Shlima Gorinova is among those anxiously waiting the completion of a new synagogue and Jewish community center in the Moscow suburb of Malakhovka after its historical place of worship was burned to the ground.

Rising on a site provided by the local municipality, the new stone structure will, among other functions, house the Torah scrolls miraculously saved from the destruction of four years ago. According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Tamarin, the community’s rabbi, the building will also include a prayer hall, ritual bath, library, classrooms and offices.

For Gorinova, 85, the most exciting prospect is that the community will again be able to congregate in a permanent space.

In 1928, she and her family moved to Malakhovka, a district visited just one year before by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, upon his release from Soviet-imposed exile. Gorinova’s family left Odessa, Ukraine, so that her father, Moshe Tabachnik, could open up a kosher bakery near Moscow.

“He baked bread for the Jewish children’s school,” said the woman. “And he made the Passover matzah for all the Jewish people from Moscow to Malakhovka.”

Four years later, the community built their one-story wooden synagogue, which was listed as being used for economic purposes.

“At that time, synagogues were illegal,” explained Gorinova, a great-grandmother.

Still, Jewish residents continued to pray and learn in the synagogue and yeshivas throughout the area. One student in the underground Lubavitch school in Malakhovka was a teenager by the name of Shlomo Matusof, who would later be sent by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to Morocco to lead Jewish educational activities in North Africa.

During World War II, Gorinova’s parents sent her to her aunts in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She enrolled in the Military Academy of Languages, and was soon given a job as a military interpreter in the Red Army. More than four years later, she returned to Malakhovka.

Of the 2005 arson that destroyed her beloved synagogue, she said that it came as a shock to the community.

“All the old books were burned, we lost them,” she detailed. “We went to the cemetery and we had to bury them.”

A month later, 60 tombstones were found vandalized at the Jewish cemetery.

Still, the spate of attacks had some silver linings. No one was in the synagogue at the time of the fire. And a robbery several days prior had prompted Tamarin to lock up the shul’s Torah scrolls.

“We took them out of there,” said Tamarin. “It was a miracle.”

Rabbi Moshe Tamarin stands in what will be the new synagogue’s ritual bath.
Rabbi Moshe Tamarin stands in what will be the new synagogue’s ritual bath.

From Wood to Stone

For the past few years, the community has been gathering in a rented office for prayer services and Sunday school. Because of the lack of space, the community celebrated Purim in six different parties scheduled one right after the other.

The community is using new books provided by the Rabbinical Alliance of the Former Soviet Union led by Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.

“We have little room,” Gorinova said of the current situation. “It is really difficult to be there.”

The building project, which is an estimated three months from completion, was set in motion when Mayor Alexander Avtayev – who attended the burial of the synagogue’s sacred books – granted the community a plot of land. Alexander Kaplan of Moscow, who was born and raised in Malakhovka, donated the cost of the bulding.

Lined in the stone, “the new synagogue is very beautiful and well-built,” commented Gorinova.

Tamarin said that while it couldn’t possibly replace the historic nature of the old synagogue, the building itself is a significant improvement over the previous facility.

“The old building was just one storey made of wood,” said the rabbi. “And the new building is made of stone, with a mikvah, and two more floors above!”

“I am happy,” said Gorinova. “I am sure that many more people will come to the [new] synagogue.”