In what is perhaps a counterpoint to the rise of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe this summer, the last two weeks have seen the dedication or rededication of synagogues in regions that haven’t had synagogues for decades.
An 18-century Protestant church in Cottbus, a German city which has had no synagogue since 1938, became a synagogue on Sunday, when the leader of the city’s Evangelical parish handed over the keys to the Jewish Association of the State of Brandenburg, JTA reports. (A formal dedication of the space will happen on Holocaust Remembrance Day in January.) Though the building itself has never been a synagogue, the town’s Jewish history is long: the first record of Jewish residents in Cottbus dates back to 1448, and the city’s first prayer space was established when the city had just 17 Jewish residents in 1811. Cottbus’s Jewish community numbers around 350 today.
In Russia, two former synagogues that had been seized by Soviet authorities were also rededicated over the last two weeks, according to JTA. One, a 110-year-old building in Voronezh, had been converted from a synagogue into a textile factory and was returned to the community 26 years ago. The other, in Krasnodar, had been in a seven-year limbo while local residents sought funds for repairs and expansion.
The ceremonies come at a moment of tension for European Jews, who have faced heightened anti-Semitism since the Israeli operation in Gaza this summer. Firebombs, looting, and other incidents have sparked an outcry from European politicians, most recently Ed Miliband, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, who said today that the recent wave of anti-Semitism was a “wake-up call” that required a “zero-tolerance approach” in response.
The three new synagogues have been in the works long enough that they can’t be seen as an indicator, positive or negative, of the state of European Jewry after the events of the summer. But attendees at the rededication ceremonies chose to see the creation of new houses of worship as a positive sign of change for Jews in Germany and Russia. “The vision of the Valley of Dry Bones is being realized before our eyes in these ancient communities,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, who attended the rededication in Voronezh.