24.11.2015

Open Day at Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg

By Dima Sharov

There was a storm watch issued for our county that Sunday. Rain mixed with snow has always been a very good reason to stay home. But curiosity is still a big chunk of the human nature. And the homely lights of the Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg were bright enough to welcome over 5,000 visitors for the traditional «Open Day» held November 15th.

People had to stand in a long line to get inside. Rabbi Avrom Arshinov claimed he'd never seen this many people trying to enter the Synagogue ever since the early 1990's when the mass emigration from the Soviet Union contributed to the growing interest towards the Jewish life and tradition.

However this time, most visitors don't even happen to be Jewish, because the «Open Day» is meant exactly for welcoming those interested regardless of their faith and origin. The Synagogue was open all day, with the whole range of options to choose from.

For a new creative idea never practiced before, the photo booth in the lobby was fun. Any visitor could get a fridge door magnet picture of themselves dressed as the real religious Jew. You literally have to wear a kippah and tallit for the booth picture to get that very special «feeling Jewish» experience capable of making your entire day.

All those practical Jewish items most visitors never even heard of, one could look at, touch and learn about at the exhibition specially organized for the big day. Those who decided to stop by, got to know exactly what a tefillin looks like and how to wear one. They actually heard the sound of shofar and saw the horn itself with their own eyes. They were told all about a mezuza and why there is a Tora scroll inside. Moreover, they even learned why mezuzas were supposed to be hung in the doorway.

The Main Prayer Hall of the Synagogue was crowded all day. Experienced guides, lecturers and Rabbis were there to tell you all about this building and this hall as well as the Jewish tradition, Magen David, the history of the Jewish Community of St. Petersburg and answer any question about any Jewish thing you could ever think of.

This year's discovery of the «Open Day» is obviously the newly re-opened Small Synagogue in the back yard of the Grand one. This building is now brought back in all its beauty and cosyness and available for guided tours as well as the Big Wedding Hall in the Grand Choral Synagogue.

Visitors were also treated with traditional Jewish meals: forschmack which originated in the East Europe and hummus common for israelites.

In conclusion of «Open Day» there was a concert in the Main Hall. A group of amateurs conducted by Mr. Ilya Gindin, a well-known clarinet player, performed traditional Jewish melodies.

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