Jews residing in the southern Russian city of Saratov, affectionately known by locals as "Students' City" in deference to its many universities, welcomed a new Torah scroll to the Great Choral Synagogue on occasion of the shul's 100th anniversary. Young and old celebrated by dancing throughout the cultural hub's streets.
Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the synagogue replaced the original Great Choral Synagogue that had been torched during a pogrom two years before. It was later closed by Soviet authorities, and the building housed a state-run construction school for many years. Several years ago, the synagogue was transferred back to the city's Jewish community after the intervention of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kubitshek, the city's chief rabbi; the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia; and Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Kubitshek and his wife, Leah Kubitshek, arrived ten years ago to organize Jewish life in Saratov, which housed the descendants of the cantonists, Jews who were forced by Czarist Russian authorities to join the army and reject their religion. Today, the Volga River port is served by an Ohr Avner Chabad day school and programs for youth, adults and seniors.
Community members inscribed the final letters into the Torah scroll – donated by Kubitshek's father, Rabbi Yitzhak Kubitshek of Jerusalem – during a ceremony at the Kubitsheks' home presided over by a Moscow-based scribe. The guests then wrapped the Torah in a velvet covering and donated silver crown, and carried it to the synagogue in a grand procession through the city. They were accompanied by the local police orchestra, which played Jewish and Chasidic melodies, and a procession of Ohr Avner students.
Upon its arrival at the synagogue, congregants broke out in dance. A festive meal completed the celebration.