadership Giving, to coordinate and help with development and fundraising.
Dunne has been the main point of contact for questions with the Torah project and has been involved every step of the way, said Goldstein.
The third step was fundraising itself, which lasted from the beginning of April until the goal was accomplished at the end of summer. The goal of $15,000 was set to cover the costs of a refurbished Torah and the ark to house it.
A new Torah can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, which Goldstein said would be an unrealistic amount for GU to raise. Refurbished Torahs can run from $9,000 to $20,000, which is far more attainable.
Contributions poured in from both the GU and local Spokane community. Advancement helped reach out to alumni and sponsors for donations, and fundraising was completed about five months after starting.
Sofer On Site is an organization that refurbishes old Torahs that GU worked with to pick out the proper Torah. Sofer On Site provides traditional services that ensure a Torah is kosher, and can help synagogues restore their old Torahs.
After seeing the options, Goldstein talked with other Jewish community members to pick the right Torah for the GU community.
Her goal was to pick something that could be used for both religious and educational purposes. Script that was too flowery would be hard to teach from, so she worked with others to pick one that could be used by beginners to practice reading and prayers.
Purchasing the Torah itself was just the beginning, however.
A Torah requires an ark to show respect and serve as protection to keep it safe. A traditional ark is large, which brought up the question of where to put the ark.
Luke Lavin from Mission and Ministry suggested one of the less-used nondenominational spaces in College Hall. The new Jewish sacred space was set across from the Muslim prayer space and next to the Catholic chapel.
“This shows how the University helps those who are not Catholics to still follow and embrace their faiths,” Goldstein said. “Jewish students have had a rabbi to support them, but having a Torah symbolizes how supported we really are.”
Once the location for the ark and Torah had been confirmed, final arrangements were able to be made. Goldstein ordered a special cover for GU and poles, called eitzim (trees), that have the parchment wrapped around them.
Anshuman Bhatia, a GU theater set architect, helped design the Torah ark. Using money from the fund, he worked with a GU carpenter to construct the ark.
Goals for using the Torah include holiday services, practicing reading, cultural observance and teaching mini lessons on how to chant.
“Gonzaga is an inclusive school, and this new Torah is a testament to the honor and respect those at GU have for all faiths,” Krigel said. “I’m very proud of the Jewish Bulldogs and the Gonzaga community.”
At the Torah dedication Friday, the Torah will be carried to the sacred space, following guest speakers. RSVPs are strongly encouraged and can be sent to email@example.com.
“I didn’t dream big enough for a long time,” Goldstein said. “But I felt it was necessary for the Gonzaga community to have a solidified Jewish community, and having a Torah represents that.”