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Crowds Pack Moscow Synagogue As Part of Centennial Celebrations

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Moscow Jews usually gather in the city’s most famous synagogue in large numbers only for High Holidays. But June 7 was different. The Moscow Choral Synagogue was celebrating the restoration of its main sanctuary as part of yearlong events commemorating its 100th anniversary.

Within a few evening hours, several hundred Jews were treated to a speech by Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, the showing of a movie about the synagogue’s history, a children’s choir recital and fireworks displayed outside the synagogue located a few minutes walk away from the Kremlin.

Organizers said the crowd could have been bigger. But due to the mayor’s presence and because of this year’s stabbing incident in another Moscow synagogue, the event was by invitation only. The street was closed to traffic and passers-by.

There were two lines of police and two metal detectors in place.

Despite these precautions, the synagogue was packed.

“Thank God, children’s voices are being heard in the synagogue more and more today,” Luzhkov, who was sporting a white yarmulke, said about the many children in the audience. “This symbolizes that the faith will live on,” he added.

For Jews outside of Russia, the Moscow Choral Synagogue is probably best known as the site where thousands of Soviet Jews gathered in the fall of 1948 to greet Golda Meir, Israel’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, in a rare display of Jewish and Zionist pride for a Soviet Jewry demoralized by Stalin’s repression.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the street next to the synagogue became the site of mass gatherings of Jews. Defying the ever-present KGB agents, members of the community celebrated Jewish holidays, sang, danced and exchanged news about the emigration status of their friends

Technically, the synagogue is more than 100 years old. It was built in the 1890s, but closed by the authorities after it was completed and remained shut for more than a decade. Only in 1906 did the authorities allow worship service here amid a loosening of laws on religious minorities.

This year’s celebration will culminate in early September in the presence of many key Jewish and Israeli leaders who are expected in Moscow for the occasion. Invitations have also been sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin and key government officials, although a source with the synagogue said it is unclear whether Putin will attend.

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