Mystery Solved: Historic Ark Cover Finds Way Back to Russian Synagogue

A parochet—the decorative cover for the ark containing Torah scrolls—that went missing from the Irkutsk Synagogue a century ago has been found and brought back to its home.
A Soviet-era photo of the ark with its standard parochet, which is used most of the year.
For now, the cover remains on display in a glass case near the synagogue’s newly restored alcove.
The City Museum of Irkutsk, where the parochet was discovered (Photo: Wikimapia.org)
Irkutsk in 1918, almost 100 years ago (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Missing for 100 years, it is now on display in the recently renovated building

The Jewish community of Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia, has gotten to the bottom of a longtime mystery after rediscovering an old parochet—the decorative cover for the ark containing Torah scrolls—that went missing from the synagogue for more than a century.

The parochet was found a few months ago in the archives of the City History Museum of Irkutsk.

Upon hearing the news, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Aharon Wagner, the city’s chief rabbi, went right over there to take a look for himself: “I was really moved to see the parochet—the same one that hung in our synagogue more than 100 years ago—especially now, after renovations have reinstated the aron Kodesh [the Torah ark] to the same place it was at that time.”

The heads of the community, which is part of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, began trying to find ways of re-establishing the rights to the cover and returning it to the Irkutsk Synagogue.

“Of course, the museum management was not happy about the idea,” reports Wagner. “They claimed that once the parochet is exhibited, it will become a valuable addition to the presentation of the city’s multicultural history, and thus attract more diverse visitors to the museum, facilitate intercultural dialogue and so on.”

Over the Purim holiday in March, the synagogue welcomed many guests, among them the mayor of Irkutsk. The rabbi took up the topic with him. “I told the mayor that there is a parochet that belongs to the Jewish community of the city in the museum archives, and explained how dear it is to us and that it be returned to the synagogue—to the place where it belongs. I promised that it will be displayed there for everyone to see and won’t ever be taken down.”

The Russian synagogue is well-known to city officials; a historical building, it recently underwent significant renovations and is registered in the city preservation fund. As such, it annually attracts thousands of tourists and visitors, both Jews and others.

The museum’s management eventually informed the rabbi and congregation that the parochet would be transferred to the synagogue. It arrived on Friday.

For now, it remains on display in a glass case near the original alcove.

“We hope that closer to Yom Kippur, we will be able to hang it over the synagogue’s Torah scrolls,” says Wagner, “restoring the righteous glory to our prayer room.”

Sveta Raskin (Chabad.org)

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