Great Choral Synagogue

Odessa, Ukraine


The Great Choral Synagogue of Odessa, built in 1840 after a fire destroyed an earlier structure dating from 1790, is one of two surviving synagogues in what was once a thriving center of Jewish cultural life in Eastern Europe. It is located in the center of the city, in a commercial district not far from the Black Sea. This Renaissance Revival house of worship and former home of renowned cantors was seized during the Soviet period for use as a sports hall. Reclaimed by the local Jewish community in 1997, it has been rehabilitated for religious and community use. The Great Choral Synagogue is today a religious, cultural and educational center serving a wide variety of social services to the community, as well as providing a venue for a library, Hebrew classes and continuing education. The building houses a kosher restaurant in the basement. Hundreds of people use the building weekly.

How We Helped

In order to address the key structural issues affecting the synagogue, WMF provided support for the replacement of the roof and repair of the drainage system. WMF’s support also included refurbishing the second-story staircase, and the replacement of all second-story windows. The work was completed in partnership with the Tikva Children’s Home, a non-profit organization based in New York that provides assistance to children in Ukraine.

Why It Matters

The two-story Renaissance Revival synagogue is in keeping with the style of the grand but now decaying buildings that line the wide boulevards at the heart of Odessa's commercial district. The synagogue is listed as a building of historical significance with national preservation authorities in Ukraine. It is representative of the artistic and cultural vitality of Jewish life in Ukraine in the nineteenth century. The synagogue was among the preeminent choral synagogues of Eastern Europe. Like the Tempel Synagogue in Krakow, Poland, to which it bears stylistic similarities, the Great Choral Synagogue survived decades of Communist rule and once again serves its original purpose. It still ranks among the major synagogues of Ukraine built in the modern era. Perhaps most important, the rehabilitation of the synagogue has allowed it to return to be of great service to a thriving community that benefits from a wide variety of programs offered through the programs housed in the building. Tikva Children’s Home’s outreach through local media also encourages recognition of the importance of the Great Choral Synagogue to today’s residents of Odessa.

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