Gala Parade Escorts Two Torah Scrolls From Russia
To New Home at F.R.E.E. Brighton Beach Synagogue
Soviet Torahs find home in Brooklyn
- Jerusalem Post

October 24, 2004

Click here to see 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 people.

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 at F.R.E.E.

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 his father.

"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."

Back to Top

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A report of the story in Russian

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