Estonian Jewry celebrates revival 75 years after Nazis declared it extinct

May 26, 2017

(JTA) — Seventy-five years after the Nazis declared that Estonia was “Jew free,” the Baltic country’s president celebrated the return of Jewish life there at an event attended by Israeli politicians and rabbis.

President Kersti Kaljulaid received the guests, including Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau, at a ceremony Thursday in Tallinn, the capital, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the first Jewish community in Estonia after the Holocaust.

“The story of the Synagogue of Tallinn tells us about the fate of the Jewish community,” Kaljulaid said at the event.

It was a reference to the fact that the Nazis destroyed all Jewish houses of worship in Estonia, where Soviet authorities who took over from the Nazis refused to allow the country’s few Jews who returned from death camps to build any synagogues. The Beit Bella Synagogue was inaugurated in 2007.

The chief rabbi of Estonia, Shmuel Kot, and the Jewish businessman and philanthropist Alexander Bronstein, who funded the building of the synagogue and community center named after his mother, at the event also hosted Israel’s minister for social equality, Gila Gamliel, and Israel’s ambassador to Estonia, Dov Segev-Steinberg, as well as local and foreign dignitaries.

“The history of the local community as the history of the country itself has experienced tragedies and revivals,” Kaljulaid said. “From the years of the Holocaust, which tell us the tragedy and the difficulty of occupation, to the flourishing recent years of free, democratic and independent Estonia. Today the synagogue is a beautiful and clear indications of the importance of freedom.”

In 2012 Estonia, which has a Jewish community of 2,500, joined a handful of European countries with special limitations on ritual slaughter of animals. The regulations restricted such activity to slaughterhouses.

Even before the amendments, Estonia’s policy on ritual slaughter was among the European Union’s strictest. Authorities must be notified 10 work days ahead of each planned slaughter and a government inspector oversees each procedure. The animals are stunned after their throats are cut — a procedure known as post-cut stunning, which not all rabbis permit.

Seventy-five years ago, at the Wannsee Conference about the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews, Estonia was the first country to be declared “Juden-Frei.”

Until a decade ago, Estonia was one of the only countries in Europe without a synagogue. On the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the synagogue and the new Jewish center were opened.

This year, Estonia and Israel marked 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries.

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