Among the missions left unfinished after the passing of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yossie Raichik was the completion of a Torah scroll for a synagogue bearing his ancestor’s name. That changed last week as his widow, Dina Raichik, joined a procession of hundreds of singing celebrants through the streets of Krakow, Poland’s historic Jewish quarter to finally welcome the holy scroll in the centuries-old Rema Synagogue.

“This is completing a circle,” said Dina Raichik. “It was something he wanted, something he started and didn’t finish.”

When the late Raichik passed, he left behind Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl, a rescue organization founded in 1989 that has brought thousands of children from the fallout-stricken region of Ukraine to medical treatment and safety in Israel. He also left behind the Torah project, which he began after learning that the Rema Synagogue – named after Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the 16th-century sage whose glosses appear embedded in the text of the Code of Jewish Law – was without a kosher Torah scroll of its own.

“It can’t be that the Rema Synagogue doesn’t have a Torah,” he told Dina Raichik, herself a descendent of the famed Isserles.

Two years ago, the late Raichik met Rabbi Eliezer Gurary, the new director of Chabad of Krakow, at the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Cambria Heights, N.Y. In the course of their conversation, Raichik promised to commission a Torah for the historic synagogue.

A couple of months later, he accompanied a group of friends from Argentina for a ceremony marking the start of the lengthy process of writing the holy scroll.

“The intention was to complete it this year,” said his widow, but Raichik was too ill to travel.

He passed away in September at the age of 55 as 15 sick children from Chernobyl flew to Israel, his organization’s 82nd rescue mission. In the midst of her grief, Dina Raichik pressed forward with the Torah project, working with the same group from Argentina, who wanted to dedicate the scroll to Raichik’s memory.

“Yossie dedicated his life to rescuing thousands of children,” said Rabbi Yossi Swerdlov of Jerusalem, who has taken over the day-to-day responsibilities of running Children of Chernobyl. “He was somebody who gave himself to everybody he met.

“He connected to people in an unbelievable way,” added Swerdlov, who was in Krakow for the Torah-dedication ceremony. “Everyone felt he was one of their closest friends.”

Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who passed away last year at the age of 55, the Torah scroll rests in the ark of the centuries-old Rema Synagogue.
Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who passed away last year at the age of 55, the Torah scroll rests in the ark of the centuries-old Rema Synagogue.

New Life

Noting the tremendous turnout at last week’s ceremony and parade – which began at the Izaak Synagogue, a 10-minute walk from the Rema – Gurary said that the dedication was a fitting tribute to Raichik. It was also a demonstration of the resiliency of Krakow’s Jewish community, once destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

“There is still life here,” he told the celebrants, many of whom were Jewish teenagers participating in the annual March of the Living program. “The Holocaust will not conquer us.”

The event was local Yakov Kovalsky’s first Torah dedication.

“It was great,” said the 35-year-old native of eastern Galicia. “This was very important for the community.”

“The community is very excited,” echoed Gurary, who reported a 40-percent increase in attendance at Shabbat services days after the dedication. “People came specifically to see the new Torah being used.”

“For the Jewish visitors, it was very important to see that there is still Jewish life here,” added Kovalsky.

That rebirth can be seen in a host of activities taking place in the historic Jewish quarter, where Gurary and his wife, Esther Gurary, coordinate holiday programs, Torah classes, a kosher food shop and Shabbat meals and services.

Kovalsky, for one, learns Talmud with Gurary every week, while Kovalsky’s fiancée – the couple are planning a traditional wedding ceremony in Krakow in two months – learns with his wife.

Two years ago, a woman learned from her grandmother that the connection between them was not biological.

“You are Jewish, your mother is Jewish,” the elderly grandmother told the woman. “I adopted your mother before the war.”

Today, the woman brings her three children to the Rema Synagogue.

“There is something special here,” Gurary said after the ceremony. “And the Torah has given everyone new vitality.”