Jewish Community in Belarus Embarks on Restoration of Historic Synagogue

The ornate Great Synagogue in Grodno, Belarus, is undergoing a facelift at the behest of the city's Jewish community.

According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yitzchak Kofman, chief rabbi of Grodno, the community - with the help of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union and the Rohr Family Foundation - seeks to restore the historic edifice to its former glory.

Located in the heart of the city, the synagogue was founded in 1578 by Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, the city's chief rabbi. Designed by Italian architect Santi Gucci, the original wood building burned down and was replaced two centuries ago by a brick facade. In 1899, a large fire that spread through Grodno damaged the synagogue's roof and walls. The community rebuilt the structure in 1905.

Its history after the 1917 Russian revolution mirrors that of other synagogues in Eastern Europe. During their occupation of the city in World War II, Nazi forces used the synagogue as an assembly-point for Jewish residents destined for the death camps. Following the war, Soviet authorities transferred the synagogue to civil use. Through the years, it served as a food warehouse, a pharmacy, a book depot, and an arts workshop.

With the collapse of Communism, the synagogue - in a severe state of disrepair - was returned to the Jewish community in 1992.

Since then, the community has steadily grown. Today, Kofman presides over an effort to reinvigorate Jewish life in a city that in previous generations was home to dozens of synagogues and yeshivas. The synagogue restoration is a major part of that goal, and will allow the establishment of a Jewish community center and Jewish museum.

"We are interested in restoring this synagogue and monumentalizing the memory of Jews who resided and now reside in the city of Grodno," said Kofman.

The Jewish community of Grodno is part of the Association of Jewish Communities of Belarus, a constituent of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union.