Ukrainians restore scrolls

MOSCOW — The problem: how to repair Torah scrolls damaged by decades of neglect.

The solution: training young Ukrainian Jews in the centuries-old art.

The scrolls were confiscated by the Communist authorities during the Soviet era. Now that they are being returned to the Jewish community, there is a shortage of people who know how to repair them.

Last month, Vivian Solomon, a Torah scribe and repairman from London, came to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to teach classes at the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies.

The institute, opened two years ago under the auspices of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, is training 10 young Jews from Ukraine's Reform congregations the basics of Hebrew literacy and Jewish ritual — including the restoration of Torah scrolls.

The young men and women will then return to their hometowns to share their newly gained knowledge with their communities.

Solomon, a 75-year-old man of Indian descent, learned to repair Torahs eight years ago after retiring from his career as an engineer.

"I love imparting knowledge," he said. "I've gained so much in the last eight years. When I die, it dies with me. I want to impart that to others before I go."

Solomon has had to start from scratch.

"Most of these students had never seen a Torah before they came here," said Rabbi David Wilfond, leader of the Hatikva Reform Jewish congregation in Kiev.