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Torah's Wending Way From Philly to Ukraine

May 31, 2007 By:
Rachel Silverman, JE Feature
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Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny came all the way from Ukraine for a Torah.
Like many cities in the former Soviet Union, Kerch -- today part of Ukraine -- didn't permit much in the way of Jewish life and practice during the greater part of the 20th century.

But after the Ukrainian state declared independence in 1991, a movement for Jewish renewal began, and a congregation was born in the seaport city.

According to Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, who serves as the chief Reform rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, the shul now boasts 300 members, and runs a stream of classes, social groups and even holds High Holiday services.

Still, it has no Torah.

That's why when Congregation Beth Or of Maple Glen offered one of their own scrolls as a gift, the Ukrainian synagogue jumped at the chance.

"The Torah breeds understanding, tolerance and pluralism -- it offers moral and ethical laws," explained Dukhovny. "It will help the congregation understand the real meaning of Judaism and the Jewish way of life."

On Friday evening, May 25, leaders of Congregation Beth Or presented the scroll -- one of nine in the synagogue's ark -- as well as the accompanying yad and breastplate, to Dukhovny, who had traveled all the way from Ukraine for the occasion.

The ceremony, which coincided with the synagogue's annual awards banquet, and therefore drew a large crowd, was preceded by a Shabbat dinner, and ended with a Torah processional through the sanctuary.

The idea of such a donation was the brainchild of education director Susan Edelstein, who coordinated the exchange through the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

She said that the agency -- based in Jerusalem -- acts as an umbrella organization for Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements. The institution helped her locate a Jewish community in need, and then facilitated the logistics of transporting the scroll.

This process, which required the approval of synagogue board members, began almost a year ago, noted Edelstein.

In a letter printed in the synagogue newsletter, Senior Rabbi Gregory S. Marx listed several reasons for congregants and the community to support the gift.

First, he cited a sense of connectedness among all Jews.

"As the Talmud teaches, 'All Jews are responsible one for the other, whether or not we know them,' " he wrote. "We are bound together in a covenant of faith and history."

The scroll, continued Marx, will also enable Judaism to flourish in the area at large.

As he explained in a separate interview, "You can't really have a vibrant Jewish community without a Torah scroll. It's like asking a doctor to be a doctor without a stethoscope."

Finally, the rabbi pointed out, the recent celebration of Shavuot provided the shul with an important example to follow.

"We may not be on Mount Sinai," he reminded, "but the giving of Torah is no less poignant and powerful."

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