Petersburg’s oldest historic synagogue reopens

The oldest prayer hall of Petersburg, Russia, the ‘Small Synagogue,’ opened its doors to the public after four years of renovations in the days following Rosh Hashanah. The synagogue is a beloved city landmark that has been the hub of Jewish life even under the most grueling conditions in the past century. The members of local Jewish community, business and cultural leaders and heads of city administration celebrated the opening.

Built in 1886, the Small Synagogue (called so in comparison to the city’s Grand Choral Synagogue that was built seven years later) is part of Petersburg’s synagogue compound. However, as opposed to the main synagogue that carried only perfunctory functions under the Communist regime, the Small Synagogue remained the real center of community cultural life and tradition throughout the years. Even during World War II, when the city was under German siege and people were dying routinely from bombings, hunger and cold, the Synagogue remained open.

During perestroika years, the Small Synagogue was the first place that saw a renewed interest in Jewish roots among the younger generation.

Activity never stopped in the Small Synagogue, but the building itself had become weary. Both the facade and the historical interior, including the gold-covered bima, unique patterned ceiling and wooden floors were in dire need of restoration. 

In 2011 the city’s Jewish community, with the generous help of Mrs. Lili Safra, in memory of her late husband Mr. Edmond Safra OBM, undertook the massive effort needed to restore the Synagogue. Over the four years, the building underwent major renovations, and now boasts the historic glory originally given to it by its founders.

“Re-opening of the Small Synagogue is a joyous moment,” said Rabbi Menachem Pewzner, the chief rabbi of Petersburg. “And it is symbolic that this happens on Rosh Hashanah, the time for renewal and blessed beginnings.” 

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