More Than Just a Synagogue
After our visit to Anatevka, Yossy Azman was anxious to show me his synagogue, right in the heart of Kiev.
The Brodsky Synagogue, originally known as the Choral Synagogue, was built in 1898, and spent almost five decades as a puppet theatre before returning to use as a synagogue in 1992.
On the car ride there, Yossy told me the very interesting (and troubling) situation of a 1,000 torahs that were confiscated by the government during Communist rule. Eleven of those torahs were recently returned to the synagogue, with great celebration. But, even though the Prime Minister of Ukraine is himself Jewish, the government will not return the rest of the torahs. The circumstance, at least as Yossy explains it, is that the government is concerned that, if it returned the torahs, it would also be pressured to return items confiscated from the church, including incredibly valuable gems and precious metals that represent wealth the government does not feel it is in a position to give back.
While I loved the sanctuary's old European feel, what was most impressive were the many ways in which the Brodsky Synagogue serves as so much more than a house of worship.
Yossy showed me the synagogue's kosher food market, including kosher meat prepared and supplied weekly by the local schochet. He took me to see the synagogue's two kosher restaurants - one with the familiar name of "Mendy's" and a second where those with means pay a little more and those without means eat for free. He introduced me to the local mohel, who has conducted over 1,000 brit (including for grown men who have determined to return to a Judaism suppressed in prior decades). And, amazingly, he explained that upstairs they have a physician's office, with a doctor who provides free medical treatment to the Jewish community, as there is not a health insurance system.
And, of course, there were preparations ongoing for Sukkot - not only the final adornments being placed on a 200-person sukkah but the sale of lulavim and etrogim for last minute buyers, with tables full of palm fronds, myrtle, and willow in the building's lobby. Indeed, beginning tomorrow evening, it looks certain to be a Chag Sameach at the Brodsky Synagogue.