Thursday, May 17, 2007


An excellent development in eastern Europe:
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) - Jewish leaders and politicians from Estonia and Israel celebrated the opening of the Baltic country's first and only synagogue Wednesday, six decades after previous houses of worship were destroyed in World War II.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres cut the red ribbon at the front of the $2 million, 180-seat ultramodern synagogue in Tallinn after the Torah scrolls were brought inside amid music and dancing.

"You can burn down a building, but you cannot burn down a prayer. And we are a praying people," Peres said.

Tallinn's previous synagogue, built in 1883, was destroyed in 1944 in air raids as Nazi troops fled the Red Army's advance. Tartu, a university town southeast of the capital, also had a synagogue, but it too was destroyed during the war.

Some 5,000 Jews lived in Estonia prior to World War II, enjoying cultural autonomy declared by the government in 1926.

The Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940 ended the Jewish cultural autonomy, and hundreds of Jews were deported, as were thousands of other Estonians.

When the Nazis invaded in 1941, a majority in the Jewish community managed to escape to the Soviet Union, but the roughly 1,000 Jews who remained behind were sent to concentration camps around Estonia.

They were later killed along with thousands of other Jews deported to Estonia from other European countries. Experts believe fewer than a dozen Jews survived the Holocaust in Estonia.

Today, most of Estonia's 3,000-member Jewish community lives in Tallinn. The country has a population of 1.3 million, and joined the European Union in 2004.

Speaking of the wartime occupations of Estonia, Ilves said it was a difficult time for both Estonians and Jews. "Estonia's Jewish community has always done good things for the Estonian nation," he said.

Roughly 500 people attended the ceremony, including members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament and the chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger.

Construction of the airy new synagogue started in 2005. The price tag was shouldered by U.S.-based Rohr Family Foundation and Estonian donors.

In addition to religious services, the synagogue will prepare and distribute kosher foods in a restaurant and present the history of Jews in Estonia.

Estonia chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot expressed hope that the new synagogue would strengthen the local Jewish identity.

"For a long time, it was not possible to practice Jewish life in Estonia," Kot, of the New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said Tuesday. "There was no rabbi, no kosher food ... no possibility to learn about Judaism."

"People will now have the possibility to feel as a Jew," he said.
While I'm not happy that Shimon Peres took part in this, as there's reasons why it just doesn't seem right, I am happy that Estonia's taken steps to help the Jewish religion to be practiced properly again. This is a good bit of news. Alos, here's the CIS Jewish Federation's website.

No comments: