The symbolic newly built synagogue at the site of an horrific Holocaust massacre near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is to be inaugurated this week, in the latest development at the Babyn Yar complex.
It represents the first Jewish prayer space at the ravine where, during one autumn weekend in 1941, Nazis shot and killed 33,771 Jews from the city and its surrounds.
The inauguration of the synagogue at the site is to mark Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, and will be led by Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi.
While Jews were the first to be killed at the ravine, from 29-30 September 1941, tens of thousands of others – including Ukrainians, Roma, and the mentally ill – were shot and dumped at Babyn Yar in the following months, as the Nazis occupied Kyiv. An estimated 100,000 were killed there, making it Europe biggest mass grave.
This week’s event is being coordinated by the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), which is headed by Russian-born human rights activist Natan Sharansky, with a plethora of religious and political leaders attending.
Among those at the ceremony will be Kyiv Mayor and former heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko; Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel; Rabbi David Lau, Ashkenazi, Chief Rabbi of Israel; Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor and chair of Yad Vashem; and Yoel Leon, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine.
This year will mark the 80th anniversary since the Babyn Yar massacre, when global leaders will converge on the site in September, in part to see the new synagogue, which takes its inspiration from the pop-up book.
When closed, the building is a flat structure that is manually opened, and then unfolds into the three-dimensional space of the synagogue structure.
The design also features an interior referencing the wooden synagogues of Ukraine from the 17th and 18th century that have since been destroyed.
The walls are decorated with prayers and blessings, celebrating a reawakening, while the main prayers of the Jewish liturgy, such as the Shma’ Israel, or the Kaddish, are written on the walls.
There is also a blessing for turning a nightmare into a good dream on the main wall, above the Aron ha-Kodesh, where the bible scrolls are kept. This was also written on the walls of the 17th century synagogue of Gwozdziec of Western Ukraine.
The ceiling “celebrates a colourful universe” that becomes visible above the heads of the visitors. These symbols have an additional meaning, as together they recreate the star constellation visible over Kyiv on the night of 29 September 1941.
“For the visitors, looking up into the ceiling of the new synagogue will create a subtle link to the night that the massacre started,” said organisers.
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