Over Memorial Day weekend 2000, ten members of Temple Shalom, Succasunna, New Jersey, traveled to Ukraine to bring a Torah scroll to the Zvenigorodka Jewish community and to participate in a B'nai Mitzvah ceremony there for 17 young people and one adult.
Zvenigorodka is a small town southeast of Kiev, a journey of some four and a half hours by bus. The Reform/Progressive congregation there is one of approximately 34 burgeoning congregations throughout Ukraine. Just before the Temple Shalom visitors arrived, the congregation had successfully petitioned the government for the return of its synagogue.
Among the congregation was a thirteen year old girl who joined the B'nai Mitzvah service, a newly-accepted rabbinical student, and an amateur Jewish genealogist. In addition to the Torah scroll, a gift to the entire Jewish community, the travelers from Succasunna brought a tallit and a kiddush cup for each Zvenigorodka Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Each set of these items was donated by an up-coming Bar/Bat Mitzvah family from the congregation.
The travelers found it truly inspiring to dance in the streets of Zvenigorodka with the congregants and their new Torah, especially since, less than ten years earlier, being a Jew, let alone openly practicing Judaism, was dangerous. The B'nai Mitzvah ceremony which followed was equally inspiring and had a decidedly international flavor with rabbis from Kiev, England and New Jersey conducting the ceremony in Hebrew, English, Russian and Ukrainian.
Determined to aid in the continued growth of the Zvenigorodka Jewish community, in the days following the ceremony the Temple Shalom delegation entered into detailed discussions with local, regional and national leaders. As a result of those discussions, the group committed to:
In response to the efforts of the members of Temple Shalom in New Jersey, the Zvenigorodka community has named its synagogue Temple Shalom.