The history of the St. Petersburg Jewish community in some ways mirrors the story of Purim.
During the time of the czars, Jews weren’t officially allowed to live in St. Petersburg but all through the 19th century the population grew. By the end of the 19th century, slightly over 20,000 Jews lived in St. Petersburg. Eventually they were able to build a synagogue. The synagogue, now known as the Great Choral Synagogue, opened in 1893 and is still standing today. Today the St. Petersburg Jewish community numbers 100,000 Jews.
During the Communist era the city was known as Leningrad. Leningrad was the site of a major seige by Hitler’s armies in World War II. As the Nazis advanced towards Leningrad Jews in outlying areas fled to the city center. Those Jews who could not flee were trapped, tortured, and killed. The two year seige left the city starving and eating sawdust. Jewish survival was complicated by Nazi leaflets that blamed the Jews for the suffering in Leningrad. The siege was one of the deadliest in history. Over 1.5 million people, Jews and non-Jews, died.
Today St. Petersburg is a thriving Jewish community. The Great Choral Synagogue, run by Chabad, is the scene of many Jewish social and religious programs. It also has a Progressive Jewish synagogue housed in Sha’arei Shalom synagogue to cater to the city’s more non-traditional Jews.
St. Petersburg has also hosted a Limmud FSU conference. The conference, organized by Russian Jewish volunteers, gathers Jews from across Russia for two or three days of Jewish learning and cultural events. Among the participants from St. Petersburg were Lena Utkina, a student of landscape design, and Dima and Natasha Zicar, Jewish educators. You can find brief portraits of them here.
Translation of Introduction and Song Lyrics
Hello, I’m Liya Geldman. I’m a senior student at cinema and television university in St. Petersburg. As you know Russia is a multiethnic and multidenominational country. But do Russians really know traditions of other cultures? Today we came here to find out if they know what Purim is.
– Do you know what Purim is?
– Hello, do you know what Purim is?
– Hi Julia, do you know what is Purim?
– Hello, what is Purim?
Doesn’t anyone know what Purim is?
Purim! Purim! Purim!
Purim! Purim! Purim!
Zenit and Haiduck (Russian soccer teams),
Student and coach,
Human and spider,
Patient and surgeon,
NYC, Moscow and Saint Petersburg!
Purim! Also celebrating in Barnaul
People from Penza and Tomsk,
On Kamchatka and in Kerch,
And possibly even on the moon.
Purim! Let’s put some make up on!
Whether you are old or young,
Even if you hadn’t slept for 3 nights
It’s Israeli mega-carnival!
Purim! We highly recommend it.
The plot is twisted,
It happened almost 3000 years ago
So it might be hard to remember
Where’s good and where’s bad
So choose for yourself who’s good and who’s bad
Here’s the Mordehai the Jew, King Ahashverosh.
Where’s Vashti? The Tzar’s ex-wife?
But maybe Hamman could be the Bad Guy?
Imagine for a while that we’re in Babylon,
Who’s the star on this dark sky? Esther!
Here’s a lesson for now and in 600BC
If you’re brave, you’ve got the power!
We’ll scream together Mazal Tov!
Our glass is full to the brim.
With what? Lets fill it with wine
And drink it all up.
And during this Purim we’ll change the world!