Synagogues and Jewish prayer houses of Rostov-on-Don

By E. I. Malakhovsky and E. V. Movshovich
Published on the website:  www.rostov-gorod.ru
Translated by Stanislav Gorbulev; edited by David Hoffman


Jewish prayer houses and synagogues always served as the centers, where the life of the Jewish community (and not only religious) was concentrated. They were the centers of Jewish culture, education, and often also personal and economic matters were solved there.

Jewish settlers appeared at the Lower Don in the last decade of the 18th century. According to the data from the 5th revision of the population of Russia, in 1706 there were 7 Jews, living in the fortress of the Holy Dmitry Rostovsky (since 1884 it had belonged to Mariupolsky uyezd, and since 1796 - to the Rostov uyezd), that later became the center of the town, Rostov-on-Don. These Jews were petty bourgeois, obviously, craftsmen. In 1800 there were 10 Jews in the town, in 1817 – 94. The well-known Rostov historian and local researcher M. B. Krasnyansky mentioned the first Jewish merchant N. (?) Gerberg (his descendants became later “Gerbers”), who received the permission from army  ataman headman M. I. Platov (obviously, not later than 1817) to settle in Rostov-on-Don. Beginning from 1825 he is mentioned as the merchant of textiles in the files of town archives. His son Mikhail was the owner of large house (Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, 33; now in possession of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). His grandsons Roman and Alexander remained the owners of this house up to 1917. It is known that in 1836, the Jewish community counted only 73 people (7 merchants, remaining petty bourgeois), while the total population in Rostov-on-Don was 8100 people. In the next 10 years the number of Jews reached 289.

Nevertheless, well-known Odessa historian A. A. Skalkovsky, who visited the city several times, does not mention in his article from 1846 any synagogue or prayer house in Rostov-on-Don. However, since the registration of marriages, births, death and divorces of the Jews to the Rostov-on-Don where conducted at least since 1841 by Rostov Rabbi Wolf Kalina, it is possible that a Jewish prayer house already existed at that time, but it could have been located in a rented building. In 1849 for the first time , a Jewish prayer house is mentioned officially in Rostov and the first mention of a synagogue is dated 1855. According to the Russian Empire laws the Jewish communities had the right to have one prayer house (praying school) per 100 hundred Jewish houses and one synagogue per 80 Jewish houses at a distance not less than 107- 213 meters from the nearest Christian temple and not less than 43-85 meters of the nearest tavern.

Main Choral Synagogue

The Main Choral synagogue was erected as a warm brick Jewish house of prayer 1863 behind the already existing (since 1855 or earlier) synagogue with the aid of the town mayor A. M. Baykov. It was built on the territory of an extensive estate, which belonged to Jewish community; between Vorontsovskaya and Kankrinskaya streets. 1866 the extremely decaying building was taken down and a new two-story brick Main Choral Synagogue was erected in summer of 1868  at the Vorontsovskaya Street  78-80 (now  Baumann Street, 70). The draftsman of the new building was very likely the senior town architect of Rostov-on-Don Savitsky. The building contractors were A. G. Kaplun, S. I. Freishist and A. A. Danziger. Big enough for those times means for the construction, amounting to 16342 Rubles and 87 Kopecks were collected mainly due to the efforts of the Rostov Rabbi Fabian Osipovich Gnesin (Rabbi in 1863-1888), father of well-known composer M. F. Gnesin.

The solemn opening of the Main Choral synagogue occurred on 30 August, 1868, in the presence of the town mayor A. M. Baykov, whose returns from the trip was specially awaited. In his speech A. M. Baykov thanked for the honor to open a new Jewish temple and emphasized the contribution of persons of different religions from the municipal administration and the town’s "upper-class". In this event he saw the answer to a problem, he was dedicated to: to achieve the equality of treatment of Jews in the town community and society.

In 1881 a house of prayer for 150 persons was attached to the West side of the main building. Together with already existing prayer house the Main Choral Synagogue of Rostov-on-Don converted now into a large religious and learning complex. The Jewish school of Talmud-Thora, which contained since 1903 a public Jewish library, was also located there. In this synagogue the Rostov Rabbi received the parishioners. Dr. M. Z. Goldenberg was the last Rabbi before the Revolution 1917. In 1924 the building of Main Choral Synagogue was municipalized, but was still used by Jewish community.

