Cherkassy, Ukraine

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.”