The ORT KesherNet center in Tver, north west of Moscow, is closed this week following a bomb attack in the early hours of this morning.
The bomb was left at the front of the town’s synagogue and Jewish community center and was strong enough to blow in and buckle the two-meter-high, thick metal doors at the building’s main entrance.
“When I arrived at 4am the street was closed off by police,” said Ilya Spivak, who manages the center, one of 17 across the Former Soviet Union which provide vocational training for unemployed and underemployed women.
“The ground was covered with broken glass and other debris and the façade was pockmarked by shrapnel. The internal plastic doors were completely smashed and pieces of them were blown 30 meters inside the building. Although I arrived two hours after the blast you could still smell the explosives. When the local police arrived they didn’t want to enter the building until specially trained officers came with sniffer dogs.”
A passer-by was slightly injured and the resident of a building opposite the synagogue suffered shock as a result of the blast, which blew out windows in nearby buildings as well as the Jewish target.
The center is located at the rear of the building and was not damaged. However, repairs to the front of the building can not start until police have completed forensic examinations.
“We don’t expect to be able to resume classes for at least a week,” Mr Spivak said.
Officially, the bomb has been described as a home-made device containing about 100 grams of explosive but unofficial estimates put the size of the device at about half-a-kilo of TNT.
The town’s Jewish cemetery suffered attacks in 2008 and 2009 when a total of 140 graves were desecrated and flyers are known to circulate which call for physical violence against Jews. In addition, the synagogue has been daubed with antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas, from time to time. However, this is the first bomb attack.
“Antisemitism is not common in Tver,” said Mr Spivak, whose father, Vladimir, is head of the town’s religious Jewish community.
Police have opened a criminal investigation but the absence of arrests as a result of investigations into previous incidents has heightened concerns.
“We will keep our courses running but this attack will definitely frighten some of our students away,” Mr Spivak said. “The graffiti was enough to put off some prospective students who had phoned us in response to our advertisements – they would be very keen until we told them the classes were held in the Jewish community center at the synagogue. People understand that if there have been no arrests for previous incidents then more serious attacks may happen eventually and they don’t want to be a victim.”
Despite this, Mr Spivak said that antisemitism was not common in Tver, which is twinned with Buffalo, New York.
To date, the 17 ORT-KesherNet centres in the Former Soviet Union have provided life-changing job skills to more than 11,000 Jewish and non-Jewish women, who four times more likely to live below the poverty line than their male peers.
Since it was opened in 2002, the center in Tver has trained 1,177 women in computer literacy, office skills and Internet usage, directly helping 664 of them to improving their material situation. It works closely with the Tver Teacher Training Association and the municipal Welfare Department. It currently has 35 students.
image: part of the damage caused by a home-made bomb which exploded outside the synagogue in the Russian town of Tver today. (photo: www.newsru.com