Monthly Archives: March 2014

Jewish Tour of St. Peterburg For The Visitor On The Fly

choral synagogueMy latest visit to the magnificent city of St. Petersburg, I realized that some travelers don’t have enough time to take in every treasure this extraordinary city has to offer,
The place is filled with majestic beauty, practically reeking of history and high culture. There are palaces of unspeakable beauty, founded for Czars and nobility, like the Winter Palace, with it’s huge collection of art, theaters and high culture, museums, romantic bridges and numerous rivers and canals.
But I for one, always make it a point to first explore everything related to our People and their heritage, and wherever I go, I have the luxury of uncovering curious and riveting facts not widely known, as well as making sure to visit every famous site relevant to Jewish history. Since I travel a lot, I can take my time and immerse myself in this deeply touching pursuit. It dawned on me that some Jews, especially the ones on cruise lines, have only a limited time, so I thought it would be useful to gather up a list of “The best Of”, so to speak.

St. Petersburg has had a Jewish presence since the time of Peter the Great, yet could not avoid the persecution which afflicted most Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union.
In late 18th century, some choice Jews were given permission to settle in the Capital City, based on their intellect, financial affluence or artistic talents. It still took almost another century, before they were allowed to build their place of worship, and the Choral Synagogue was erected and consecrated in 1893. It is one of the most beautiful Synagogues and the second largest (after the Dohany in Budapest) in all of Europe.
This is a must see, a splendid example of Moorish architecture, and please note, it is an Orthodox synagogue, with separate seating for men and women. Both the downstairs, where the cantor and Rabbi conduct services and the men are seated, as is the balcony (for the women), are magnificently beautiful and have a sense of awe inspiring air.
There is a little known fact to most visitors – the Grand lobby has an accoustic effect, and if two people stand at opposite ends against the wall, they can converse while whispering, even as large groups of visitors divide between them. The Synagogue has been in use even during Soviet regime. Though it was neglected for lack of funds, It has been restored to it’s original glory thanks to grants by the Safra family.

Then there is the Kolumna district, which was the center of Jewish life in the 19th century. It produced prodigies like Anton Rubinstein, the famous composer and pianist,who founded the Conservatoire, oldest and most respected school of music in Russia. It was the alma mater of many great artists like Yasha Heifetz and more. The Academy of Fine Arts was where famous painters such as Marc Chagall and Isaac levitan were educated.

The Museum of Ethnography, is dedicated to the history of Jewish communities within the Russian Empire, and has an exhibition that is both illuminating and touching.

The tour could include a visit to YESOD, the Jewish community center, which is an eye opener for understanding the current situation of the Jewish community. There are short programs for kids and adults alike on many and varied subjects.

The Jewish Cemetery is a must see, was opened in 1875, which holds extremely famous Jews from the sculptor Antokolvksky, pianist Kobylyansky, to M A Khidekel. the founder of the tuberculosis institute. (to mention just a few).Next to the burial grounds,is a complex of buildngs which has become the cultural center of the St. Peter community.
If you manage to cover these attractions, you’ll definitely get a very good introduction to a most fascinating community, including the seeking out of Jewish themes in world-famous art museums

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