Latvian Jews hail restored landmark synagogue

Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:28pm EDT
 
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RIGA (Reuters Life!) - Latvian Jews, the country's president and prime minister and other officials attended on Wednesday the ceremonial re-opening of the sole synagogue in the country's capital after a two-year renovation.

The synagogue, in the historic Old Town, was the only one in Riga to survive the Holocaust and was one of the only ones to continue to work in the territory of the former Soviet Union.

It was built in 1905 and the restoration, begun in 2007, aimed at restoring the dilapidated building to as close as possible to the original design.

"We are proud that our generation of Jews restored this synagogue," Riga Jewish Community chairman Arkady Sukharenko told those attending the ceremony, including Latvian President Valdis Zatlers and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis.

During the renovations, the synagogue continued to hold services in a basement area.

The two-storey building has a classic, Jugendstil-style facade, but has elements of Egyptian motifs in the interior.

When the Nazi German forces occupied Latvia in 1941, all but one of the country's synagogues were burned down, some with people inside. The synagogue in the Old Town was saved as the Germans were persuaded that the flames would spread and burn down other buildings in the cramped section of the city.

The synagogue was used during the Soviet era, but never had any repairs carried out. The restoration was done with EU and Latvian state funds as well as private donations.

About 70,000 Jews lived in Latvia before World War Two, but most were killed during the Holocaust. The Jewish community now numbers about 10,800 people.

(Reporting by Patrick Lannin)