Ukrainian Jew restores 150-year-old Torah scroll written by ancestor

The family was assimilated and knew very little. What we knew about that “thing on the shelf” is that it’s holy and no one is allowed to touch it’

September 17, 2019 18:06
1 minute read.
Reading a torah scroll

Reading a torah scroll. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

About 150 years ago, a Lithuanian Jew, Henrich Levin, finished writing a Torah scroll. Six generations later, the scroll – which survived two world wars, major traveling and communist persecutions – was restored and re-inaugurated last week in Kharkov, Ukraine.

According to the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, the latest descendants of Levin did not precisely know for a long time what the scroll was.

“It was hidden on the shelf,” the Kolpaks explained in an interview with local media. “The family was assimilated and knew very little. What we knew about that ‘thing on the shelf’ is that it’s holy, and no one is allowed to touch it.”

The Levin family moved to Kharkov at the beginning of the First World War, and temporarily fled to Kazakhstan during the Second War World, always carrying the scroll with them. Under the Communist regime, the Torah was read in secret prayer services, until it deteriorated and became unfit to use.

Ephraim Kolpak began to reconnect to Judaism after Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz and his wife, Miriam, moved to Kharkov about 20 years ago, as emissaries from the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic group.

Kolpak sponsored the restoration of the Torah scroll in honor of his upcoming wedding. “It was a very special moment when Efraim was called to read from this Torah, the one written by his very ancestor over 150 years ago that went through so much,” the Kolpak family commented. “Now the Torah is back in the central Kharkov synagogue, and is going to be used.”

Kharkov is Ukraine’s second-largest city. In a 2014 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Moskowitz said that there were approximately 30,000 Jews in the city.

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