Last Thursday marked the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Jewish Community Center in Tallinn, which was the first Jewish establishment built in Estonia since the Holocaust, under the leadership of Chabad Emissary and Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot.
The event was attended by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid; Speaker of Estonian Parliament Eiki Nestor; Vice-President of the European Commission Andrus Ansip; Israeli Minister of Social Equality Gila Gamliel; Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau; Israeli Ambassador to Estonia Dov Segev-Steinberg; Chief Rabbi of Estonia and the local Chabad Shaliach, Rabbi Shmuel Kot; Director of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin; and Jewish businessman and philanthropist Alexander Bronstein who dedicated the Community Centre in memory of his mother Bella.
Addressing the attendees, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid expressed: “The Tallinn synagogue tells the story of the fate of its Jewish community. Estonia is proud of the fact that our country today has a flourishing and vibrant Jewish life. The history of the local community, like the history of our country itself, is one of tragedy and revival—from the Holocaust years which tell of tragedy and trials of occupation, to the flourishing recent years of a free, democratic and independent Estonia. Today the synagogue is a beautiful and clear symbol of freedom.”
The President added that “Our two nations shared both the joyous and difficult times which we endured together… Both nations have needed to fight for their existence. I recall with gratitude those 178 Jewish women and men who participated in the Estonian War of Independence. Both our nations know what it means to maintain our identity and freedom even under the threat of foreign powers, and we can be proud of our achievements.”
Seventy-five years ago, at the Wannsee Conference, Estonia was the first country to be declared Judenfrei (free of Jews). All synagogues in Estonia were razed during the Second World War, leaving no trace of Jewish life in the country. After the war, the Communist regime strictly forbade the returning survivors to rebuild a Jewish community, and until a mere decade ago Estonia was the only country in Europe without a synagogue. Ten years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem, a synagogue and Jewish community centre finally opened in capital Tallinn. Former Israeli president Shimon Peres, who was then a government minister, represented the Israeli government at the landmark event.
Throughout the past decade, Jewish activity and life in Tallinn have flourished under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Shmuel Kot. Many Jews who were cut off from their Jewish heritage have returned to identify themselves as Jews and express that they now feel Jewish. This year, Estonia and Israel mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Photos by Yelena Rudi