Two New Torahs, 1000 Strong: Celebrate Legacy of Rabbi Gordon
The greater Los Angeles Jewish community came out in strength to joyfully and fittingly celebrate the legacy of the esteemed and world-renowned Shliach and teacher, Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin Gordon, obm, with the dedication of two newly-scribed Torah scrolls in his honor.
Culminating what was launched a year earlier as the “Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon International Torah Campaign,” the event, held on Sunday, February 18th, in commemoration of Rabbi Gordon’s second yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing), consisted of four stirring segments: the siyum (Torah completion) ceremonies at the Gordon residence; the bold street-march along Ventura Boulevard; the Torah-induction and hakafot (dancing) festivities in the Chabad Synagogue of Encino; and a luncheon/concert in a sprawling tent on Chabad of Encino’s back lawn.
In his 43 years of impactful leadership of Chabad of the Valley, Rabbi Joshua Gordon oversaw the establishment of 26 Chabad centers (since expanded to 27) throughout the greater San Fernando Valley region. He was also a mentor to many Chabad shluchim throughout the world and was reputed across the globe as a dynamic teacher of Torah through his “Rabbi Gordon Live” broadcasts on Chabad.org.
“Taking his cue from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who launched global efforts for every Jew to have a letter written in their honor in a Sefer Torah, my father had a special place in his heart for the writing of new Torahs as a way of strengthening the outreach endeavors of Chabad of the Valley,” said Eli Gordon, Rabbi Gordon’s youngest son. “We thus thought it fitting to launch the writing of not one, but two, Torahs in his honor.”
Opportunities to dedicate sections, passages, words, and letters in the “Living Legacy Torah,” dedicated by Gary and Rochelle Finder, and the “Wellsprings of Knowledge Torah,” dedicated by Daniel and Vardit Aharonoff, were extended to friends, admirers, and students of Rabbi Gordon in the Valley and beyond. The response was indeed overwhelming and widespread.
That outpouring of love, enthusiasm, and admiration was certainly in evidence throughout the festivities welcoming the new Torahs and heralding the fact that “The Legacy Lives On” – words which served as the title of a printed biography of Rabbi Gordon distributed at the event.
The inscription of the final letters in both Torahs by the Finder and Aharonoff Families, respectively, through the hand of Crown Heights sofer and cousin of Rabbi Gordon, Rabbi Moshe Klein, in the presence of Rebbetzin Deborah Gordon in the home she shared with her illustrious husband, made for some of the day’s most poignant and moving moments. A recognized authority and aficionado in color and design, Mrs. Gordon was instrumental to the design of both colorful Torah mantels.
Beyond the hundreds of onlookers who made it into the home, hundreds more were waiting outside to greet the two majestic Torahs in their first public appearance. Making their way under a large burgundy velvet canopy on wheels adorned by a decorative crown, the Torahs were held alternately by various leaders and members of the community, as the police-escorted procession followed and danced along to the up-tempo music blaring from an accompanying vehicle-mounted loudspeaker.
Upon departing the Gordon home, the processional turned onto Ventura Boulevard, one of the most prominent thoroughfares in Southern California, famous as the longest avenue of contiguous businesses in the world. With traffic on the Boulevard held up in both directions, drivers got out of their cars to respectfully witness the spectacle as the Torah parade proceeded across the long stretch toward Hayvenhurst Avenue, location of Chabad of Encino, where Rabbi Gordon served as spiritual leader since being dispatched to the area by the Rebbe in 1973.
“This is the sort of kiddush Hashem Rabbi Gordon would dream about when he first started out in a tiny storefront behind a pizza parlor on this very boulevard,” said Rabbi Mordechai Einbinder, Associate Director of Chabad of the Valley, pointing to a nondescript location just west of the processional.
“Two Torahs in his honor being marched across Ventura with thousands of celebrants and onlookers sharing in the simchah – one could not script a more fitting tribute to his life and legacy than this! What a powerful scene! What a day!”
The festivities would pick up further momentum still with hundreds more from throughout greater Los Angeles arriving at Chabad of Encino as the Torahs made their way into the elegant sanctuary greeted by the rhythmic sounds of the Shira Orchestra and vocal stylings of popular Chassidic singer, Benny Friedman. A nephew of Rabbi Gordon, for years, Friedman led the prayers at his uncle’s high holiday services in the same sanctuary.
After an exultant opening dance and the traditional recital of the “Ata Haoraiso,” verses recited to fete the gifts of the Torah, the crowd joined in the seven ceremonial Hakafot dances with the community’s Torahs – old and new. All were then invited to Chabad of Encino’s back-lawn garden where a massive tent had been erected to accommodate scores of elegantly-set tables, several brunch buffet stations and three strategically-placed presentation stages: one for a full orchestra, another for performer Benny Friedman, and another for the speaker’s podium.
Greetings by Jonathan Herzog, son-in-law of Rabbi Gordon and co-coordinator of the event, were followed by messages by Rabbi Einbinder and Torah dedicators, Gary Finder and Daniel Aharonoff. These presentations were interspersed by soulful ballads and lively songs by Benny Friedman, including the singer’s recent hit “Reb Yehoshua Omer,” composed in tribute to Rabbi Gordon, featuring the lyrics that served as his life’s motto; a message conveyed to him and his wife by the Lubavitcher Rebbe when they first set out his Shluchim: “The main thing is to resolve to work with meretz (alacrity) and bitachon chazak (strong faith and trust [in G-d]).”
That they certainly did, and 45 years later, on a Sunday morning in Encino, California, the community came out en masse to recognize the incredible fruit of that resolve, and to celebrate it accordingly. In the words of philanthropist Gary Finder, “Even as we miss Rabbi Gordon physically, spiritually, he is very much with us here today.”