Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki – Rashi – the greatest Jewish biblical commentator of all time, wrote a fascinating gloss to the word vayehen, which appears in Exodus 19:2: “vayehen-sham yisrael neged hahar,” “And the people of Israel encamped before the mountain.” Prior to receiving the law on Mount Sinai, all the six hundred thousand people of Israel who had departed from Egypt were commanded to stand as one person opposite the mountain. Only thus would the Torah be for the whole people. Therefore the word “vayehen” – encamped – appears in the singular form, but the people in the plural form.

That was precisely my feeling when I took part in the dedication ceremony in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk of the complex known as the Menorah Center. This extraordinary edifice is not only the largest Chabad center but also the largest Jewish center in the world.

The complex is made up of seven buildings covering 54,000 sq.m., with an amphitheater, dining room and a wedding hall, each able to accommodate 1,000 people; the largest Holocaust Museum in the Former Soviet Union, a vast study hall (Beit Midrash) a five-star hotel and more.

During my lifetime I have visited hundreds of Jewish sites throughout the world and in the FSU in particular, but I have never seen such an extraordinary complex of buildings and I doubt if I will ever do so again. I am still overwhelmed by what I saw. From the air, the building takes the shape of a seven-branched candelabrum; one of the buildings is 20 stories tall.

In the dedication ceremony, all the Jewish institutions of Dnipropetrovsk, including Hillel, the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other Jewish institutions from the length and breadth of the FSU entered as “one people.” This evident miracle is to the credit of the local Chabad rabbi, Shmuel Kaminetzky, who succeeded in bringing all the institutions together under one roof in the city where the late Lubavitch rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was born.

Among the guests were the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, philanthropists Gennady Bogolyubov and Igor Kolomoyskyi, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the chief of the 4,300 Lubavitch movement emissaries (“shluchim”) world-wide, the governor of the province and the mayor of the city, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Reuven Din-El and hundreds of members of the Ukrainian Jewish community.

The extraordinary thing is that the 35,000 members of the Jewish community of Dnipropetrovsk, out of the 100,000 in all Ukraine, managed to accomplish such an outstanding and ambitious undertaking.

With my knowledge of Russian-speaking Jews, dating from the 1990s when I headed the first Jewish Agency delegation to the FSU, and even before that, I am not surprised. The strength of this community is magnificent by any standard and the Menorah Center has no parallel, not in Israel, not in the USA, nor anywhere else.

There are those, including Rabbi Kaminetzky, who maintain that under Israel’s Law of Return there might be as many as one million Jews in Ukraine, and that Dnipropetrovsk has taken over the Jewish hegemony from Kiev the capital of Ukraine and possibly even from Moscow.

Anyone who sees the complex just from the outside will not be able to comprehend the beauty of the interior, which left all of us in a state of astonishment.

After the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon, the first people to enter the building were Rabbi Amar with Rabbi Kotlarsky, Lev Leviev, chairman of the Or Avner Foundation, Minister Edelstein, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, together with the governor and the mayor.

Following behind them, we saw the astonishment on their faces which was soon matched by our own. The interiors are spectacular, and the most moving of all to my mind is a museum to the memory of the Ukrainian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

I, as an Israeli Jew, felt enormous satisfaction in witnessing the way the local Jewish community has gathered its forces together to construct a living and breathing witness to the strength and revival of Jewish religion and culture in a land in which Judaism had been all but wiped out. Indeed one of the seven wonders of the Jewish world.

The author is the founder of Limmud in the former Soviet Union.

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