The Jewish community of Irkutsk, Russia is celebrating the 140th anniversary of the city’s synagogue this year. The synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in the country – it was built by Irkutsk’s Jewish community, which included people from all walks of life and occupations, in 1880.
The synagogue was also active during the Soviet period – while most of Russia’s synagogues stood closed for almost 70 years of the Communist regime, Irkutsk’s synagogue was baking matzah as early as 1948 and sending it all over the region.
The celebration will be marked on several occasions throughout the year. The first took place on Chanukah with a traditional holiday celebration and blessings from city officials. Another celebration is planned for when an ancient Torah Scroll, which is currently being restored, will be presented to the community.
The community is also publishing a book about the synagogue that will present photographs and historical facts on the place.
Irkutsk, located in snowy Siberia, has a rich Jewish history dating back to the 18th century: some Jews arrived there as traders on the lucrative silk road to China and Mongolia, others were sent as cantonists by the Tzarist army. Today the community is thriving, with many educational projects and activities for children and youth, for whom the city’s Jewish history provides connection and perspective for the future.