FJC’s Jewish community of Birobidjan in the Russian far-East, received a gift of a new Torah scroll from an anonymous American sponsor last week.
The new Torah is the first ever scroll of their own for Birobidjan Jews, who have previously used one on lease from a Moscow community. The occasion was among the most festive Jewish happenings in the city since the opening of the Birobidzhan synagogue in 2004.
“This was a special day for our community, ” said chief rabbi of Birobidzhan, rabbi Eliyahu Riss. “It is the first time there is a Sefer Torah inauguration in the Jewish Autonomous region. Thanks to the anonymous sponsor and [chief rabbi of Russia] rabbi Lazar, who organized this, our synagogue felt revived.”
Birobidzhan Jewish autonomous region, which borders China, was created under Stalin’s rule in the 1930’s. As of now, there are about 4,000 Jews in the area. “We are working hard to help these people experience Jewish life. Even though we are in a very remote region, away from central facilities and conventions, our young people are very active and that instills hope,” Riss said. A large crowd participated in the festivities, including the deputy mayor of the city and even representatives of the city’s Muslim community, he said. The new Torah scroll was donated by an American sponsor, who remained unknown. Another Torah Scroll from the same donor was presented to the community of Vladivostok, a port city also in the far-East.