Torahs find home in Brooklyn
October 24, 2004
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a photo gallery of the event
A Torah kept hidden for half a century under Soviet communism
has found a new home v a Brooklyn synagogue.
"We kept it in a closet, behind the clothes. And
every week, my father carried it to the Sabbath service,
then back home to hide it," said Senya Dovidov, a
onetime shoe factory worker in Latvia.
A huppa covered the 150-year-old, handmade parchment,
which was carried from a mammoth outdoor menorah in the
Brighton Beach neighborhood in a procession of about 1,000
With boys singing in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and Russian
v their voices ringing through the community of mostly
former Soviet Jews v the Torah was taken to the house
of worship run by the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,
or F.R.E.E. Synagogue.
"This is like a wedding between the Torah and the
congregants v a big joy. That's why we carry it under
a huppa," said Hershel Okunov, a Ukrainian-born rabbi
The Brooklyn-based nonprofit group offers Orthodox teachings,
free bar mitzvas, summer camps, kosher food, and circumcisions
to new Americans who, in the anti-Semitic climate of the
former Soviet Union, were discouraged from being "marked"
as Jews. But Sunday's gathering also included hundreds
of secular Jews.
The foot-high scroll paraded through Brooklyn's streets
was one of two Torahs brought to New York in recent years
by immigrants whose families hid them under the various
former Soviet regimes. The second came from Ukraine. The
two v worth about $15,000 each v were rededicated Sunday
at the synagogue for use in services.
The roots of Dovidov's Torah go back to his native Latvia,
where his father, Abraham, was a leader of the Jewish
community in Riga. When the Nazis invaded during World
War II, he fled to Russia with the scroll.
He returned home under a Soviet regime "that made
it dangerous to show that you were a practicing Jew,"
said Okunov, the 56-year-old rabbi who arrived here as
a "boychik." Okunov is close to Dovidov, who
speaks only Russian, Latvian, and Yiddish, having come
to America in 1995. Now in his 70s, Dovidov worships at
the F.R.E.E. Synagogue where a memorial plaque honors
"Our Torah has found its home," he said, speaking
Russian. "We can walk in the streets here with the
Torah, and we don't have to be afraid of anybody."
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