Joined by a group of Israeli and Turkish visitors who had flown in for the occasion, more than 100 members of Northern Cyprus’ small Jewish community celebrated the region’s first Torah dedication ceremony in decades.

For 96-year-old Elsie Slonim, a longtime resident whose late husband was the first farmer to commercially produce grapefruits in Cyprus, the event at the Kyrenia-based Chabad-Lubavitch of North Cyprus was among the most beautiful days of her life.

“In my 70 years living here,” she said, “I have never seen such happiness.”

Featuring a traditional march with the new scroll down a city street, last week’s celebration represented a milestone for the Chabad House, which Rabbi Chaim and Devorah Azimov opened two years ago. Since that time, worshippers had to make do with a loaned Torah.

So when Yaakov Katz, an Israeli pharmacist and friend of the Azimov family, heard that Israeli couple Aryeh and Devorah Yakovson – whose son had previously donated a Torah to the newly-established Chabad of Vietnam three years ago – wanted to donate another scroll, he jumped at the chance to make the introduction. At the ceremony, celebrants paraded the scroll beneath a traditional canopy before placing it in a specially-built cabinet in its new home.

“So many Jews parading down the road was a show of pride that has not been seen here before,” said Slonim.

For Katz, who brought a group of fellow pharmacists from the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda for the celebration, the venture to the island was memorable beyond expectations.

A proud community member holds the new Torah.
A proud community member holds the new Torah.

“We enjoyed ourselves tremendously during the whole process, from beginning to end,” said Katz, whose visit was his first to the island. “They had been to Cyprus before, but they never knew that there was such vibrant Judaism in Northern Cyrpus.”

Also on hand for the celebration were a group of Israeli tourists led by guide Yossi Aharon. Aharon, who usually brings people to the Chabad House, decided to bring his group specifically for the Torah dedication.

“They were beyond happy,” he said of the tourists. “They really had a feeling of belonging.”

Reached on Wednesday, Azimov, who was in the midst of preparations for next week’s Shavuot holiday – when he’ll publicly read the portion of the Ten Commandments from the new school – said that the Chabad House has already started work on its next project.

“We are very thankful to the Yakovson family for this tremendous donation,” he said. “It has allowed Northern Cyprus’ only synagogue and its members to really feel like a community.”