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The Inspiration of Little Kerav

November 27, 2008

Economic fear surrounds this area like a toxic cloud but that shouldn’t stop us from looking for something hopeful amidst the panic.

            Like so many in the Detroit region, I have felt paralyzed by worry, consumed by the Detroit auto companies’ desperate pleas to get government bailouts, their fervent desire for survival. We’ve had to listen to a flurry of national negativity towards Detroit and its automobile industry and just wait for something to bring us a sense of optimism.

I wandered around the Internet, searching for something, but I wouldn’t have believed that the death of a 2 ½ year old boy was what I was looking for.

Kerav Roitman was an ordinary child made extraordinary by circumstances. In his short life, he was hospitalized in five different locations from the Bronx to Boston for renal and lung disease. For almost six months, his parents made a three-hour drive to Children’s Hospital of Boston twice a week before and after Kerav’s kidney transplant from his mother, Sonia, in January of 2008. People in Boston brought meals to the hospital while constant daily prayers were said on Kerav’s behalf. There were prayers written on his behalf in 42 of 50 states.

Kerav’s father, Brian Roitman, said that “the community, literally in a month or two’s time, managed to cumulatively…learn the entire Bible in merit of our son’s recuperation.” Brian said that “Throughout everything, from the worst times to the best, he always had a smile.” (“Toddler’s struggle inspires special Sefer Torah,” Devon Lash, Stamford Advocate, November 8, 2008)

All the prayers and hot meals in the world couldn’t cure Kerav, who died on August 1 from complications of an infection. But nothing could stop Kerav from inspiring a community to commission what Brian Roitman called the “ultimate memorial” in Kerav’s honor: a Sefer Torah. The Roitmans’ synagogue, Young Israel of Stamford, commissioned the project at a cost of about $35,000 as a living memorial to Kerav’s struggle.

A courageous smile of a dying boy brought about the ultimate memorial: the dedication of a scribe for almost a year to the meticulous detail of copying 304,805 little letters with a feather quill onto calfskin parchment. Kerav’s smile was the little mitzvah that inspired a community to come together for one purpose. “We are completely overwhelmed,” Kerav’s father said. “A Torah transcends a particular synagogue, a particular community, to become something that will hopefully last for centuries.”

Imagine what goes into creating a Sefer Torah. Each of the 304,805 letters must be perfectly written. If the scribe makes a mistake, he uses a double-edged razor blade to peel off the top layer of the parchment and then uses sandpaper to smooth the area. After completion, three independent proofreaders read the scroll and then scan it into a computer.

Young Israel alerted the Stamford community of the undertaking in October amidst the stock market collapse. They plan to hold a pre-Chanukah Sefer Torah Day in December. And in the months leading up to the completion of the Torah, children in the Stamford area will learn songs about the Torah, create a Torah quilt and learn portions of the text in honor of Kerav.

Like 11-year-old Brendan Foster whose last wishes before his death from leukemia helped inspire thousands to help the homeless and 18-year-old Miles Levin whose eloquent words before he died inspired those who read them to cherish every moment of life, little Kerav Boitman was a gift to all who knew him or read about him. Eliezer Silverman, chairman of Young Israel’s Torah committee, said of Kerav, “He was only with us for 30 months…but he always had a smile. His smile just melted your heart away.”

Even in the midst of financial panic in Detroit, we can stop and think of the courage of the parents of a little boy suffering from illness, the community of prayers surrounding him, and the joy he inspired to dedicate a Sefer Torah in his memory. We can take comfort in the mitzvahs evolving from one little child.

When we light the candles for Chanukah, celebrating the long light of hope that keeps Jews eternally hopeful, we can imagine little Kerav and his eternal smile. We can dream of our ancestors from the Torah surrounding him, holding candles up to his face, encouraged by his indomitable spirit.

Here, on earth, in these dark times, we must grab hold of whatever source of courage and strength we can wrap our hands around.

 

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