MOSCOW (JTA) — Rabbis from across the former Soviet Union and Israel gathered in the city of Saratov 450 miles southeast of Moscow to celebrate the opening of one of Russia’s largest synagogues.
The opening ceremony on Sept. 6 of the new synagogue in Saratov came at the end of nine years of construction, according to the Russian Jewish Congress, which oversaw and initiated the project in Saratov.
Built in the Moorish style, the new building’s ceiling is 50 feet tall, making it roughly the same height as the Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg, which is the country’s largest, according to newsru.com.
“Together with the building, a community was built,” Yuri Kanner, the congress’ president, said at the opening ceremony before hundreds of Jews and non-Jews. “Today there are no vacant seats in this synagogue.”
The building has a normal capacity of 200 people but can be expanded on holidays and special events to accommodate double that number, according to Yakob Streltsin, chairman of the community’s board.
Also in attendance at the ceremony was Adolf Shayevich, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis.
Most synagogues opened in Russia are affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose head in Russia is Berel Lazar, the country’s other chief rabbi and head of the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The federation and Shayevitch’s Keroor religious congress have had a relationship of tense competition and have exchanged various accusations in the media. In March, the two groups signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to avoid “impolite discourse.”
Since the fall of communism, Chabad has opened dozens of synagogues and Jewish community centers. It is also planning to open a synagogue in Saratov in the coming weeks, Alexander Boroda, a senior Chabad rabbi from Moscow, told JTA on Thursday.
In addition, Boroda is preparing to open later this year a $20 million Jewish community center and synagogue in Zhukovka, a village located on Moscow’s eastern outskirts, where Russian President Vladimir Putin and many other Russian politicians and oligarchs own houses.