The Beauty of St. Petersburg

The Beauty of St. Petersburg 350 350 Sarity Gervais

Working in the travel business allowed me the opportunity to visit incredible cities. I have always felt excited and moved by the depth and beauty of St. Petersburg. Every time I arrived at the port city, gray clouds loomed from above. It seems to be a reminder that what makes this culturally rich city tick is its emotional, dark history that permeates through every pore of the city, including the weather. Even the people seem to have a constant heaviness surrounding themselves. It is not a light and fluffy place. Its intense, emotional and deep.

The stop I cherish most in St. Petersburg is the Choral Synagogue. It is the second largest synagogue in Europe (the first I believe is in Budapest). Despite its dark history its beauty remains breathtaking. Its grand presence is ever more impressive because it still exists. Every time we arrive we are given a beautiful tour by the administration and we end it with a cantorial concert by Chazzen Greagory (who happened to be taught by my father, Yehuda Shifman).

A brief history&amphellipIn 1869, a permit was granted by Alexander II, who lessened the intense restrictions on Jews living in St. Petersburg. For the first time, the Tsar allowed retired soldiers, technicians and certain craftsmen to live in the city. This created a need of a central place of worship. So in 1879 the construction began however, certain restrictions were applied. The height had to be shorter than the winter palace and no churches could be in proximity.

During the First World War the Synagogue was turned into a hospital. After 1917 many Jews emigrated after soviet authorities announced that the Jewish communities must be dissolved. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn made Leningrad his residence and in 1927 he was imprisoned for anti-Soviet activity. Instead of the implementing the death penalty he was sent to exile in Kostroma.

In 1941 and 1943 the synagogue was bombed by Nazis. It still operated as a hospital and managed to survive the war. In 1999, the synagogue underwent a 5 million dollar renovation sponsored by the Safra family.