Peres, Metzger Attend Opening of First Estonian Synagogue

Top Israeli dignitaries attended a ceremony dedicating the first synagogue to be opened in Estonia, since the last was destroyed during WWII.

Alex Traiman ,

The Jewish Community of Estonia took a major step toward rebuilding Jewish life with the opening of the first synagogue in Estonia since World War II. Top Israeli dignitaries attended a ceremony celebrating the opening of the brand new House of Jewish prayer.

This week's dedication proves, "You can burn down a building but you can’t burn down a prayer," Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said at the ceremonies.

Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger led three Torah scrolls to the synagogue, where Peres and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves cut a red ribbon.

"We both, Estonians and Jews, have lived among foreign people and under foreign power, but kept our language and culture," Ilves stated.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of the world Lubavitch educational division, and Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, both instrumental in facilitating the funding of the building, also attended the event.

The congregation of Estonian Jewry will be led by the country’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot, an emissary of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. Kot is the first rabbi to serve the small Jewish community in the country since the last rabbi of Estonia was killed during the Holocaust.

The last synagogue belonging to the community, built in 1883, was destroyed in the war during the Soviet bombing of Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

The synagogue, a light and airy building with a glass façade can fit 180 worshippers in the sanctuary. In addition, the building has a mikveh, or ritual bath, and a kosher restaurant.

The structure cost approximately $2 million to build, with the majority of funding coming the Rohr family foundation in the United States, and Alexander Bronshtein, a Russian Jew with family ties to Estonia. In addition, contributions were made by Estonian Jews and non-Jews alike.

Prior to World War II, approximately 5,000 Jews lived in Estonia, the majority of them living in the capital city. When the war broke out, many fled to the Soviet Union and the rest, including the country’s last rabbi were murdered by the Nazi regime.

Estonia was the only country Nazi Germany declared “Judenfrei,” or free of Jews during the war. Less than one dozen Jews are said to have survived the war.

Today, about 3,000 Jews live in Estonia.

Rabbi Kot, proud of the new synagogue, said, "Now we will start building a Jewish life here."