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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
On Lukiana Kobylytsi Street 53, a bit outside of the town center, you can find one of two functioning synagogues in the town. Today, the majority of its visitors are tourists. It’s the only synagogue that has been able to keep its authentic interior.
When after World War II all synagogues in the central part of the town were closed one by one by the Soviet authorities, the synagogue “Beit Tfilah Benyamin” soon was the only Jewish religious institution in town. Iosif’s Bursuk’s father was one of the people who attended services here:
After the war my father and mother strictly continued to observe Jewish traditions. They celebrated holidays and Sabbath. My mother was a housewife and my father worked at his previous job until he retired. After 1948, the height of the campaign against ‘cosmopolitans’, there remained only one operating synagogue in Chernivtsi. My father went there every Saturday. Once I asked him, ‘You are not so religious now, so why this strict mode of family life?’ My father replied, ‘For us to know it and remember’. And I did remember it.
In the atmosphere of general fear and due to the absence of an authorized Rabbi, services in the synagogue were not conducted for a long time. The services were renewed only after the collapse of the USSR. From 1992 until May 2018 the Rabbi Noah Kofmanskyi led the synagogue.
The consecration of the building was held on February 22, 1925. The newly erected synagogue had typical and, at the same time, simple structure. Its main part was a small praying hall with separate seats for men and women. The interior of the hall was decorated by themed wall paintings, created apparently in the second half of 1930s by a local artist. These wall paintings have been preserved until nowadays. They are a unique sample of the vanished tradition of synagogue wall painting in Eastern Europe.
In the 1930s Beit Tfilah Benyamin was one of many smaller synagogues in the city. Rudi Katz, born in 1929, shared in his Centropa interview how he remembers going to synagogue in his childhood:
We went to the one closest to us. It was a small synagogue, with simple people: they weren’t intellectuals, doctors, or professors. For these simple people the notion of reformism didn’t have much meaning; they were neither Orthodox nor reformed. There was only a shammash – an “assistant” – but no rabbi there. I don’t know about other synagogues, but the Jews at the big temple were different, they were intellectuals, so they were reformed. But in those years this separation into different streams of religion wasn’t that visible.
In 2005 the Chernivtsi city council returned the synagogue building to the Religious Community of Judaism. Visitors can only view a part of the impressive interior.