Just after Rosh Hashanah the “Small Synagogue”, the oldest synagogue of St Petersburg, was opened to public again when the refurbishing of the hall, which lasted for four years, was finally completed. The synagogue has always played a vital part in the cultural life of St Petersburg and has always been one of the most fascinating sights of the northern capital of Russia.
It was the heart of the Jewish life even during the horrible events of the 20th century. Representatives of the local Jewish community, cultural and business leaders, and members of the city administration participated in the opening ceremony. Even the governor of St Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko was present. He noted that the holiday was remarkable because it was a family holiday, when one remembers all the true values of life: love for other people, help to those in need, family, and home.
The Small Synagogue is called so to distinguish it from the city’s Grand Choral Synagogue, although in fact it was built seven years before the Choral Synagogue, in 1886. Now it is a part of St Petersburg’s synagogue complex. The main synagogue almost lost its religious significant during the Soviet period, it carried only perfunctory functions. But the real hub of the life of the Jewish community has been the Small Synagogue, which functioned even in the time of the World War II, when Leningrad was constantly suffering from artillery bombing and people were dying from starvation and cold.
When the Perestroika started, it was the Small Synagogue that became the first place, which witnessed the awakening of the interest in Jewish past among the younger people.
The Small Synagogue has always been active, but with the time the building became shabby, the beautiful historical interior with its bimah covered with gold, exquisitely decorated ceiling and wooden floors and the facade needed to be restored.
In 2011 to commemorate her late husband, Lili Safra generously helped the Jewish community to start and fulfill the refurbishing of the synagogue. Now after the major restorations, which lasted for four years the Small Synagogue demonstrates its glory and beauty.
“The reopening of the Small Synagogue is a joyous moment,” said Rabbi Menachem Pewzner, the chief rabbi of St. Petersburg. “And it is symbolic that this happened on Rosh Hashanah, the time for renewal and blessed beginnings.”