Even as curious children gathered around the table and adults snapped pictures, Israel Gabay's steady hand and mental concentration didn't stray from his task.
In a tradition passed from father to son for thousands of years, the young sofer - or scribe - was carefully putting the final touches on a Torah that he's been meticulously crafting for more than a year.
"My father was a scribe, my grandfather was a scribe and on and on it goes back to the time of Moses," said Gabay, who moved from Israel to Los Angeles when he was 18.
"If I have a boy, I will pass it on to him too," Gabay said. "It is an honor to write each of these."
The $35,000 parchment scroll, containing the first five books of the Old Testament, became the third Torah that will be used at the Chabad Jewish Center of Palos Verdes, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Dozens of congregants gathered Sunday afternoon to draw a letter on the Torah and to celebrate its completion. Using nothing more than a quill and ink well, Gabay carefully penned more than 600,000 Hebrew characters on a parchment crafted from cow skin. The entire scroll is unrolled and read throughout the course of a year during Chabad's Saturday services, said Rabbi Yitzie Magalnic.
"If you were to read the Dead Sea Scrolls, you would be reading the same exact words you see here in the five books of Moses," Magalnic said.
To make sure there were no mistakes, the Torah was sent to Israel and scanned by a computer. A few irregularities were spotted and quickly fixed so that the scroll can be used for several generations.
"To the Jewish people, the Torah is supposed to be very accurate and we believe it's divine because it is G-d's word," Magalnic said. "Every word has got to be correct. If you get a wrong word, it's not God's word anymore."
The project was launched shortly after Mahta Roham of Palos Verdes Estates returned home from a trip to Israel in 2008. Roham became inspired while watching a similar Torah dedication ceremony during her voyage and asked Magalnic if a similar event could be held locally.
"It moved me both emotionally and spiritually and it was something I wanted to share with my family and my community," said Roham, who was one of the first students attending Hebrew school at the Chabad Jewish Center of Palos Verdes about 20 years ago.
Those who helped raise money for the new Torah were invited to fill in the last few characters that were already outlined on the parchment. After the final letter was inscribed, the Torah was carried down the street during a brief parade.
"Without a Torah, you don't have Judaism," Joan Roth of Rancho Palos Verdes said.
"It's a very beautiful experience," she said. "If you believe in the soul, then it's something that touches you deep inside."