When floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina started rising in Biloxi, Miss., in 2005, a custodian at nearby Keesler Air Force Base raced to the local Jewish chaplain and told him about Jewish objects that he believed were kept in a storage closet on the base.
The chaplain, Rabbi Kalman Dubov, accompanied the custodian to the closet and together they discovered a Torah, a Torah pointer and a brass Eternal Light. They promptly put them in the rabbi’s car, and he drove them to higher ground. He later learned that they had belonged to a defunct congregation, and he took them with him to San Antonio when he was reassigned to Lakeland Air Force Base.Soon thereafter, a longtime friend, Lawrence Raful, dean of the Touro College Law Center, mentioned to him that his school would be setting aside a room in its new building in Central Islip for a synagogue. Rabbi Dubov then offered to donate the items he had rescued.
“We had the Ner Tamid [Eternal Light] cleaned, new wiring put in and the brass was refinished,” Raful said as he looked at it hanging above the ark. He said experts have told him the Ner Tamid is about 90 or 100 years old and came originally from Europe.
Although the ark has room for seven Torahs, Raful said he has only the one given to him by Rabbi Dubov, and that it is still being examined and made usable by a Torah scribe in Queens.
“We’ll dedicate the shul when the Torah comes back to us,” Raful said. “We believe this is the only shul in an American law school; it’s also the only one in the area.”
About one-fourth of the school’s 780 law students are Jewish and Raful said that about two dozen students and some faculty members are observant. “In our old building [in Huntington], we had mincha [afternoon] services daily that we held in a regular room,” he said. “We hope to have them here Monday through Thursday.”
The college is studying the possibility of building an apartment complex on vacant land on the north end of the building, and Raful said observant students who lived there would be able to use the synagogue to hold Sabbath services. The synagogue has separate doors for men and women, and there will be a portable mechitza in place when services are held. A ribbon cutting for the new $35 million building, which is located on the same 170-acre campus as the Alfonse M. D’Amato U.S. Courthouse and the John P. Cohalan Jr. Courthouse for county cases, is scheduled for Monday. It is the first law school in the nation to be located in a court complex, Raful noted.
During a tour last week of the new four-story building, which opened for class this week, Raful pointed out that the new building has separate dairy and meat kitchens, which are located next to each other and share a common eating area and washing station. The kitchens will not operate at the same time.
Tapestries of Marc Chagall’s “12 Tribes of Israel,” which were designed for the synagogue at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, line the wall of the auditorium, which has been set up like a courtroom. Raful said he hoped the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals would consider holding a session in the auditorium when it holds a hearing on a Long Island matter.
Raful said there are plans to add a program this summer that would allow students to study for several weeks at the law school of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The curriculum, which is run by faculty from both schools, would examine in part the different legal systems of both countries.