Estonian Jews Invest With Confidence in Community’s Future
by Baila Olidort
Dmitri Shmorgun, 24, was among local Jewish residents and Tallinn’s leadership who celebrated the opening in late September of a community Beit Midrash and Children’s Center.
A youngster when change came to Estonia with the dismantling of communism, Dmitri was witness to the dramatic transformation in Jewish life here. In 1990, when he was barely 10 years old, he saw the reopening of the Jewish school and other Jewish facilities that had been shut down in 1940.
Greater change was yet to come. In 2000, Rabbi Shmuel Kot and his wife settled here at the behest of the local community. Dmitri, a translator, recalls a process of transformation inspired by the Chabad rabbi who introduced opportunities for engagement with traditional Judaism that would motivate him to become an observant Jew.
The opening of the new Beit Midrash and Children’s Center represents another important milestone in the revival of Jewish life in this Baltic state. Most of Estonia’s Jewish population escaped during the Holocaust, only to suffer religious suppression when communist rule took over. Today there are roughly 2000 Jews in Estonia, the majority of which are in Tallinn. Rabbi Kot works vigorously to draw them in.
“This community has so much going for it, and the more we do to promote real Jewish engagement, the stronger we become in terms of Jewish identity and affiliation.”
When the local community was searching for a spiritual leader back in 2000, they turned to Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky at Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters.
“They wrote to us that they did not have the funds to pay for a rabbi or for his activities, but were in dire need of someone who would be willing to settle in Tallinn, to lead the community,” recalled the Chairman of the Chabad-Lubavitch educational and social services divisions. “We agreed to sponsor Rabbi Shmuel Kot, who has since been serving the community with great success.”
Rabbi Kot is proud of the cooperative dynamic between Chabad and the JDC. “Our community is unique for the partnership we’ve forged. We work together well, and I hope that Tallinn will serve as a model of constructive partnership for others to follow.”
When the JDC recently sent a representative to Tallinn, he was hosted by Rabbi Kot. “He was enamored by what he saw when he joined us for services in the shul, enjoyed a kosher dinner at the Chabad restaurant, and observed the overall progress of Jewish spiritual life here.”
The new facility, which features a reading library, classrooms already in use by some 50 students in the STARS program and JLI adult education courses, a Jewish Sunday School, afterschool program and a beautiful Children’s Center, “will become a vibrant center of Jewish activity that will draw Jews to interact, to study and to celebrate together,” he says.
Complementing one of the most beautiful synagogues in all of Europe, the facility, in which a kosher restaurant and a social hall will soon open, was completed with the help of a generous donation by the brothers Fjodr and Igor Berman of Tallinn, in memory of their parents, Abraham and Chava.
“The fact that funds for this project came from a local family within our community is evidence of the pride and confidence that Jews have in what we have achieved here together,” Rabbi Kot told lubavitch.com. Clearly, the people here have reason to invest in their community. They have faith in the future of Jewish Estonia.”