After many years of negotiations, yesterday the authorities in the Siberian city of Tomsk returned its historical shul to the Jewish community. This shul was built by the Cantonists who were exiled to distant Siberia by the Russian Czar.
The wooden Shul was built over one hundred years ago, and the Cantonists davened there with great mesirus nefesh until the Communists seized it and turned it into a residential home for about 17 families.
In recent years, great efforts were made to return the building to the Jewish community of Tomsk, headed by its shliach Rabbi Levi Kaminetzky.
In order to expedite the process, the governor promised to provide alternative housing for the 17 families who have settled in this historic and holy structure. Recently the move was carried out, with the municipality providing suitable alternative housing for all of the families living there.
The transfer of ownership took place last night in a particularly moving event that was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Shortly before the event, a local jew, whose grandfather had been the gabbai of the shul, surprised the community and brought with him a Torah scroll that had belonged to this shul. The Torah was written by the famous Cantonist, Tzvi Hirsh Yankelovitch, and his initials are embroidered on the Torah’s mantel which has been preserved until today.
When the Shul was seized, this man’s grandfather ran inside and saved the Torah, which was lovingly given over from generation to generation, and today this man returned it to its home.
Before the event, Rabbi Lazar came for a special ceremony held in the City Hall. Mayor Ivan Klein and his Jewish deputy, Mr. Michael Ratner, spoke of the sequence of events which led to their decision to transfer ownership of this historical building to the Jewish Community.
After signing the official document confirming the transfer of ownership, Rabbi Lazar traveled with the mayor and senior municipal officials to the building, where dozens of the city’s Jews participated in a special ceremony held outside the shul in the freezing cold temperatures.
After the signing of the official document confirming the transfer of ownership, Rabbi Yosef Lazar traveled with the mayor and senior municipal officials to the building in question, when dozens of the city’s Jews participated in a special ceremony held outside the synagogue.
The mayor gave a congratulatory speech and handed over the keys of the Shul to Rabbi Lazar. Then, not a single eye remained dry as the Torah scroll was brought over and Rabbi Lazar held it with great emotion. The crowd spontaneously burst into song, with the powerful words of “nyet nyet nikovo” reverberating in the freezing cold air, as they danced and sang together.
The Jewish community of Tomsk, headed by its Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Kaminetzky intend to rehabilitate the place and restore it to its former glory.
Photos by JDN