A new Jewish educational center opened Thursday in Petersburg, Russia, marking an exciting step in the city’s Jewish history – constructed on behalf of the Jewish community in 1896, the building was returned to them in 2005 and took another 10 years to restore.
The new center, symbolically named ‘Sinai’, will host a kindergarten, a girl’s school and dormitory, and an entire floor dedicated to youth programs and activities, clubs and events.
“The name of the center is not coincidental,” said the city chief rabbi Menachem Pevzner. “We wanted to underline the idea of continuity in our tradition, of the connection between generations,” he said.
During the opening ceremony Thursday, rabbi Pevzner affixed the mezuza to the building’s doorpost and welcomed the crowd – city officials, community members and guests – inside, on a tour of the 120-year old building.
The plot of land on Dekabristov 42, the center’s location next to the city’s main Grand Choral synagogue complex, was purchased by the Jewish community in 1879. A Jewish trades school was opened there in 1896, sponsored by baron Ginzburg, a prominent Jewish philanthropist of the time. After the revolution in 1917, the trades school became a Jewish public school, and later was transformed again, this time into a children’s hospital.
At the turn of 21st century, the Petersburg community began the process of re-claiming the property and asked for the city’s assistance in finding new premises for the hospital. Miraculously, in 2005 the hospital was relocated and the building returned to the community.
It partially opened in 2010 as the location of the city’s Georgian synagogue, and finally this year the cumbersome restoration project was complete.
Petersburg community leaders dedicated the opening to the beginning of the new year, “a time of important new beginnings for the city” – last Rosh Hashana the city’s unique ‘Small synagogue’ also re-opened after renovations.