One day before Riga’s Jewish community celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Holocaust, a bomber planted explosives at the Latvian city’s sole remaining synagogue.
The bomb exploded at 4 a.m. local time in the early hours of the Sabbath day, shattering the Peitavas Synagogue’s glass windows and light fixtures and ruining its basement sanctuary, according to Mordechai Glazman, one of two Lubavitch rabbis at the synagogue. There were no injuries.
Most of the community’s Jewish residents, who number between 14,500 and 20,000, think that the bombing is related to what is known in Latvia as the Day Of Freedom, which marks the end of the war, Glazman said in a telephone interview from Riga.
It is considered an especially significant holiday in the Jewish community, he said.
In the wake of the attack, Latvia’s president and prime minister made unscheduled visits to the synagogue and Riga’s Jewish cemetery to mark the holiday Monday.
The officials had originally planned to honor the Latvian, Russian and German soldiers who died in the war their respective cemeteries, Glazman said.
They joined the Jewish community’s leaders, Holocaust survivors and Jewish army veterans in a ceremony to honor the dead.
Latvia president, Guntis Ulmanis, put flowers on a mass grave of Jewish soldiers in the cemeteries and told the hundreds of people gathered that the government would do everything is can to apprehend and punish the perpetrators, Glazman said.
“The prime minister said that it’s probably people with an interest in making a bad name for Latvia in the world who did this,” he said.
There has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Riga, the rabbi said.
Last week, the police confiscated 1,000 copies of “Mein Kampf,” and arrested the printer, who had produced Adolf Hitler’s autobiography in Latvian. Four thousand copies had already been sold, said Glazman, and 5,000 more were scheduled to be printed.
On Sunday, hundreds of the city’s Jewish residents visited the synagogue to witness the damage for themselves.
The blast left the first-floor sanctuary, used for worship twice a day, unusable, said the rabbi’s wife, Rivki Glazman.
A crack between the top of the wall and the ceiling runs around the perimeter of the room, and pews in the basement sanctuary were broken, she said.
“For older Jews, who were crying like kids, it brings back memories of 50 years ago,” said Glazman.
“The whole city name and the telephone did not stop ringing,” said Rivki Glazman. “Taxi drivers were asking me about it, everybody. People really care.
“We spent most of the day Sunday comforting the community and assuring everyone that the Jewish activities and observance will continue and be strengthened,” said her husband.
He estimated that repairing the damage would cost $40,000.
The Peitavas Synagogue, named for the street on which it is located in Riga’s old city, is the sole surviving Jewish house of worship in Riga, which boasted 63 before the Holocaust decimated the Community.
Between 50 and 70 Jews attend the synagogue on Shabbat, and as many as 1,500 on Simchat Torah, which is celebrated as perhaps the most important holiday by Latvian Jews, the rabbi said.
The synagogue also hosts a three-times-a-week children’s theater club which meets after school, a Sunday school in the morning, a teen club on Sunday afternoons and a Yiddish club for the community’s senior citizens, who gather once a week to speak in the tongue of their youth.
There is also a study group for the elderly men of the community, who meet to learn and share a hot meal between the afternoon and evening prayers each day, Rivki Glatzman said. Many of the city’s synagogues are now used to house government offices, she said, and the rabbis are currently negotiating with Latvian officials to get back four of them.
One building, which before the war was was the third largest synagogue in Riga, is now occupied by the Ministry Of Transportation, said the rabbi, adding that he has been negotiating with the government for three years in an effort to reclaim the site.