Israeli President Moshe Katzav began his first official visit to Estonia yesterday with a meeting with Arnold RÃ¼Ã¼tel, the President of Estonia. Held at the Presidential Palace in Kadriorg, the meeting also involved students from the Tallinn Jewish Day School. Later, accompanied by Estonian President RÃ¼Ã¼tel, President Katzav took part in a commemoration event at the site of the Kloog Concentration Camp, where they laid flowers at the Monument to Holocaust Victims.
In a significant event, President Katzav took part in the ceremony for laying the first stone into the foundation of Tallinn’s new Synagogue–the first Jewish place of worship to be built in the country since World War Two.
The original synagogue, dating from 1882, was bombed by an aircraft in 1944 and since then, Estonia was the only country in the European Union without a Synagogue. In addition to a 200-seat prayer hall, the new building will also include a Jewish Community Center, mikvah, kosher food store, and Jewish Museum, offices and meeting rooms. Construction is expected to take eight months, according to the community Chairman Boris Oks.
“Setting the first stone of the Synagogue’s foundation is timed to the day when, 61 years ago, more than 2000 Jews were murdered here,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Kot, the Chief Rabbi of Estonia and Chabad Lubavitch representative to the country. This tragic occurrence happened during the liquidation of the concentration camp, when SS soldiers killed everybody remaining, including Jews brought here from many other places. The Synagogue will serve as a comprehensive center to serve the needs of the 3,000 Jews currently residing in Estonia.
Rabbi Kot, who is spearheading this project, led the community in prayer and then delivered a stirring address to the community in Estonian, Russian and Hebrew.
President Katzav then delivered a keynote address, speaking with pride about the revival of Jewish life in the country and the virtual absence of anti-Semitism in Estonia. When speaking of the new Synagogue, the President said “how beautiful it is when the Jewish people, no matter where they find themselves, can come to a Synagogue and celebrate our traditions. I urge all of you, even if you are secular, to come from time to time to taste the beauty of our traditions when the Synagogue is completed.”
A major part of the construction of the new Synagogue is being made possible by Mr. Alexander Bronstein of Moscow, who is a native of Tallinn. He is dedicating the Synagogue in loving memory of his mother Baila, who passed away this year and is buried in Tallinn. Mr. Bronstein’s father, Michael, who is a well-known Economics Professor in Tallinn and an active member of the local Jewish community, attended the ceremony along with son Alexander and his wife. Mr. Bronstein was honored at the opening of laying the cornerstone.
An additional major capital grant was made by the Rohr Family Foundation of Miami, Florida and New York, headed by Messrs. Sami and George Rohr. The Rohr Family Foundation is a major partner in the building of Synagogues and Jewish Community Centers across the Former Soviet Union. This project is one of 82 building projects currently under construction by the FJC CIS.
Avraham Berkowitz, Executive Director of the FJC, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony and also served as a representative of the Rohr Family Foundation. At the ceremony he said “Tallin is the last major capital in Europe without a Synagogue. This groundbreaking is laying the foundation stone for an assured future of Yiddishkeit and Jewish life in Estonia”.