On 5 July 1928 the presidium of Donispolkom (Don executive committee) rescinded the rental agreement with the Jewish community for the building of the Main Choral Synagogue (the ordinance of the Jewish community was annulled by Donispolkom at the same time). The synagogue building was given to “Donkustremsoyuz” (Don Union of Handicraftsmen) to house the club of handicraftsmen, urban poor from the national minorities. Later the building became a hospital for venerology and skin diseases (now dispensary). The building was radically re-planned and heightened. The praying hall and framed its upper level balcony were destroyed, as well as the cupola above the building. The whole architectural appearance of building was distorted.

Soldiers’ Synagogue

The history of Soldiers’ Synagogue began in 1862, when retired soldiers-Jews founded the Soldiers’ Jewish Praying Society in Rostov-on-Don. By authorization of Ekaterinoslav province administration of 31 May, 1862 the society obtained the right to rent an accommodation for its house of prayer. According to the plan, affirmed by the Ekaterinoslav province administration on 4 June, 1872, a stone building of Soldiers’ Choral Synagogue was erected the same year. As deceased Rostov local researcher M. A. Krasnikov reported, the means for the building of synagogue were granted by a rich miller and a Rostov 1. Guild merchant Joseph Markovich Yelitser. The draft of the synagogue building was probably composed by the senior urban architect Ernst Ernstovich Shulman. It was build by Rostov construction contractor Moisey Leontevich Geronimus. In the beginning of 1881 a three-storied brick untinged building for the spiritual administration of synagogue was attached to the main building. The draft was composed by Rostov-on-Don architect Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin (most likely the construction contractor was the same as for the main building). In 1891 a two-story addition on the south side for the school for the children of poor soldiers in the ground floor and for the praying school on the second floor was finished. The project of this addition, approved on 17 May, 1890, by the construction department of the provincial administration of Don Army Region, was possibly composed by the urban architect Nikolai Aleksandrovich Doroshenko, and the builder was one of the Geronimusov brothers (A. M. or I. M.).

According to the information from the Rostov historian V. S. Sidorov, the building of Soldiers’ Synagogue suffered a lot during the fire at the time of pogroms in October 1905. Therefore after the collection of the necessary means the building of the synagogue was restored only 1913 - the beginning of 1914. On the project and under the management of Sankt-Petersburg architect, professor of Imperial Institute of Architecture and the secretary of the Society of Architects Yakov Germanovich Gevirts, the building got beautiful angular domelike completions. It should be noted that Y. G. Gevirts was an architect, who specialized in the design of synagogues. In 1907 he won the first prize at the project competition for the synagogue and almshouse at Preobrazhensky Jewish Cemetery in Sankt-Petersburg, while in 1909 it obtained the first reward for the design of Kharkov synagogue. After the restoration the worships at the Soldiers’ Choral Synagogue renewed on Pesakh of 1914 (29 March).

It is considered that the soldier synagogue is built in the style of modern with the elements of eastern architecture. The space layout is divided into three compartments, which decrease from the north to the south. Building possesses the simple laconic facades, which semicircular completions of window apertures are stylized as a Gothic rose. Basic volume and base of building are covered with rustic pavement. The architectural appearance of synagogue is supplemented by stucco rosettes and arch belt under the cornice of the middle part, massive cornice and parapet.

In 1927-1937 the Rabbi of the synagogue was Hasidim Gessel Khaymovich Zamsky (in 1937-1940 he was imprisoned due to a manufactured charge). In the fall of 1935 the building of Soldiers’ Synagogue was nationalized, and the Jewish prayers had to move to the Handicraftsmen’s Synagogue. The building of Soldiers’ Synagogue became a chemical factory subordinated to “Gormestprom” (Department of local industry) and subdivision of radio plant "Komsomolets". After release of Rostov-on-Don from Nazis in 1943 the factory was not restored in the building and 1945 after a long fight the Jewish Community, which spared no efforts to repair the building, moved into the building again. For their engagement in the restoration of the synagogue many Jews underwent repressions: they lost their jobs, were arrested or expelled from of the city. After the initial refusal on 1 December, 1944, permission to posess and to use the building was given by Rostov executive committee only on 14 April, 1945. A trip of petitioners group headed by Rabbi Shaya-Meyer Zusmanovich Aronovich (Rabbi in 1944-1960) and by the chairman of Jewish Community V. D. Lipkovich to Moscow made it possible. Nowadays this synagogue remains the only open synagogue in Rostov-on-Don, located at the corner of  Turgenevskaya Street 68, and Gazetny lane, 18 (Kazansky lane 14 before 1917). On 12 August, 1991, Kirov District People’s Law Court affirmed that the Rostov Jewish Religious Community possesses a part of the synagogue building on Gazetny lane, 18 A and recognized its right of property for this part. Finally, on 8 July, 1993, the Small Council of the Rostov executive committee decided to return the former synagogue building on Turgenevskaya street, 68 B, occupied by a combine of “Rostoblbytpromsoyuz” (after relocating the latter into another accommodation), into the possession of Rostov Jewish Religious Community.

