European rabbis conclude meetings at Riga’s only surviving synagogue

The rabbis also prayed at the memorial of the destroyed Grand Synagogue.

Dozens of prominent European rabbis pray Psalms 130 at the Peitav Synagogue in Riga, Latvia, May 1, 2018 (Tamara Zieve)
RIGA – Dozens of prominent rabbis from across Europe gathered this week at Riga’s only shul to survive the Holocaust, the Peitav Synagogue, to attend meetings of the Conference of European Rabbis’ Standing Committee.
The three-day program, which ended on Wednesday, included discussions by some 50 rabbis from Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia and Ukraine, on issues faced by Jewish communities across Europe. These include attempts to ban brit mila and kosher slaughter, as well as the rising antisemitism on the continent.
The Peitav Synagogue survived the Holocaust due to its location in Riga’s Old Town, adjacent to other buildings including a church.
The rabbis also visited what had been the Great Choral Synagogue, before it was destroyed in July 4, 1941, three days after the German Army entered Riga.
The Nazis, together with the local auxiliary unit under the command of Latvia collaborator and SS officer Viktors Arajs, burned down the synagogue with the people inside it. On the same day, other synagogues in Riga were also torched.
In the late 1940s, the Soviet regime removed the ruins of the synagogue and constructed a park in its place.
In 1988, the Jewish community placed a memorial sign there, and in 1993, with the support of the Latvian government, Jewish organizations and private donors, architects uncovered the foundations of the synagogue and designed a memorial site. At this site, the European rabbis prayed on Tuesday, reciting Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, among other prayers which they sang.
“The Nazis did not try to burn the bodies of the Jews but tried to burn their souls, that is the connection of the Jewish people with God,” Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and Vice President of the Conference of European Rabbis Yaakov Bleich told participants.
Haim Korsia, chief rabbi of France and vice president of the conference, said that the only way he could express his pain was through “songs of the soul.”
The rabbis also paid their respects at a nearby monument that honors Latvian saviors of Jews during the Holocaust.
Addressing participants at a dinner event on Monday night, Bleich had said that the challenges faced across the Jewish communities of Europe are the same. “To educate the next generation to carry the torch of Judaism – that is the job of rabbis in every single country.”
Latvian officials also attended the event, and referred to the centennial celebrations the country is holding this year. Thanking the participants for joining in the celebrations of Latvian independence, MP Oyars Kalninsh said: “It is an honor to work with the Jewish community, because you too have been part of the rebuilding process, a major contributor to what Latvia is today.”
Echoing this, member of European Parliament Artis Pabrils said: “It is important for Latvians to remember that Latvia wouldn’t be Latvia without its Jewish community... We should never allow a repeat that some of us are sleepwalkers or bystanders.”