Synagogue Burnt in Attack in Dagestan, Russia

21 dead, 46 injured in attacks in Derbent and Makhachkala

By Moshe New | Chabad.org

Early Sunday evening a number of assailants launched attacks on Jewish and other sites in the Dagestan region of Russia. Among the targets of the violent assault was the synagogue in the capital of Makhachkala and a police post, as well as the synagogue in Derbent, the region’s second largest city, and a church.

The Derbent Synagogue, which had survived, been rebuilt and serviced the Jews of the Muslim region for more than 100 years, was the target of a series of attacks. At 6 p.m., it was shot at by assailants and then lit on fire. Citizens reported seeing smoke from miles away and in the ensuing hours, the synagogue was burned to the ground and its guards killed. Similarly in Makhachkala, the synagogue was shot at by the gunmen.

Videos of the incidents showed gunmen, wearing black, shooting indiscriminately, both with automatic assault weapons and handguns. According to reports, the attacks are believed to have been carried out by Islamic terrorists affiliated with ISIS. At the Makhachkala shooting, one synagogue guard was killed.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, confirmed that no members of either city’s small Jewish communities were among the casualties. “This is a real miracle,” Lazar said. “These are both active synagogues.”

Originally built in 1914, the synagogue was once one of more than 10 in the city, but was the only one left standing by the time the Iron Curtain fell in 1991 After extensive renovations, Lazar and the local Jewish community were joined by Dagestan’s then-president in rededicating the Derbent synagogue in 2010.

“Faith in G‑d is something that all religions stand for, and sadly, these people are instead bringing destruction, spreading hatred,” Lazar told Chabad.org. “Violence is exactly the opposite of all religions. That they attacked other religious entities is the best sign that they don’t belong to humanity, or to religion.”

As of Tuesday, Russian officials confirmed 21 people killed, 16 of them police, and 46 injured.

Difficult Recent History

The story of Dagestan’s Jews since the fall of the Iron Curtain has not been an easy one. Although Dagestan had once been home to close to 25,000 Jews at its peak in the late 20th century, after 70 years of anti-religious Soviet rule, many took the first opportunity to emigrate by the fall of the Iron Curtain, particularly to the United States and the land of Israel.

Violence descended on the region in the late-1990s, when a Muslim rebellion was put down by Russia. Rabbi Avrum Ilyaguev, a native of Derbent who studied at the Chabad yeshivah in Moscow, served as director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Dagestan from 1995 to 2004, and today serves as rabbi of the Mountain Jewish community in Moscow.

In 2004, Rabbi Ovadya and Chaya Miryam Isakov moved to the region to continue where Ilyaguev left off. The Isakov’s established critical Jewish infrastructure including schools, synagogue services, providing kosher food and teaching adult-education classes.

During their time there the Isakovs dealt with increased anti-Jewish attacks, culminating in the attempted assassination of the rabbi in 2013 Chabad of Russia continues to care for the Jews living in Dagestan

“We will continue to foster relationships between all religions, and at the same time the Jewish community will be even stronger,” Lazar said. “This is our answer to hatred, we’re going to bring in more light: We’re going to rebuild even bigger and stronger, and show that the only outcome from these atrocities is people bringing even more goodness and light to the world. The Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] taught us to always add more light. The light of peace, the light of goodness and the light of brotherhood among nations.”

 

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