'Both Estonia and Israel know what works to maintain identity'

Estonian Jewry Celebrates 10 Years of First Jewish Center Since WWII.

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Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid
Yelena Rudi

Last Thursday marked the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Jewish Community Center in Tallinn, Estonia.

This center was the first Jewish establishment built in Estonia since the Holocaust.

Attending the event were Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid; Estonian Speaker of Parliament Eiki Nestor; European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip; Israeli Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud); Israel's Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau; Israeli Ambassador to Estonia Dov Segev-Steinberg; Estonia's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot; European Jewish Association Director Rabbi Menachem Margolin; and Jewish businessman and philanthropist Alexander Bronstein, who dedicated the Community Center in memory of his mother Bella.

Addressing the attendees, President Kaljulaid said, "The Tallinn synagogue tells the story of the fate of its Jewish community. Estonia is proud of the fact that our country today has a flourishing and vibrant Jewish life."

"The history of the local community, like the history of our country itself, is one of tragedy and revival— from the Holocaust years which tell of tragedy and trials of occupation, to the flourishing recent years of a free, democratic and independent Estonia. Today the synagogue is a beautiful and clear symbol of freedom.

"Our two nations shared both the joyous and difficult times which we endured together... Both nations have needed to fight for their existence.

"I recall with gratitude those 178 Jewish women and men who participated in the Estonian War of Independence.

"Both our nations know what it means to maintain our identity and freedom even under the threat of foreign powers, and we can be proud of our achievements.”

Seventy-five years ago, at the Wannsee Conference, Estonia was the first country to be declared Judenfrei (free of Jews). All synagogues in Estonia were razed during the Second World War, leaving no trace of Jewish life in the country.

After the war, the Communist regime strictly forbade the returning survivors to rebuild a Jewish community, and until a mere decade ago Estonia was the only country in Europe without a synagogue.

Ten years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's liberation, a synagogue and Jewish community center finally opened in the country's capital of Tallinn. Former Israeli president Shimon Peres, who was then a government minister, represented the Israeli government at the landmark event.

Throughout the past decade, Jewish activity and life in Tallinn have flourished under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Shmuel Kot.

Many Jews who were cut off from their Jewish heritage have returned to identify themselves as Jews and express that they now feel Jewish.

This year, Estonia and Israel mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid at the event
Yelena Rudi