Moscow’s top Jewish sites: Shalom!

Jewish Moscow: The top 5 places to learn about the writers, traditions and history of this community. Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

Jewish Moscow: The top 5 places to learn about the writers, traditions and history of this community. Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

Integrally woven over centuries into the social fabric of the Russian capital are elements of Jewish culture. We provide a guide to some sites which showcase Moscow’s Jewish community’s contribution to the cultural landscape.

Moscow’s Jewish community became Russian in the eighteenth century, after Poland was partitioned and Russia annexed some of those regions. Earlier, under the Pale of Settlement, state policy permitted Jews to settle only in limited parts of the empire. The situation gradually changed in the 19th century and the number of Jews in Moscow increased.

The government’s attitude towards Jews varied during the Soviet era, ranging from opposition against anti-Semitism of the tsarist period to greater and even more explicit demonstrations of intolerance by bureaucrats and in everyday life.

The renaissance of the Jewish community began in the 1990s. It is not uncommon today in Moscow to see people wearing the typical “kippah” (a brimless cap) and “payot” (sidelocks). At Ploshchad Revolyutsii during Hanukkah, the chief Rabbi of Russia lights the first candle on the Hannukkah menorah.

1. The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
Source: TASS/Sergei Fadeichev

Some say that this is the largest museum in the world devoted to Jewish culture, the history of Jews in general and of Russian Jews in particular. The museum was opened in 2012 in the building of the former Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage, a monument of Soviet constructivism.

Nowadays this is one of the most modern museums of Russia, one in which traditional exhibits stand side by side with interactive and multimedia technologies.
Source: TASS/Sergei Bobulev

Attached to the museum is a branch of the Russian State Library hosting a book collection formerly belonging to the Schneerson family. The collection is available to the public.

2. The Synagogue on Bolshaya Bronnaya
Source: TASS/Mikhail Fomichev

This synagogue was built on property owned by the wealthy Jewish banker and industrialist, Lazar Polyakov. The building was enclosed by a fence and equipped with an underground passage that allowed visitors to leave the synagogue discreetly in the case of anti-Jewish pogroms.

In 1937 the synagogue was closed and was returned to the Jewish community only in 1991. Nowadays this synagogue is not just a temple, but also a religious center for the entire community. Today the Torah is taught here and there is a kosher store and a school that educates future rabbis and shoykhets (Kosher butchers).   

3. Isaac Levitan’s workshop
Source: RIA Novosti

Isaac Levitan, famous in all over Russia as a creative master of“mood landscape” canvasses was born into an impoverished Jewish family in what is today Lithuania. At age 10 he moved to Moscow, where he later was admitted to an art school.

Levitan’s works were very successful, but his financial situation was often precarious. In 1889 Sergey Morozov, the famous Russian collector and patron of art, gave the painter a workshop at Bolshoy Tryokhsvyatitelsky pereulok where Levitan lived many productive and successful years until the end of his life.

Although the artist has no museum in Moscow, many of his works hang in the Tretyakov Gallery.

4. Boris Pasternak’s Museum in Peredelkino
Source: Lori/Legion-Media

Peredelkino, one of the numerous dacha settlements around Moscow, was created thanks to writer Maxim Gorky, who proposed giving writers plots of land here in 1934. Boris Pasternak, who came from a family of Jewish artists and at that time was already a famous writer, was given a dacha in this “literary settlement,” in 1936.

This dacha became a real muse for the future Nobel Prize laureate, who was undergoing a serious creative crisis. Here, after a 10-year period of silence, he began to write verses again and worked on the novel that would make him famous around the world, “Doctor Zhivago.”

Pasternak’s dacha in Peredelkino is today a museum. Excursions have to be booked in advance (available in Russian, German and English). On Fridays you can join the museum’s “irrevocable excursion.” For this excursion the museum’s curators prepare a special tour whose theme changes every week, with the announcement coming on the museum’s website a few days in advance.  

5. The Shalom Moscow Jewish Theater
Source: TASS/Vladimir Astapkovich

Immediately after the 1917 October Revolution two Jewish theaters appeared in Moscow. The first was the Gabima Theater Studio, which enjoyed Stanislavsky’s patronage. However, the staff moved almost entirely to Palestine in 1927.

The second was the Moscow State Jewish Theater (GOSET), located on Malaya Bronnaya ulitsa. This theater remained active until 1949 when it was closed at the peak of the struggle against “cosmopolitanism,” which greatly impacted Jewish culture in Moscow.

The heir of the GOSET became the Shalom Moscow Jewish Theater, which was founded in the 1960s as a drama troupe. Today the theater is located at Leningradsky Prospekt 71 G. Shows are in Russian with some Yiddish.   

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