When Sheri Sandler (L) took her daughter, Eva (R) to Ukraine 14 years ago on a mother-daughter trip organized by Project Kesher, they were part of a discussion on what makes a home Jewish when there is a total absence of Jewish objects. “No candlesticks, kiddush cups, mezuzahs, dancing rabbis and the like,” comments Sandler. At a Shabbat in the woods, when a partial Torah scroll was presented for use during the service, “I asked if it would be okay to have it restored for the community.” The Cherkassy Jews entrusted them with the object that had been the centerpiece of their religious activity, and the Sandlers restored the Torah scroll, adding a cover embroidered with the Hebrew in the feminine.
Interestingly, the restored Torah spurred several outcomes in Cherkassy. Because Project Kesher, a U.S.-based organization formed to give voice to Jewish women in the Former Soviet Union, was the facilitator of the Torah restoration, women in Cherkassy were given full access to chant and dance with the Torah in the progressive congregation there, an unprecedented egalitarian opportunity. And recently, the Torah had its Cherkassy bat mitzvah debut when Lena Pyssina (center), 25, Next Generation coordinator for Project Kesher, marked her bat mitzvah with it. Pyssina was in the U.S. this spring to speak about Kesher’s work “to ensure Jewish women’s needs are represented within the Jewish community and their voices heard at the grassroots secular level.” The three women had the opportunity to meet for the first time during her visit. They were photographed at Manhattan’s Rodeph Shalom congregation, where Eva had celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. “It’s amazing that a Torah is what connected two young Jewish women from opposite parts of the world,” Pyssina told Lilith. Sheri Sandler said, “This story is about women trying to fix and repair and restore.”