Handicraftsmen’s house of prayer or Handicraftsmen’s Synagogue

Handicraftsmen’s Jewish Praying Society arose in Rostov-on-Don in 1891. At the beginning it rented different accommodations for its house of prayer. From 1894 to 1901 the society rented a house, which belonged to the heirs of Y. K. Bashmakova. It was a single-story building at the Kazansky lane, № 24 (now Gazetny lane № 28) at the corner of Staropochtovaya street, № 121 (now Stanislavskogo street, № 73). 1894 Rostov construction contractor Abraham Moiseyevich Geronimus acquired estate at the corner of Pochtovaya street (now Stanislavskogo street), 106, and  Kazansky lane, 22 (now Gazetny lane, 28). 1901 he built there the prayer house for the Handicraftsmen’s Jewish Society of Rostov-on-Don. This was the two-story brick untinged building with the beautiful angular Gothic-styled pinnacles on the roof. In 1904 Handicraftsmen’s Jewish Society agreed to accept this building as a gift from A. M. Geronimus. In 1905 during the Jewish pogroms it burned down, but was repaired. In 1913 the Department of the Religious Matters of the provincial administration of Don Army Region finally gave permission to the adoption of this donation. During the Civil War 1917-1921 a grenade hit the building, but the building was not destroyed. In 1934-1935 a Hasidim Moisey Shmerel-Leybovich Medalye was the Rabbi of the Handicraftsmen’s house of prayer. He was imprisoned in 1935 due to the manufactured charge. In the different times the chairmen of the Society were: Y. M. Lelchuk (father of Prof. P. Y. Lelchuk), V.M. Ugolnitsky and others. From the spring 1936 this prayer house remained the only open synagogue in Rostov-on-Don and was called “synagogue”. July 1942 before the retreat of the Red Army from Rostov-on-Don a bomb hit the building, which burned down and was completely destroyed. The building was not restored after the war, now there is a milk-selling pavilion at this place. Only pre-1917 photograph and information about the size of the building survived: 16.75 x 16.25 x 3.35 m (area of approximately 323 m²).

Religious administration of the Main Choral Synagogue

At the boundary of 19th and 20th century the religiuos administration of the Main  Choral Synagogue erected a three-storied brick building on Kankrinskaya street (now Ulyanova street), 57. Besides Religious Administration, the Jewish school and a public Jewish library, free canteen and other establishments were placed there. The architectural appearance of building was dominated by rustic pavement of the ground floor and geometric inserts in the upper part (uniting 2 and 3 floors).

In 1924 the building was nationalized and given away to the Division of Public Education of Don region. First there was a dormitory and dining room for the stray children, then secondary school. Now there is provincial medical school and provincial specialized children's and youth’s sport school of Olympic reserve in this building.

Mikva of the Main Choral Synagogue

Since 1904 (probably, even earlier) main Choral synagogue had separate building for the basin of ritual ablutions. It was located on Rozhdestvenskaya street (now Oborony street), 97.

Almshouse of the Main Choral Synagogue

Two-story building with the garret (the sashes were made in the form of the David’s star) was located at Turgenevskaya street, 92 (now 78).

