Members of a rabbinical family stretched across the globe gathered in central Israel to dedicate a new Torah scroll in memory of their forebears, a couple known for their tireless self-sacrifice to keep Judaism alive in Communist Russia, and later among the Russian immigrant community in Israel.

Written in Kfar Chabad by a grandson of Rabbi Aharon Mendel and Nechama Leah Hazan, the unique scroll will rotate among their descendants, many of whom serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in locations such as Alaska, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Russia and China. The Torah’s final letters were filled in by celebrants at the family home in B’nei Brak outside of Tel Aviv before the scroll assumed its first home at Chabad of Sha’arei Aliya, a center for Russian immigrants in Lod run by Rabbi Avrohom Hazan.

Each nuclear family descended from the couple tried to send at least one representative to the ceremony, which took place one year after the passing of Aharon Mendel Hazan. Nechama Leah Hazan passed away 12 years ago. Even their 12 surviving children don’t know exactly how many descendents they left behind.

“My father was very proud of his children for doing so much,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Hazan, director of Chabad of Rome. “Spreading Judaism, that was his job. This is an appreciation for what he did.”

The Rome emissary’s son, Rabbi Shalom Hazan, couldn’t make it to the gathering because he was busy running activities for Jewish vacationers in the Italian capital. But he said he’s looking forward to his chance to use the Torah scroll.

Another grandchild, Shterni Wolff, also said that she’s waiting to welcome the holy scroll to Hanover, Germany’s Chabad Jewish Center, which she runs together with her husband, Rabbi Binyamin Wolff. They currently borrow a scroll for weekday and Shabbat services.

“We don’t have a Torah scroll of our own,” she said.

Although Wolff remembers her grandparents fondly, she said that her children know them mostly from photographs; she believes only her 8-year-old eldest daughter remembers Aharon Mendel Hazan.

The Torah scroll “is something that unites the whole family,” noted Wolff. “The fact that it will rotate among the children and grandchildren is very unique.”

Another granddaughter, Chani Benjaminson – who co-directs Chabad of the South Coast in New Bedford, Mass. and serves as an editor for the Jewish Web site – said that the idea of dedicating a Torah scroll in the Hazans’ memory was fitting.

“When my grandparents left Russia with their children after some 20 years as refuseniks, they took with them three Torah scrolls that they had used in the clandestine synagogue in their house,” explained Benjaminson. “My grandfather held one of the Torah scrolls in his arms for the entire train ride from Russia to Austria, cradling it like a child, making believe it was an infant so that it wouldn’t be confiscated or desecrated.

“My grandparents sacrificed their lives for the Torah,” she added, “going through tremendous challenges to keep the light of Torah aflame in their difficult surroundings.”

Celebrants paraded the new Torah scroll beneath the same canopy that Rabbi Aharon Mendel Hazan let Russian immigrants to Israel use for their weddings.
Celebrants paraded the new Torah scroll beneath the same canopy that Rabbi Aharon Mendel Hazan let Russian immigrants to Israel use for their weddings.

Ultimate Legacy

As a testament to the work the couple continued to do once they immigrated to Israel in 1967, family members paraded the new Torah scroll beneath a floral wedding canopy that the Hazans let Russian immigrants use at their kosher weddings.

When the doors finally opened to limited emigration from the Soviet Union in the 1960s, many of the new arrivals in Israel hadn’t had the opportunity to have a wedding in accordance with Jewish law. Aharon Mendel Hazan saw it as his duty to help immigrants embrace a religious heritage they were denied by the Communists.

“He always arranged ceremonies – weddings, circumcisions, etc. – at our home,” said Avrohom Hazan. “And he was always running around, up until his last years, convincing parents to send their children to religious schools.”

“I find it particularly moving that the Torah scroll will be used by their children and grandchildren who direct Chabad Houses all over the globe,” said Benjaminson. “It is the ultimate legacy to the lives my grandparents led.”

Said Shterni Wolff: “When it arrives, our community will be proud to read from it.”