Torah Is Star Of Brooklyn Parade
Holy Jewish Scroll Was Kept Hidden In The Soviet Union
October 24, 2004
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NEW YORK (AP) Two New York 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
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
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."
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