House of prayer and almshouse at the Aleksandrovsky Jewish Hospital

1881 Rostov Jewish community built a brick building of Aleksandrovsky Jewish hospital at the corner of Nikolskaya street, 148 (now Socialisticheskaya street, 156-158) and Bogatyanovsky lane, 27, on the empty area, which was given to Jewish Community by the Rostov Duma in 1866 (1880 and 1884-1885 further area was added). Means for the building (more than 15 thousand rub.) were given by Rostov miller and 1st guild merchant Yakov Samoylovich Gurvich and by Jewish community, which collected donations. Draft drew up, apparently, Rostov architect Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin, who managed the project, the construction contractor was Moisey Leontyevich Geronimus. Hospital received its name with the laying of the foundation stone on 22 February, 1880, in the honor of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Alexander II. In 1894 the heirs of merchant Joseph Markovich Yelitser financed the construction of an extension (along the Bogatyanovsky lane) for the almshouse, including a house of prayer. The building was finished at the end of 1894, but was opened for the divine services only in 1897 after the special instruction by the administration of the Don Army region to the Rostov-on-Don police department, explaining the right of sick and old Jews to pray in the special house of prayer. The hospital was extended and re-planned in 1899-1901. The donations of B. Y. Kamenka and A. Y. Kamenka enabled the construction of a pavilion with 15 cots for the children with infectious diseases. In 1913 there were 6 departments in the hospital (surgical, therapeutic, gynecological, tubercular, maternity and children's) with the total of 220 beds. Isaac Aleksandrovich Rittenberg was for a long time the medical director of Jewish hospital. The aid in the hospital was not limited to the Jews, but was offered to everybody who needed it. At the Soviet time the building accommodated an emergency hospital, nowadays it is the city hospital. The part where the house of prayer and almshouse were located does not exist anymore.

Nakhichevan Jewish house of prayer

Jewish community in Nakhichevan-on-Don arose in the middle of the 19th century. 1881 only 69 Jewish families lived in Nakhichevan. 1897 the number of Jews reached 555. At the end of the 19th century Jewish community rented a building at the corner of Georgievskaya Street (now V. Zakrutkina Street) and 19th Line for the house of prayer and his religious administration. 1903 the religious administration of Nakhichevan Jewish house of prayer acquired one and a half-story brick house at the corner of 24th Line, № 3/1, and 1st Voznesenskaya Street (now Murlycheva Street), № 6/3. The financial means were collected by the Jewish Community. The house was re-arranged to serve as a house of prayer: a praying hall and its framing balcony were erected. A mikva and a matze-backery were located in the yard. Despite the concluded 1920 permanent rental contract between the Rostov-Nakhichevan town soviet and the Jewish community the house of prayer was nationalized at the beginning of 1936 by the order by the presidium of Rostov Soviet from 2 and 17 November, 1935, and decisions of the presidium of Azov-Black Sea territorial Executive committee of 7 December, 1935, affirmed by the decision of Commission for Religious Matters at VTSIK (All-Russian Central Executive Committee) of 20 February, 1936. In spite of the protests of believers, which were headed by Rostov Rabbi I.-E. A.-H. Zamsky and honorary chairman of Nakhichevan Jewish community Mebel, the building was given away to the Kalinin cooperative. The Kalinin cooperative manufactured the metal ware and was organized by the gypsies. After obtaining the building of Nakhichevan Jewish house of prayer, the building was re-equipped into the apartment house for the cooperative employees. Since then the old residents call it "gypsy house". 

Besides those described above, there were other Jewish houses of prayer in Rostov-on-Don. These houses either were not preserved or they are used as living quarters. Thus, in the years of the First World War the “Ashkenaz” community (chairman Tsipelzon) was accommodated in the house of prayer at the Main Choral Synagogue, the Hasidim community - in the house of prayer at the Jewish cemetery at Skobelevskaya Street (now Krasnoarmeyskaya Street), 1 (both buildings do not exist anymore). Other communities were located in rented or purchased buildings. Community “Beth-Kadesh” (liquidated by the order of Don executive committee 1927), whose chairman was I. A. Khasmennik, was accommodated at Turgenevskaya Street, 21; “Agudas-Izrael” – at Turgenevskaya Street, 82.   The closed 1925 house of prayer of the community of Polish Jews-refugees was located at the corner of Vorontsovskaya Street, 47 (now Baumana Street, 43) and Kazansky Lane, 17 (now Gazetny Lane, 15), opposite to the Soldiers’ Synagogue.

