The History of Our Congregation’s Torahs

Written by Ron Bing

In March 1980 I received a phone call from a member of the Jewish community who said his friend wanted to make a donation towards the purchase of a Torah. Judy was secretary of Temple at the time, so she telephoned Israel’s in Toronto to see if they could assist, but they weren’t very helpful. Then we phoned Kline’s in New York City. I remember the gentleman on the phone said “So you want to buy a Torah?” I said “Yes.” He told me the Torah would cost US$7,000 and that he would send it by air to Calgary. The understanding was that we had ten days to come up with the money or we’d have to return it.

When the Torah arrived at the Calgary airport, I went to pick it up from the customs office. It was packed in a wooden box. I brought it home and immediately phoned my new friend. He asked that I bring the Torah to his friend’s home the next day. I arrived with the Torah in hand expecting I would receive a cheque for US$7,000. Instead he told me the following story:

“An old man on his deathbed told his three sons that he had buried gold in his orchard but did not tell them the location. The first year after he died his sons dug up 1/3 of the orchard but could not find the gold. After the second year they dug up another 1/3 of the orchard but found no gold. In the following third year they dug up the final 1/3 of the orchard and again found no gold. However, their digging caused the fruit trees to flourish producing an
excellent crop. So the gold came to them as a result of their hard work.”

I asked what this had to do with me. I was told that the two gentlemen would donate US$3,500 and that I had to come up with the remaining US$3,500 in ten days! So I had to do some digging to find the gold to pay for the other half of the Torah. An emergency meeting was held and all our members called in order to raise the remaining US$3,500. I remember Dr Norm Schachar saying to me, “Don’t you ever do that again.” We were able to raise the money and keep the Torah.img001

A Torah dedication service was held in May 1980 in the Fagan’s basement. The photo above shows a much younger Ron Bing holding the newly acquired Torah before purchasing crowns or a breast plate. This was an extremely emotional time for me that was comparable to the birth of our first child, Esther.

Judy and I built an ark to hold the Torah that was kept in our living room at 1308 Carlyle Rd SW in Chinook Park during the first year of services. I constructed it out of plywood and she covered the inside with blue velvet fabric. The bottom half was decorated with two Stars of David made out of blue and white tiles.

After Dr. Joel and Sandy Fagan renovated their basement, the ark was cut in two so it would go down their stairwell to its new home. The top portion of the original ark is now mounted on the west wall of our social hall. I do not know what happened to the bottom half of the ark that was used to store our prayer books. The “Ner Tamid” or eternal light attached to the ark was illuminated by a red light bulb, based on the tradition where I grew up at Temple Emanuel in Montreal. Rabbi Howard replaced it with regular light bulb.

Our second Torah was a gift fromTemple Emanuel Beth Shalom in Montreal. This is a “Westminster” Torah that was salvaged from the Holocaust after World War II. The Torah was dedicated in Januarimg003y 1984 at a service held on the second floor of the Calgary Jewish Community Centre. The photo above shows Norm Yanofsky holding the Torah with Dr Lewis Poch to his right who brought it from the Montreal congregation. Student Rabbi David Meyer is standing to the right of Ron Bing. In 2012 this Torah was permanently loaned to Temple Or Hadash in Fort Collins,
Colorado.

Our third Torah was a gift from the late Dr. Leo and Bea Lewis (long-time members) from their synagogue that closed in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Our fourth Torah was a gift from Temple Beth Tikvah, Regina, Saskatchewan. I believe it belonged to a congregation in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The late Joel Brodsky and his wife, Jackie, built a beautiful
ark to house that Torah. Judy and I started this Regina congregation in 1989 after my mother died as I wanted to say “Kaddish” for her as a Reform Jew. The congregation grew to 35 families, but unfortunately declined in membership after we returned to Calgary in 1994 and eventually closed its doors.

In the photo below, Judy and Ron Bing are holding the Torah with breastplate they donated in honour of the Temple’s 8th anniversary. The Bings left Calgary in 1985 to live in Regina. They returned to Calgary in 1994

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It would be a wonderful mitzvah to have a new Torah written for Temple B’nai Tikvah. Perhaps I am planting a seed that may germinate into a new story for our congregation as we celebrate our 36th year or double chai. Ken yehi ratzon. May this be God’s will.

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