06/24/2008, 00.00
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Dushanbe’s old synagogue demolished to make way for a presidential palace

A new complex complete with parks and fountain will be built, replacing an entire neighbourhood. About a thousand Jews are left in the country and they do not have the money to build a new synagogue.
Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Dushanbe’s only synagogue and all the buildings in the downtown neighbourhood where it is located will be torn down to build a luxurious presidential complex complete with parks and fountains.

For the city's several hundred Jews, the synagogue was both a place for religious services and a community centre. Many of the Jews are elderly and poor and the synagogue was a place where they could also get a free meal.

The Jewish community has been offered a plot of land on a distant edge of the city for a new synagogue but at their own expense. They cannot afford it however and are hopeful that Tajik authorities might offer them the resources they need to build.

The demolition project was launched in 2005, and has left hundreds of residents in the city without homes.

The destruction of the synagogue itself began in February 2006 when the ritual bath, kosher butcher shop, and religious classrooms were bulldozed.

But pressure from regional and international Jewish groups as well as other international institutions, including UNESCO, led to a temporary halt in the demolition.

In the end though, Dushanbe's Firdavsi district authorities and the city’s appeals court ruled earlier this year in favour of demolition.

The synagogue was built in the early 1900s when there were at least two Jewish quarters in Dushanbe.

Soviet authorities nationalised the building in 1952, whilst two other synagogues in the city were closed down.

Eventually, the Jewish community was allowed to use the building as their house of worship.

Abe Davit Gurevich, told Radio Free Europe that before the collapse of the Soviet Union some 15,000 Jews lived in Tajikistan, but after its break-up most Jews emigrated to Israel or the West.

At present about 1,000 Jews are left in the country.

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