March 14, 2006. By Rabbi Alexander Dukhovky
In April 2004, three members of Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, CA., carried a historic Torah scroll from their congregation to Odessa, Ukraine, where they handed it over to that city's only Reform congregation in a festive ceremony.
Right before Rosh Hashanah this year, the Torah scroll disappeared, stolen right out of the ark in what was apparently being investigated as an inside job. The Emanu-El congregation in Odessa was in shock and it was impossible to imagine what Rosh Hashanah services were like. Giving a Shabbat sermon to the congregation I said:
"No one can steal a Torah, even without a physical Torah, you can have Torah in your hearts. With the help of your sister congregation and world Jewry, you are not alone."
The stolen Torah scroll was not found. However, the "Emanu-El", Odessa, did not loose its hope for a miracle.
Most Torah scrolls in the former Soviet Union are either donated from abroad, or newly written with funding from foreign supporters.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a twinning program to match up Reform congregations in the West with needy congregations in the former Soviet Union, Israel and elsewhere. Donating a Torah scroll is often part of the arrangement.
Temple "Or Shalom" and a Congregation "Yakar", both of Santiago, Chile, recently enabled the Progressive congregation in Odessa, Ukraine, to replace a Torah scroll.
The Santiago - Odessa transfer was facilitated by Jerry Tanenbaum, chairman of the World Union's Yad B'Yad task force, which assists Progressive Jews in Latin America.
Last week I brought the "Santiago" Torah-scroll to Odessa. It was a remarkable celebration, which was attended by the representatives of the Jewish organizations, as well as by the JDC's director and Director of the Israeli cultural center in Odessa. A group from Temple "Shaaray Tefila" (NY), led by Rabbi David Greenberg and Dr. Joel M. Hoffman, which came to visit orphanages in Odessa, joined the congregation in its simcha. The youth leaders of the congregation brought out the Torah scroll under the huppa into the sanctuary and a marriage with the ital(Aron Kodesh) and the Torah scroll has started. Songs and speeches, dances and chocolates, photos and Judaica presents and souvenirs from the "Shaaray Tefila" were part of the joyful evening.
Dr. Joel M. Hoffman, wrote to me in his e-mail:
"It was a great treat and a personal privilege to see you in Odessa! We are back in NY, after a long but safe journey. Everyone on the trip felt that our afternoon at Emanu-El was a highlight of our journey --- a coming home --- and we all want our two communities to grow closer."
That is Reform Judaism which offers a spiritual bridge between our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, San Jose and Santiago, New York and Odessa, and many other places, where Judaism in not merely words, but rather it is work of hearts and souls, improved by our actions.
Thank you all who make the miracles real!