Following the breakup of the Soviet Union nearly 25 years ago, the Jewish population of Grodno, in Belarus, like all others behind the former Iron Curtain, started to rebuild itself.
Today, Grodno’s Great Choral Synagogue, one of the oldest in the former Soviet Union and the contemporary center of Jewish life in the industrial city in the western part of the country, is rebuilding itself again.
A recent electrical fire in the three-story, brick-façade building destroyed the main prayer room and the synagogue kitchen, causing about $100,000 in damage. The damage included furniture, books and various pieces of equipment, but no one was injured.
“We are left homeless and the local Jews are in shock,” the fireingrodno.com website stated.
The fire occurred after the completion of a renovation of the front of the 400-year-old site, and before a planned reconstruction of the inner hall was to begin.
The building, which burned down two centuries ago, and was damaged again in a fire in 1899, was used as a roundup point by the occupation Nazis during World War II and served in communist years as a food warehouse, pharmacy, book depot and arts workshop.
It was returned to the Jewish community in 1992, and is under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzchak Kofman, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary.
Grodno — known as Hrodno in present-day Belarus — has been home to a Jewish population for more than six centuries; over the years Grodno’s Jews were subject to expulsions, pogroms and other forms of anti-Semitism.
It was also the site of flourishing Jewish life. At its height, a century ago, the city’s Jewish population was about 34,000; about 180 remained in the area after the Holocaust.
Grodno’s current Jewish population is estimated at 1,500.