New Torah for UI Jewish community honors deceased graduate

The Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University will finally have its own Torah next spring after eight years of using one donated by another synagogue.

The Torah will be dedicated in memory of Bonnie Dayan, University alumna.

The Illini Torah project was commissioned by Max Dayan, Bonnie’s son, and will be donated to the center next spring when it is completed.

Max Dayan, senior in LAS, said he has always had the idea to commission a Torah. To write or commission a Torah is the last of the 613 mitzvahs, or commandments, laid out in the Torah.

“This is one of the highest levels of good deeds you can do for someone,” Max Dayan said. “It’s a very special way to remember my mother and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Chabad held a brunch and Torah kickoff April 10, where the first letters of the Illini Torah were transcribed. Since there are strict Jewish laws about who can and cannot write the words in a Torah, Chabad hosted a scribe from New York who began the scroll.

Throughout the next year, the Illini Torah will be written by another scribe in Israel, brought back to Champaign-Urbana in the fall for another passage and finished sometime in February or March 2012.

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, executive director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, explained that writing a Torah is “not something that happens everyday.” Tiechtel also said starting and finishing the Illini Torah on campus is a historic event.

“Writing a Torah is a huge undertaking and huge expense,” Tiechtel said. “We’re very lucky. This is history, something every Illini should be proud of.”

Tiechtel said he hopes the Illini Torah will be a great opportunity to unite the Jewish community and educate Jews and non-Jews alike.

“At the heart of every (Jewish) community is a Torah,” Tiechtel said. “In a Torah, if one letter cracks, the whole Torah is invalid until it is fixed. The Torah is really a reflection of who we are as a community.”

Shizue Taerbaum, vice president of the Chabad Leadership Board and junior in AHS, said writing the Illini Torah would be a “great opportunity to bring all the Jewish students together.”

“It’s a good opportunity for education,” Taerbaum said. “People can learn about this mitzvah.”

Orie Schiffman, president of the Chabad Leadership Board and junior in LAS, said he was excited about the Illini Torah’s meaning for future Jewish students.

“It’s very special for the Jewish community and not only the students now, but five, ten, fifteen years down the road,” Schiffman said.

Mitch Dayan, Max’s father, said he could not be more proud of his son and the work he is doing.

“The fact he’s doing it in memory of his mother is a beautiful thing,” Mitch Dayan said. “She was a wonderful woman. It’s shame that people who are going to read (the Illini Torah) never got to know Bonnie.”

Bonnie Dayan had fought breast cancer for ten years before passing away on the eve of Yom Kippur, Sept. 20, 2007. She graduated from the University in 1979 and had three children. Max Dayan and his recently graduated brother are both Illini.

While on campus, Bonnie Dayan was active in the Jewish community and continued her activism into adulthood. Max Dayan said he was inspired by his mother and writing the Illini Torah will help keep her memory alive.

“She always placed a high value on maintaining a Jewish identity,” Max Dayan said. “Helping build Jewish identity on campus fits in with her memory.”