Chabad of Bakersfield marked its 10-year anniversary Sunday with a lively celebration that included the completion of a new Torah scroll.
There were serious moments of prayer and recitations, and somber mention was made of the ongoing conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, but Sunday's event dwelt mainly on thanks for Chabad's establishment and growth in a place not often associated with a thriving Jewish community.
The new scroll, handwritten and valued at tens of thousands of dollars, features the five books of Moses. It was donated by the Cohen and Setton families, who joined Chabad of Bakersfield within the past year or so after moving from Brooklyn.
"It was hard coming to a place without many Jewish people," Mia Cohen announced on behalf of the family. "Thank you for making us a part of your family."
Jewish music played and children scampered around a room inside the Bakersfield Museum of Art as Rabbi Shmuli Schlanger led his congregation in an expression of renewed commitment to spiritual learning and Jewish tradition.
His sometimes whimsical spirit came through in a video played for the audience of more than 100, some of whom had traveled from as far away as Monterey, Fresno and Long Beach.
The video featured scenes of Schlanger strumming a guitar and singing revised lyrics to the song "Streets of Bakersfield" in Bakersfield areas such as the Kern River, a citrus field, the downtown transit center and the iconic Bakersfield sign.
Abba Perelmuter, a rabbi who traveled from Long Beach to help mark the occasion, told sometimes humorous stories and thanked Schlanger and his wife, Esther, for their commitment to the Bakersfield's Jewish community.
"It only happens because people set aside their egos," Perelmuter said of Chabad's work in Bakersfield. "It only happens because people set aside their own needs."
Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall joined the celebration with a brief presentation thanking the Schlangers "for what you do for the community each day."
Chabad of Bakersfield attendee Joy Spicer commented said many members of the Jewish community aspire to be able to donate an item of such value and historical significance.
"A word hasn't changed since God gave it to Moses for us," she said.
"This is just like stepping back to the days of old," Spicer added, saying the Torah represents a continuous thread "from Mount Sinai right here to Bakersfield."