Aizik and Nelly Ilishayev, both 65, flew in from Russia recently to present the Center for Jewish Life in Marlboro with a new Torah scroll.
The couple, Sephardi Jews originally from Azerbaijan but living in Moscow for more than two decades, has numerous relatives throughout central New Jersey. They include their daughter Yaffa, son-in-law Rufat Yusupov, and grandson Rafael Ilishayev, who graduated this spring from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“This is our fourth Torah and the first in the Sephardi style — housed in a hard case clad with shimmering silver,” said CJL religious leader Rabbi Yossi Kanelsky.
The presentation, on June 19, at the Orthodox CJL on Route 79, was marked by several traditional customs. These included completion by a sofer, or scribe, of the final 50 letters, a procession with the scroll being carried under a huppa to its new home, music, dancing, and a banquet.
The culmination of two years’ planning and activity, the dedication was attended by more than 150 people, Kanelsky said.
“Less than two years ago, the Ilishayevs’ daughter and son-in-law were among the couples at one of my periodic huppa ceremonies for people who have been married civilly but never had a religious wedding,” said Kanelsky. “Following the ceremony, Mr. Ilishayev approached me and asked how many Torahs we had at CJL. I told him three, and he said, ‘Now you have four.’”
Arrangements were made for the Torah to be inscribed in Israel, using distinctive Sephardi calligraphy.
“My father is involved in commercial real estate in Russia, and, fortunately, he has been successful enough to be able to dedicate three Torahs during the past few years — one in Brooklyn, one in Russia, and this one here,” Yaffa Ilishayeva told NJJN in a phone interview.
The youngest of six children — five boys and a girl — Aizik is the only one still living in Russia. The rest of the family, with the exception of three older brothers who have died, now live in the northeastern United States.
“I came here in the early 1990s,” said Yaffa, citing concerns about hostilities between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the Baku region, where most of her family had lived. “At that time, my mother and father went to Moscow, but the rest of the family, including my husband and I, chose America.”
Yaffa said the Torah dedication at CJL coincided with her son’s college graduation. “His degree is in business and international law.” At age 22, he’s a partner in an on-line convenience store business called GoPuff.
Describing the Torah scroll dedication as an emotional experience, Yaffa said the room was filled with family members and friends, many of whom belong to the CJL congregation. “Also, my parents dedicated one of the letters to my grandmother’s memory, and I am named for her.”