Hundreds of Jewish residents in the southwest Russian city of Stavropol celebrated the arrival of the regional capital’s first Torah scroll in close to a century. Underscoring the significance of the event, the city’s only other Torah scroll – confiscated by Soviet authorities close to 80 years ago – is housed in the basement of the local museum.

“Ever since the Communist regime relegated Judaism to a religious atavism, the Torah has been conceived by many locals as a museum piece: curious to look at, but nothing you could take home,” stated Rabbi Zvi Hershcovich, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to the city since November 2007. “Until now.”

More than 300 members of the local Jewish community joined guests from Moscow and points overseas to witness the last few holy letters being written in the scroll by Rabbi Meir Nigberg, a scribe and members of the Rabbinical Alliance of the Former Soviet Union. The crowd then marched the new Torah through Stavropol’s streets and on to the local synagogue.

Moscow businessmen Eli Ginsberg and Zev Sherman purchased the scroll for the community, while Peter Order underwrote the aron, an ark built to house the Torah.

With the arrival of the Torah scroll, Herschovich and his wife Chayale unveiled regularly-scheduled weekly services beginning with the just-concluded holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Other plans for the community include the establishment of a new kindergarten and a youth program affiliated with the highly successful STARS initiative used by Jewish communities throughout the former Soviet Union.

“One cannot help but imagine,” said Chayale Hershcovich, “that someone in the depths of the Stavropol city museum, there is an old Torah scroll, happy to have a friend in town.”