By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
RUMSON – Just as in many homes, when the holidays come around and company is expected, people spruce up the house and bring out the good silver to polish.
At Congregation B’nai Israel of Rumson, a dedicated group, armed with chamois cloths, Q-tips, toothbrushes and silver polish, gather to polish the decorative ornaments that adorn the Torah for the upcoming High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The Torah, the Scroll of the Law, is held in the temple’s ark – or aron kodesh – located along the wall facing Jerusalem. To honor the Torah, the scrolls are adorned and protected by a cloth mantle and silver breastplates and finials – called rimonim – which fit over the two rollers of the Torah’s scrolls. At B’nai Israel, two of the scrolls are adorned with a crown – or keter. In addition, the silver yad – which means hand and is a pointer – is polished.
Gloria Landy has been part of the polishing team since she was president of the congregation in 1983. “The first woman president,” she says.
Previously, the task fell to staff members. Since then, the group has gone through changes but a handful of members remain devoted to the twice a year ritual of polishing the silver. They assemble before the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur High Holy Days and again before Passover.
The women – Landy, Claire Keiteman, Shirley Adler, Sybil Scheinhartz and Sandra Rosenbloom – have formed a cohesive group, hallmarked by camaraderie, devotion and pride.
“The job has gotten easier over the years,” says Landy. Whereas the team would laboriously rub with silver polish cream, buff and then carefully wash so the polish didn’t leave black residue, trial and error – and a creative idea – has streamlined the process.
A few years ago, Landy decided to call staff at the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York City. “I asked them how do they polish their silver.” If anyone would know how to take care of precious silver, she thought, they’d be the ones.
Following the museum’s recommendation, the team started using Hagerty’s silver polish aerosol spray. Time spent on the arduous job was cut in half.
When the Torah, with the newly polished sparkling adornments, is brought out from the ark and before the congregation, worshippers can kiss the Torah with the edge of their tallit – prayer shawl – or prayer book, called siddur.
“The Torah is carried through the temple as well, for everyone to see,” says Landy. “We have the satisfaction in saying that we made them shine.”
“I always tell people on the holidays: Wear your sunglasses, it’s so bright,” says Claire Keiteman.
The ark’s clear glass doors allow congregants to view the Torah and its shining silver adornments, thanks to the hard work of the silver-polishing committee.
“It brings a sense of satisfaction,” says Sybil Scheinhartz, in addition to being able to give back to the congregation. “The community is looking at it and it really stands out.”
Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 4; Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 13.
For information on services at Congregation B’nai Israel, 171 Ridge Road, visit http://cbirumson.org.