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Monday, March 28, 2011

Synagogue Opens in Moscow Prison

MOSCOW, Russia — At Moscow’s Detention Center no. 2 of the Federal Corrections Service, more commonly known as the Butyrskaya prison, a Synagogue has opened – the first of its kind at a Moscow prison institutions.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar emphasized the importance of a synagogue in prison to promote proper moral conclusions. “From his faith in G-d, a person receives joy in living. With faith, he once again becomes a full citizen,” stated Rabbi Lazar. The Chief Rabbi noted the symbolism of the date of the synagogue’s opening close to the eve of Passover, celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Rabbi Lazar said he hoped that the opening of the synagogue will provide an opportunity for all people interested in learning more about Judaism to find the answers they are looking for. The Chief Rabbi of Russia light-heartedly noted that although Jews usually pray that their synagogues be full, this time they should pray that as few Jews as possible end up in this and other prisons in Russia.

The Head of the Federal Corrections Service in Moscow, Colonel Viktor Dezhurov, said that the synagogue’s opening was the result of cooperation between the Federal Penitentiary Service and the Jewish community according to an agreement signed last year. He noted that visiting the synagogue would allow prisoners to reconsider their lives.

Colonel Sergei Telyatnikov, who heads Detention Center no. 2, remarked that this event is very helpful for inmates, as spiritual and moral education can help put people on the right path.

“A person finds G-d in those places where he can forget about the issues that bother him at home,” stated Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, the head of FJC Russia’s Department for Cooperating with the Military, the Ministry of Emergency Affairs and Law Enforcement Agencies. This is the fifth synagogue opened in a Russian correctional facility, the first four established in regional prisons. The FJC has registered about 400 Jewish inmates, mostly convicted of white-collar crimes.

Rabbi Lazar cited an interesting paradox: while in Soviet times, people were imprisoned for upholding Jewish traditions and practicies, today a Jewish prisoner has the opportunity to find G-d when he is in prison. The opening ceremony also featured a brief prayer service; putting on tallitot (prayer shawls) and, under the guidance of Rabbi Lazar, the first group of Jewish prisoners read the Shema prayer.

Rabbi Gurevich praised the willingness of the Butyrskaya prison’s administration to cooperate, allowing the synagogue to open in record time. From the start of negotiations to the opening of the synagogue, it took less than five months. From now on, the synagogue will hold weekly Torah classes and Shabbat prayers.

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