Rabbi Levin Expresses Joy over Simhat Torah Festivities in Talk with Rabbi Schneier

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin of Moscow’s Grand Choral Synagogue radiated joy over Russian Jews’ Simhat Torah celebration in a telephone conversation today with a New York rabbi who is a close friend. Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue, which is near the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, called Rabbi Levin and was told that the celebration at the synagogue and on Archipova St., in front of it, was “extraordinary.”

“It appeared everyone came. No one was missing,” he quoted Rabbi Levin as saying. “Just listening to his voice, I could tell how excited and proud he was,” Rabbi Schneier said. Some 12,000 Jews, mostly young people, danced the hora, and sang in front of the synagogue and in it on Monday; inside there was an overflow crowd estimated at 2,000 which sang in Hebrew “Havah Neranenu” (“Let Us Rejoice”) to the clapping of hands, JTA’s London office learned. Simhat Torah is one of the few occasions that Soviet authorities permit Jews to celebrate in the capital’s streets. The practice dates back to the Khrushchev period. In the latter years of the Stalin regime, it was forbidden. One correspondent was told by an elderly man, “It’s so crowded we can’t get inside even today.”

Rabbi Schneier said that the 74-year-old Rabbi Levin was cheerful and that his voice was full of confidence. The Russian rabbi said the “hakafot” – procession of the Torah scrolls – was joyous and a “magnificent manifestation of Jewish consciousness.” Rabbi Levin fondly recalled his visit to the United States last summer and called it a stepping stone toward closer ties between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, Rabbi Schneier said.

“According to Jewish tradition, I can extend good wishes for the new year until the Festival of Hanukah,” Rabbi Levin was quoted as saying. And he offered wishes for “g’mar hasimah tovah” (final good verdict in the book of life) and asked that his blessings be conveyed to Jews he met in the U.S. and to the U.S. Jewish community. Rabbi Schneier, an Orthodox rabbi, is head of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group concerned with religious freedom of all denominations everywhere. He visited Rabbi Levin in 1966 and 1967 while on trips to the Soviet Union.

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