(JTA) — Israeli soccer players are scheduled to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of a synagogue in Grozny in the predominantly Muslim Russian state of Chechnya.
Some officials and players of the Beitar team from Jerusalem landed Wednesday in Grozny, according to the Israeli sports news site One.co.il. In the Chechen capital they will be guarded by the special security force of President Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, the news site NRG of the daily Maariv reported.
The synagogue will be built on the site of a 19th-century Ashkenazi synagogue that was turned into a music school in 1937 and then destroyed during the first Chechen war of 1994-96, according to Ekho Kavkaza, a Russian news site, which reported that the synagogue was being funded by the Chechen state.
Most of the republic’s Jewish population of a few hundred was spirited away to Israel during the war years but a few dozen Jews remain, according to the site.
A Grozny alderman told Ekho Kavkaza that the idea to build a synagogue arose in 2007 at an international forum on Islam held in Grozny. Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, the chairman of the Russian Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations, suggested to Kadyrov that a synagogue should be built in Grozny to revive the Jewish community.
The Israeli soccer players visiting Chechnya are playing a friendly against the local Terek club. Their visit is being organized by Tamir Majidov, a Russian official responsible for ties with Chechnya, according to NRG.
Majidov, who is Jewish and served in the Israeli army in the 1990s after immigrating to Israel from Chechnya, said the match was "a dream come true" for him. Kosher food was brought in from Moscow for the players, he was quoted as saying by NRG.