World’s northernmost JCC opens in Russian Arctic city


(JTA) — The Russian city of Arkhangelsk saw the opening of a synagogue inside what may be the world’s northernmost Jewish community center.

The three-story building that was opened Monday took four years to construct and cost nearly $3 million raised from private donors, Anatoly Obermeister, the chairman of the local Jewish community, told the Regnum news agency. Arkhangelsk, where currently the sun shines 21 hours a day, is located approximately 750 miles north of Moscow at a latitude that is more than three degrees to the north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Separately, construction of what will be Russia’s westernmost synagogue continues in Kaliningrad, an enclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It is a replica of the Konigsberg Synagogue, a domed mammoth building that was one of Europe’s most impressive Jewish monuments before it was destroyed in the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms. It will reopen on the pogrom’s 80th anniversary in November.

In February, a 23-ton dome was installed on the Konigsberg Synagogue. The following month, workers installed the first of eight stained-glass windows at the synagogue. They are themed after the work of the late Cubist artist Marc Chagall, a Jew who grew up in what is now Belarus. The Konigsberg Synagogue cost several million dollars to build. The philanthropist Vladimir Katsman alone donated $4 million for the project.

Both projects are headed by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the local branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar attended the cornerstone laying ceremony of both.

In Arkhangelsk, the new synagogue is part of the North Star Jewish Cultural Center. The modernist glass and metal building has a main entrance that features a giant Star of David. The building has a concert hall that seats 500. The local Jewish community is made up of about 200 members, according to Regnum. The report said that North Star may be the world’s northernmost JCC — a title that previously was believed to belong to the Jewish museum and community facilities of Trondheim in Norway, located a full degree south of Arkhangelsk’s latitude.

Arkhangelsk, which is a major fishing and logging center, was home to two synagogues before the Communist revolution, but they closed down in the 1920s. The first known Jewish community there was set up by former cantonists — victims of a policy enforced from 1827 to 1856 that forced Jewish communities to give up 10 children older than 12 for every 1,000 Jews.

Last year, authorities in the Siberian city of Tomsk handed over to the local Jewish community a unique wooden synagogue built by former cantonists. The community, led by a Chabad rabbi, is currently preparing to open a large community center next to its main synagogue.

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