As part of the festivities marking this week the 125th birthday of the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia, Russia, the city’s Mayor visited the local synagogue, where he awarded an honorary medal to Rabbi Zalman Zaklas and his spouse for their contribution in developing the city’s community life.
The event became an emotional occasion for Rabbi Zaklas, whose grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Vishezky OBM spent seven years in a Soviet jail for the proliferation of “religious activity” under the Communist regime.
“What really is amazing is that the current mayor is a registered member of Russia’s Communist party, and there he was, in our community center honoring us for developing Jewish community life in Novosibirsk. I thought to myself in those moments that if my grandfather, of blessed memory, could see us right now he wouldn’t believe his eyes!” wrote Rabbi Zaklas in a moving statement following the ceremony.
Rabbi Zaklas and his family arrived in Novosibirsk in 1998, when the revival of Jewish life in the city was only beginning. Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Petersburg, with a considerable Jewish population, yet twenty years ago there were no community services what so ever available to the city’s Jewish residents.
Over the years Rabbi Zaklas and many other Jewish activists succeeded in reviving and developing the community. In 2013, only five years ago, a large community center “Beit Menachem” finally opened in the city. The center includes the city’s synagogue, a kindergarten and rooms for youth club activities, a kosher products and Judaica store and the only kosher restaurant in the entire Siberian region.