The History Of The Kharkov Choral Synagogue

The First synagogue in Kharkov was opened in 1867 on Nemezkiy St (which is Pushkinskaya St. today). For three years there was no local Rabbi - and in 1870 a Rabbi Segal Nuss, became the Rabbi of Kharkov and ran the services in the synagogue. Even though the Jewish population increased - the number of synagogues was limited due to strict Russian laws. Many `prayer houses` opened up in small apartments and homes throughout the city.

In 1901 there were two official synagogues - and by 1917 there were eighteen.

The main synagogue on Nemeskiy (Pushkinskaya) St. was broken down - and a new monumental synagogue was built in its place.

The building was designed by a famous architect from St. Petersburg - Yaakov Gevirz. His project won the first place in the Imperier Architect Society competition in 1909. On May 30, 1910 the groundbreaking of the new building was held. A tent was set up - and a cantor led the prayer services. Rabbi S Epstein spoke and gave blessings to the project. The Head of the Building Society - Mr. L Rubinshtein ended his speech with the hope that " Russian Jews will be able to enter this holy place to praise G-d and get blessings".

The building cost 150,000 rubles - most of it being donations from wealthy representatives of the Jewish community.

Within 3 years, in the summer of 1913 the grand Choral Synagogue was complete. The style of the building combined Romano Gothic and Mavritanic styles which the Architectural Society of Kharkov saw as `reminiscent of the huge walls of ancient Palestine`.

The synagogue soon became the center of Kharkov Jewish life. Famous cantors brought hundreds to prayer services and it became one of the main meeting centers for the community.

But the Communist years brought a big blow to any Jewish renaissance. The Bolsheviks began closing synagogues in their efforts to extinguish any spark of Jewish life. The Kharkov Choral synagogue was closed and converted into a public club and then into a sports complex.

In 1990 - with the arrival of Rabbi Moishe Moskovitz - the synagogue was finally returned to the Jewish community. Kharkov is the second largest city in Ukraine with a local population of 2 million and a Jewish population of 50,000. The Jewish community is thriving - with a 500 student Day School, kindergarten, Yeshiva, student clubs and adult education programs. The synagogue is again the center of Kharkov Jewish life and even though renovations are in full swing - there are programs, classes and services constantly. The synagogue on completion will be the largest in the C.I.S. and the second largest in Europe.



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