Russian home of world’s first nuclear plant gets first synagogue

Around 400 Jews live in Obninsk, outside Moscow, built to house staff of power station; prayer services to be held on Shabbat only, to start

A view of the modest former nuclear power plant control room in Obninsk, Russia, which is now a kind of museum. (Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images via JTA)
A view of the modest former nuclear power plant control room in Obninsk, Russia, which is now a kind of museum. (Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — A synagogue has opened for the first time in Obninsk, a city near Moscow that was built in 1945 to accommodate the staff of the world’s first nuclear power plant.

Around 400 Jews, including some from Moscow seeking to move out of the city, make up the city’s Jewish population, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia. The nuclear plant had many Jewish employees and some of their families stayed in the Obninsk area.

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar attended the opening of the synagogue on Thursday.

“Our goal is not only to restore what was destroyed by the communist regime, but also to build even more than was there before,” Lazar said in Obninsk, a sprawling city of about 100,000 residents that was once a model for Soviet architecture.

Instructor Alexander Penkin holds a container of uranium at Russia’s Methodological and Training Center in Obninsk, 80 km (50 miles) west of Moscow Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1998. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

The Obninsk rabbi, Aron Golovchiner, told that the synagogue will begin by holding only Shabbat services and will expand to weekday services if community demand increases.

Synagogues to be restored in Moldova, Poland

Separately, the European Commission last week announced it would fund a restoration of the 18th-century Great Synagogue of Raskov in eastern Moldova. The roofless building is currently a ruin, but the reliefs of its formerly magnificent interior walls are still vividly distinguishable. Communists shuttered the synagogue in the 1930s, and most of the local Jews were killed by the Nazis the following decade.

The EU funding of about $43,000 comes as a result of an online vote by residents of the area, who were asked earlier this year to choose between 10 restoration projects. The synagogue received the most votes, with just over 9,000 supporters.

The ruins of the Great Synagogue of Raskov in Moldova. ( via JTA)

The Polish government has also decided to fund a synagogue restoration project in the town of Krzepice, situated about 120 miles southwest of Warsaw, Gazeta Wyborcza reported Tuesday. The Nazis destroyed the synagogue during their occupation of Poland before they had nearly the entire town’s Jewish population killed.

The 200-year-old building deteriorated into disrepair and was given over to the municipality after its previous owners died, the newspaper reported. The synagogue of Krzepice is situated near the local Jewish cemetery which has the largest collection of cast-iron headstones in the world, according to Gazeta Wyborcza.

Cast-iron headstones at the Jewish cemetery of Krzepice in Poland. (Wikimedia Commons/Amidar via JTA)

The headstones’ survival is unusual, as elsewhere, Nazis and communist governments were quick to steal Jewish headstones – and especially metal ones – for use as construction and industrial material.

The Polish culture ministry and the monuments conservator of the Katowice area contributed about $131,000 for the restoration project, which began this year. Krzepice, which used to have hundreds of Jews, has no Jewish residents today.

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