First Estonian Synagogue in 60 Years

Amidst all the recent accusations (from Russia, mainly) that Estonia is a fascist, Hitler-loving country of neo-nazis - look what just opened in the middle of Tallinn. Whoop, what's that? Could it be? Omigosh, it's a synagogue!

Two years in the making and sixty years overdue, the new, ultramodern synagogue in Tallinn is the only synagogue in the whole of Estonia - the first since Tallinn's previous synagogue, built in 1883, was destroyed during Soviet air raids in 1944. Tartu, a university town southeast of the capital, also had a synagogue which was likewise destroyed during the war.

The ribbon-cutting of Tallinn's new 2 million dollar synagogue was a major event for Estonia's 3000-member Jewish community, most of whom live in the capital. Over 500 people attended the ceremony, including Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres (who together cut the ribbon), members of the Israeli Parliament, and Yona Metzger, the chief rabbi of Israel. The new building will also house a restaurant which will prepare and distribute kosher food, and a museum detailing Jewish life and history in Estonia before the Second World War. Previous to now, it has been difficult to practice Judaism in Estonia, live a Jewish lifestyle or even feel 'Jewish' - mainly due to the absence of rabbis, kosher products and education about Judaism; but the new house of worship aims to unite the community and bolster Jewish identity.

About 5,000 Jews lived in Estonia before the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940 when hundreds of Jews were deported along with thousands of other Estonians. Upon the Nazi invasion 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 where they perished. Experts estimate that fewer than a dozen Jews survived the Holocaust in Estonia.


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