Historic Sheinkin synagogue reopens

$2 million restoration of Geulat Yisrael funded by World Congress of Georgian Jews

June 5, 2010 02:06
2 minute read.
Illustrative photo

Geulat Yisrael synagogue Shenkin 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

Tel Aviv hipsters rubbed shoulders on Tuesday with Georgian Jews, Lubavitcher rabbis and MKs at the rededication of the historic Geulat Yisrael Synagogue just off übercool Sheinkin Street, following a year-long renovation funded by the World Congress of Georgian Jews.

The landmark synagogue on Merkaz Ba’alei Hamelacha Street, built in 1937 and now known as Geulat Yisrael Chabad Tel Aviv-Bet Moshe, was renamed in honor of Moshe (Mishiko) Mirilashvili (1942-2009), who founded the World Congress of Georgian Jews.

An engineer by training, Mirilashvili relocated from Tbilisi, Georgia, to St. Petersburg in 1994, where he continued to operate a number of international businesses.
But Mirilashvili was best known for his philanthropy.

His son Gavriel came to Geulat Yisrael early in 2009 to pray at the beginning of the year of mourning for his father. There he met Rabbi Yosef Gerlitzky, the Chabad hasidic movement’s chief rabbi in Tel Aviv, who told him that his father had been a generous supporter of the synagogue and the community’s needy. Rabbi Gerlitzky suggested that Gavriel make a donation for the renovation of the Holy Ark. Instead Gavriel – who earlier this year donated one million cloth kippot to the Western Wall Foundation – decided to restore the entire 620-seat synagogue at an estimated cost of $2 million.

Besides completely restoring Geulat Yisrael which was in decrepit condition, the renovations included an ornate Holy Ark and 25 chandeliers – the largest of which measures 2 by 3 meters and cost $250,000.

“A special dove has been accompanying us since our first professional visit to the synagogue. She sat on top of the Holy Ark as though listening to our conversation, as an emissary of my father’s.

“The same thing with the dove repeated itself when we were in other synagogues for the same purpose, and when preparing for the big and festive event of dedicating Torah scrolls at the Western Wall in the presence of thousands from different communities in Israel and abroad.

“The presence of the dove influenced me deeply: I increased the scope of my anonymous donations and also increased my belief in the Creator of the Universe,” observed Gavriel Mirilashvili.

Twenty Torah scrolls were dedicated at the festive opening, including 18 donated by the World Congress of Georgian Jews, one donated by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress led by Mr. Alexander Machkevich, and one dedicated by residents of Tel Aviv.

The World Congress of Georgian Jews announced plans to renovate another 45 Georgian Jewish synagogues across Israel.

In addition, the Georgian community presented President Shimon Peres with a gold- and diamond-studded medal named Legenda. The first such medal was bestowed on Ariel Sharon during his tenure as prime minister.

Among the thousands of guests who thronged the synagogue and adjoining Sheinkin Park were Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin; Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi and Sephardi Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Moshe Amar, and Lev Leviev, president of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews.

The World Congress of Georgian Jews was founded in 2003 as an umbrella for Georgian Jewish expatriates around the world. Based on Dizengoff Street, the Congress has branches in Georgia, Russia, the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Australia and Hungary.

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