«Jewish Observer»
October 2002
5763 Cheshvan

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Synagogue means everything to us.

The Soviet power valued buildings of good quality, though the very word "synagogue" evoked its aversion. We ourselves, let's be candid, were ashamed of it. We had not a slightest idea this warehouse packed with bags, boxes and cans had previously been a synagogue. The same goes with a garment artel in Azerbaijani Kuba, storehouses of diverse rubbish in Lvov and Voronezh, philharmonic society in Vinnitsa (not for nothing did Lifshits' synagogue have wonderful acoustics). To say nothing about a famous Brodsky's choral synagogue in Kiev: for many decades a pretty good puppet theatre had been staging Russian and Ukrainian folk tales in it. Let's also recall glorious Soviet educators: leaving the walls of the Kazan prayer house, from where over many years they had been propagating their conceptions of good and evil, they broke windows and panes, damaged a heating system and plastering. Young talents of Tumen diligently attended a musical school, after which religious Jews received their former building but in a rather devastated condition. The synagogue "Or Khadash" in Omsk was burnt to ashes after it had been passed over to a local Jewish community...

That'll do, let's stop here - to spare newspaper's space. This everything is in the past. Not these data constitute a core of the album "Our heritage: CIS synagogues in past and future". The book is issued by the "Gesharim-Bridges of culture" publishing house in a series "Contemporary research works" conducted within a joint publishing project "Bibliotheca Judaica". The American Jewish united distribution fund "Joint" has funded the edition.

The core of this edition is the history of returning synagogues to those from whom they had been taken away, for whom they had been built and were to serve - Jewish communities. The history is painfully long and dramatic though is expounded listlessly, informatively, lapidarily.

Synagogues, true, mean everything to us. After the tradition, this is, first of all, "beit-tfila" - a praying venue where Jews gather to express their most ordinary, simple wishes and most concealed hopes and expectations, where they come to find consolation, to strengthen spirit, to banish fear.

Synagogue is "beit-midrash". They study here, acquire knowledge. There are books and teachers here.

Synagogue is "beit-knesset", venue for meetings. They get rid of the feeling of loneliness here becoming part of the community. They find here a unique feeling of unity with their nation.

The author of the book is Mikhael Beizer, born in Petersburg, graduate of the Leningrad polytechnic institute, activist of the Jewish culture movement. Now he is an Israeli, doctor of sciences, researcher of the history of Soviet Jewry. He has collected a unique material on the fate of synagogue buildings scattered about the post-Soviet territory. The book is perfectly illustrated. It contains a thoroughly collected information, beginning from the early XX century till the USSR's collapse and later on, about returning confiscated by the state synagogues to Jewish communities and their acquiring the second life.

...Reading and viewing the album leads to idle philosophizing. There seem to exist three histories in one, its three grounds, and we manage to simultaneously be here and there - in general, everywhere. This is a kind of tightrope walking. The first ground is horizontal, it harbours our relations with contemporaries. This history is very nervous, with infinite quarrels and skirmishes. You should always be on the alert. Senseless clashes have broken our life into thousands of pieces and, beside them, nothing is left. You naturally, make up plans, but they are castles in the air as you again take this bus to get into a crowded space.

The second ground is a vertical history. The present is too short, a swiftly running point. Everything beyond its borders is obscure. We are aware there is something around but have neither strength not need to understand what it is. But you once take a seat, light a cigarette, observe a gallery of somebody's family portraits - and comprehend the life has not begun today and will not end tomorrow. Be you a hero of independent movement, leader of one of hundreds of Jewish organizations or ordinary observer humbly living his life - you have prolonged your nation. Since should a single stage or tribe had been absent the history would have stopped. They are equal, at least, due to this. In a word, there are many nations here, there is more justice, too. To crown it all, a vertical is not crowded, everybody allows everybody to live.

To the third ground I refer everything concerning man's relations with God. When you are praying, talking to God, there is nobody else in the world.

Synagogue is namely this third ground, which allows you to feel a live human being, not a decomposing live corpse.

A man is homeless without a synagogue. Even the one having a decent dwelling.

"Inostranets", Russia

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