Jewish cemeteries of Rostov-on-Don

By E. V. Movshovich

The very first or the “Old” Jewish cemetery arose in Rostov-on-Don at the end of the third quarter of the 19th century, when sufficiently large and stable Jewish community has already been formed. This was, on the classification of M. B. Krasnyansky and A. G. Paretsky, the 7th town cemetery, on the left bank of Temernik River near the tannery. Now its territory is located under the wine-making plant and leather factory to the north of Siversa Street, to the west of Gvardeyskaya Square and to the southeast of the railroad hospital, which was built in the northern part of overgrown with grass and pith Maksimovsky garden. At the end of the 19th century, after 1894, M. B. Krasnyansky could reveal on this, closed since 1871, cemetery sepulchral plates and monuments, dated by 1838-1871. Krasnyansky noted that during the Jewish pogroms of 1905 “chernosotentsy” (“Black Hundreders”) burnt down the still preserved wooden monuments. Later on, the Old Jewish cemetery was covered with rubbish, and then overbuilt. In another, later work M. B. Krasnyansky wrote that there was another old Jewish cemetery in Rostov, but apparently, very small. It was at the elevated place next to school № 23 (now № 80), which was constructed in the middle the 1930's at the corner of Puskinskaya Street and Zhuravleva Lane. At the end of the 19th Krasnyansky still could reveal at its place the sepulchral plates, dated by 1838-1855. Merchant Abraham Mikulsky (died in 1838), Rachel-Lea Lazarevna Elitser (died on 15 September 1852) and Simkha Samuilovich Veynberg (died on 1 April, 1855) were buried there.

In the middle 1860s no more free space for burials remained on the Old Jewish cemetery. On the request of committee for the Jewish matters of 21 January, 1865, Rostov Duma assigned a new area for the new Jewish cemetery between the vocational school (now the College for advanced training of teachers), Lermontovskaya Street, № 14, Dolomanovsky, № 79, and Skobelevskaya Street (now Krasnoarmeyskaya Street), № 1, to the west of the Main (or “Old”) Christian Cemetery (now it is overbuild by the Sport Palace and school № 78). This Jewish cemetery is, according to the classification of Krasnyansky and Paretsky, the 9th cemetery of the town. Pre-revolutionary plans of Rostov show the places, which were occupied by both Jewish cemeteries. This Jewish cemetery, apparently, was open foe burials at the end of 1867, since in the report of the Religious Administration of Rostov Jewish society from October-December 1867 were indicated the costs for the fence for the "new Jewish cemetery", although the oldest grave at the cemetery, found by M. B. Krasnyansky at the end of the 19th century was dated 1871. He noticed that for this cemetery, as well as for the Old Jewish cemetery, were characteristic monuments in form of miniature houses with the inscription on the front wall. This Jewish cemetery was closed in 1923. After the long period of desolation its area began to be gradually overbuilt in 1938-1940. Now neither the cemetery nor the Jewish house of prayer (nationalized 1935) at the entrance of the cemetery (Skobelevskaya Street, № 1, in 1928 – Krasnoarmeyskaya Street, № 1 b) exists. Apartment houses on the northern side of Gvardeyskaya Square take now their place.

Relatives of some people, who were buried there, secretly re-buried the remains of their close ones on the presently existing New Jewish cemetery, after the forthcoming destruction of the previous cemetery was announced. Thus, according to the information, received form M. A. Krasnikov, the remains of a well-known Rostov merchant Y. S. Gurvich. As it is now known, the body (which, according to the evidence of eyewitnesses, was not disintegrated) of the 5th Lubavich Rabbi, Sholom-Dov-Ber Shneerson (1860-1920), who live in Rostov since 1916, was also secretly transferred to the New Jewish cemetery. Now the tomb, built over his grave at the southeastern corner of New Jewish cemetery by the efforts of Hasidim, became a holy place for the prayers from the whole world.

New Jewish cemetery is located to the east of Fraternal and Muslim cemeteries on the northern side of Tekucheva Street. M. A. Krasnikov reports, that it was opened in 1922. It was closed March 1971 by the resolution of Rostov city executive committee. The last burial took place on 15 January, 1971. However, during September 1997 it was opened again for burials of close relatives of the persons, whose graves were already located on the cemetery. A well-known Rostov journalist Solomon Samuilovich Gurvich (1917-1997) was one of the first people buried there after the re-opening. Graves of many well-known Rostov Jews are located on the New Jewish cemetery. Despite of the destruction of many old tombs, many interesting Jewish sepulchral monuments are preserved, they deserve a thorough study. Furthermore, a systematic study of the monuments of New Jewish cemetery can give interesting material on the history of Jewish community in Rostov-on-Don. Among these monuments, two are particularly notable – they belong to the Rostov Rabbis: one of them stays on the grave of Abraham-Khaym Benyaminovich-Isar Katsenelenbogen (he died on 30 September, 1932), post-revolutionary chassidic Rabbi; the second one - on the grave of Shaya-Meyer Zusmanovich Aronovich (5 May 1880 - 8 October 1960), the first postwar Rabbi of Rostov-on-Don (1944 - 1960).

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