A touching celebration of Jewish continuity and vivacity took place in Kharkov, Ukraine recently – a 150-year old Torah Scroll was restored and inaugurated at the local community by the original owner’s 6th generation descendant in honor of his upcoming wedding.
The Kolpak family reconnected to their heritage through the activities initiated by Kharkov’s Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Moskowitz some twenty years ago. Up until then no one really appreciated the value of the family relic stored away on the shelf at the family home.
“It was hidden on the shelf for a long time,” the Kolpaks said in an interview to a local news site. “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.”
It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union, once the local community was established and Kharkov Jews began slowly regaining their identity, that the family discovered the remarkable history behind the relic – one that reflected the unlikely survival and continuity of the Jewish people in tragedy-ridden Eastern Europe of the past century.
The Kolpak’s Torah Scroll was written over 150 years ago by Henrich Levin, an Ashkenazi Jew in Riga, Latvia. “He was our 3rd-time great-grandfather,” the Kolpaks said. The scroll has remained with the family over the years, despite many challenges. At the beginning of the First World War, Levin’s family fled Latvia with the scroll and moved to Kharkov. At the dawn of the Second World War, the family evacuated to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Torah Scroll was with them throughout all their travels, a silent witness of the Jewish people’s trials and tribulations.
After the war, the family returned to Kharkov. They remained there throughout the Communist rein when the Torah Scroll was read in secret minyanim held underground in fear of the KBG. With time some of the scroll’s ink became illegible and the Torah was stored away. “It was there on the shelf until Rabbi and Mrs. Moskowitz came to town,” said Ephraim Kolpak, the initiator of the Scroll’s restoration.
Learning about the significance of the Torah passed down through generations, the Kolpak family had the scroll fully restored. Efraim Kolpak, Henrich Levin’s 6th generation descendant dedicated the restoration of the Torah to his upcoming wedding to Ida Snetkov from Khabarovsk, Russia.
“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 Kolpaks commented. “Now the Torah is back in the central Kharkov synagogue and is going to be used.”