Irkutsk Synagogue, the only synagogue in the region, is both a spiritual and a cultural center for the Jews of the Irkutsk region. The Jewish community is still recovering the traditions that were lost during the Soviet regime. The synagogue teaches Hebrew and hosts lectures on Jewish culture, history and customs.

The history of the synagogue

Irkutsk Synagogue
Irkutsk Synagogue (photo by Mark Fisher)
Before the synagogue was built, the Jewish community used to gather in a wooden house, rented by Jacob Dombrowski. Dombrowski was the founder and leader of the Irkutsk Jewish Community, a merchant and a philanthropist. Later, the services were held in his own home despite the official ban.

Finally, 1878 marked the start of the construction of the real synagogue. In just a year, the building was ready. On April 5th, 1879, the synagogue held a service for Emperor Alexander II who survived an assassination attempt three days earlier.

But in June, a devastating fire left only the synagogue’s walls standing, destroying an adjacent school and an almshouse as well. The community collected money to rebuild the synagogue. In 1881, Leonty Leibowitz led the construction, doing everything he could to restore the building. Leibowitz was a companion of Jacob Dombrowski, a merchant and a prominent member of the Irkutsk City Council.

In 1882, the newly rebuilt synagogue opened its doors to greet the community. Until the Soviet era, the synagogue stood without incident.

In 1932, the synagogue was abolished. Its building was used to host a warehouse, a medical university and its campus, an engineering company and a boxing gym. In 1945, the Jewish community regained the ground floor or the synagogue, and got the first floor two years later. However, the Jewish religious community regained full-fledged ownership of the building only in 1993.

Another fire destroyed the building once again in 2004. This one was much more devastating than the previous fire, and the rebuilding and restoration of the building took five years. On February 24th, 2009, the synagogue rose from the ashes. Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar participated in the grand opening.

Architecture and interior of the synagogue

Irkutsk Synagogue
Irkutsk Synagogue (photo by Mark Fisher)
The two-story synagogue is easily noticeable from afar. The beautiful building on Karl Liebknecht street is rich in detail. Plastic facades and a contrast of arched doors and triangular pediments attract the eye. If you look up, you’ll see a small dome with the Star of David. The wall to the right of the entrance holds some information about the Jews in Irkutsk.

Inside, a 250-seat prayer hall for men occupies nearly half the area of the building. The folding seats can host 200 more male visitors. Women pray on the balcony.

The ground floor of the synagogue also hosts a mikvah, a kitchen and a meal center that serves kosher food. A wardrobe and toilets, one of which is adapted for wheelchair users, are located nearby.

The first floor hosts the offices of the leaders of the community, a recreation room and a computer class. The second floor belongs to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Interesting facts

  • A Judah Neumann library appeared in a synagogue in the mid-1890s. Thanks to Judah Neumann and to the members of the Jewish community, the library used to be one of the biggest libraries in Irkutsk. By 1915, it had 4200 books. After the synagogue was closed in the 1930s, the books went to the museum of atheism and then to various other museums. Some of the books are now kept in Irkutsk libraries.
  • The wall of the corridor that leads to the prayer hall has the symbolic “tree of life”. The leaves of the tree immortalize the names of the philanthropists who donated money for the restoration of the synagogue.
  • A mezuzah, which is a parchment scroll with a handwritten prayer, can be found in front of the main prayer hall entrance. The parchment for this mezuzah was made in Israel specifically for the Irkutsk synagogue.

Contacts

Working hours

Near the “Dom kuznetsa” bus stop, 23, Karl Liebknecht St., Pravoberezhny district
+7 39-52 20-93-67
Monday to Thursday: 10:00 to 17:00
Friday and Sunday: 10:00 to 15:00

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