Gala Parade Escorts Two Torah Scrolls From Russia
To New Home at F.R.E.E. Brighton Beach Synagogue
150 Year Old Torah Stars In Brooklyn Parade
- 1010 Wins

October 24, 2004

Click here to see a photo gallery of the event

Oct 24, 2004 5:24 pm US/Eastern
(1010 WINS) (NEW YORK) Two police horses were on special duty Sunday, guarding a parade led by devout Jews who delivered a ritual scroll to a Brooklyn synagogue ? a Torah kept hidden for a half century under Soviet communism.

"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 whose late father harbored the Torah.

A Jewish bridal canopy, or chuppah, covered the 150-year-old, handmade parchment in the procession of about 1,000 people from a mammoth outdoor menorah in the Brighton Beach neighborhood on Sunday.

Boys' voices singing in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Russian rang through the community of mostly former Soviet Jews. Dancing and torches accompanied the Torah from Coney Island Avenue 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 ? a big joy. That's why we carry it under a chuppah," said Hershel Okunov, a Ukrainian-born rabbi at F.R.E.E.

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit offers Orthodox teachings, free bar mitzvahs, summer camps, kosher food and circumcisions to new Americans who in the anti-Semitic climate of the U.S.S.R. were discouraged from being "marked" as Jews. But Sunday's gathering also included hundreds of secular Jews.

The joyous public display had a sad subtext.

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 Soviets; the second came from Ukraine. The two ? worth about $15,000 each ? were rededicated Sunday at the synagogue for use at services.

The Dovidov's Torah goes back to his native Latvia, where his father, Abraham, was a leader of the Jewish community in Riga, the capital. 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."

When he was a boy in Ukraine, the family's Jewish doctor wrote an excuse saying the child had heart problems that required an extra day of rest from school each week, so he could attend Sabbath services.

Okunov is close to Dovidov, who speaks only Russian, Latvian and Yiddish, having come to America in 1995. Now in his 70s, he 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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День Торы в Бруклине
A report of the story in Russian

 A second Simchas Torah in Brighton Beach (Yidish)
Algemeiner Journal

  A Second Simchas Torah in Brighton Beach (Yidish)
Algemeiner Journal

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Russkaya Reklama

Тора нашла свой дом (Russian)
Evreysky Mir

Torah Scrolls' New Home
The Jewish Week

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Kfar Chabad Magazine

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