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Howie Slomka

On Sunday, February 5, a group of Shearith Israelites went into the North Georgia mountains, and initiated a new tradition on an ancient ritual. For many years, CSI has collected worn and damaged Jewish books and holy documents. Because these documents contain Hashem’s name, we treat them with a sacred touch, and bury them in a grave instead of the more traditional recycling or trash receptacles for less holy items. This grave is known as a Geniza, and Jewish communities and cemeteries have established and used them for ages.  Many years ago, we opened a geniza in Crestlawn Cemetery and buried books there.

This year, under the leadership and vision of Rabbi Kaiman, we tried something new. Joined by other Conservative synagogues in Metro Atlanta, and by Ramah Darom, we created a formidable joint collection. We delivered them by a large truck to Ramah Darom, in Clayton, GA, where so many of our children spend their summers at camp. Prior to the arrival of the books, Ramah staff excavated a large geniza, roughly 6 feet across and longer than a school bus.   We had hundreds of boxes and several tons of holy material awaiting our arrival.  And a livestreaming camera ready to broadcast to a large international audience. 

Rabbi Kaiman and Rabbi Helfand led the ceremony along with Rabbi Sam Blustin and Rabbi Lawrence Rosenthal from Ahavath Achim. Over 50 community members sang and heard poetry related to our identity as “The People of the Book.” Then, with the eager participation of children from both shuls, we schlepped and gently tossed our holy works into the geniza. Siddurim, chumashim, haggadot, ritual texts and scholarly treatises – all having outlived their useful lives, went to their final shelf. We even deposited an old no-longer-kosher sefer torah, which was beyond the ability for reasonable repair. It felt impossible not to peek at the items, read a passage, or look for a meaningful inscription. In the end, we left the documents in the earth, where they will nurture future Jewish growth. And then, according to shared custom, and halakhic guidance, we ate.

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784