Chanukah Candles Behind Bars at World’s Oldest Prison

Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, Visited the Jewish Prisoners at Moscow’s Butirsky Prison during Chanukah. * Most of the Jewish activities at the Butirsky Prison in the center of Moscow take place in the synagogue in one of the most guarded wings of the building * Dedicated volunteers come weekly to teach a Torah class, assist with Tefillin, and also conduct gatherings on special dates, which help uplift the spirits of the Jewish prisoners. 

In honor of Chanukah, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar came to attend the Chanuka party at the Butirsky Prison. He was greeted by the prison’s administration, who expressed their appreciation for the spiritual work being done which has positive effects on the thousands of prisoners there.

In attendance was also the prison’s Chaplain Rabbi Aharon Gurevitch, who presented before the prison’s directors a sample dedication plaque which will soon be put up in memory of the unforgettable Rabbi Mordechai Dubin OBM. Rabbi Dubin was a well-known Jewish leader, President of Agudas Yisroel, and a public figure in the Latvian government.

He ably directed the Jewish Community in Latvia and was instrumental in obtaining freedom for the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory.  Rabbi Dubin was imprisoned for his dedication to Judaism, and spent 3 years in this prison – which has been running actively for over 240 years!

At the appointed time, the officers accompanied the Chief Rabbi to the synagogue where more than ten Jews were waiting. As he lit the Chanukah candles, there were many emotional expressions. After prayer services and a Torah class, there was a warm and uplifting holiday party.

Rabbi Alexander Zilberg and Rabbi Shlomo Dishko, who actively volunteer at the prison all year, presented each of the prisoners with a package containing a menorah, candles, and kosher food and sweets in honor of the holiday.

This was not the only prison that was visited. During Chanuka, another few Moscow jails were visited, as part of the varied activities and projects of Moscow’s Shaarei Tzedek Chessed Center which caters to the elderly, the needy and the indigent.

Photography: Butirsky Prison Staff

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