A special and joyful event on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of the Tallinn New Synagogue and in commemoration of the Day of Jerusalem was co-organised by the Jewish Religious Community of Estonia and The Rogatchi Foundation in Tallinn, Estonia, at the end of May 2014.

The programme of the Event was both intense and multi-sided, and it included the opening of Michael Rogatchi’s Jewish Melody exhibition of his original art series; addresses by Members of the Knesset and leaders of the World Jewish Congress in Israel; a greeting speech by the Finnish Ambassador in Estonia; several greeting addresses from Israel, Lithuania and Estonia; a special presentation of  Jerusalem, My Stones art collection by Inna Rogatch,  tasting of kosher wines and a celebration dinner.

The event was opened by the hosts, Rabbi Efraim Shmuel Kot, the Chief Rabbi of Estonia, who had been greeting the public in the completely full synagogue and introducing the participants. Specially selected historical footage on the touching scenes of June 7th, 1967 when Jerusalem was united by the Israeli army, returned guests to that unique moment in modern history. Rabbi Kot was also a master of ceremony for the first part of the evening.

Rabbi Efraim Shmuel Kot, the Chief Rabbi of Estonia addresses the public at the Special Event on May 28th, 2014. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation.

For many guests, especially foreign ones, it came as a surprise that until 2007, Estonia had been the only country in Europe that did not have a synagogue, due to historical tragedies. In 1944, the great and beautiful Tallinn Synagogue, which was a pride of Tallinn Jewry, was bombed by the Soviet air force, with that magnificent building now destroyed, the rubble was removed from the Tallinn streets in 1947. For 60 years, almost three generations, Tallinn Jewry has had no normal house of prayer, and people have been using some sort of inadequate temporary options. From that perspective, the appearance of the Tallinn New Synagogue has its very special significance.

The chairman of the Jewish Religious Community of Estonia Mr Boris Oks – whose role in the new synagogue construction is a key one – addressed the audience with a warm speech emphasising how vital it is for any Jewish person to have their spiritual home, especially for the people who were deprived of it during so many decades. Mr Oks also shared with all those present his memories of the special and far from being easy process of building Beit-Bella Synagogue, from the beginning to the end.

Mrs Alla Jakobson, the chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish Community, greeted the public and remembered the hard life and devotion to the Jewish cause of the previous generations of Jews in Estonia, including her own father. In her vision, the more and deeper the current Jewish community of Estonia becomes with so many international guests visiting Tallinn from so many countries nowadays and they are all so happy to have such a beautiful and full of life and high spirit home for Jewish people as the new Beit-Bella Synagogue.

Member of the Knesset Gila Gamiel speaking at the Tallinn Synagogue, May 2014. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation

The many people that gathered in the Tallinn New Synagogue were very interested to hear addresses by leaders of the Israeli official delegation – MK Gila Gamliel and Colonel (Ret) Moshe Leshem. 

Gila Gamliel who is the youngest Member of the Cabinet in the history of Israel, also a rare woman in the Israeli government and the only public Israeli figure among the permanent delegations and commissions of the Davos Forum told about the firm stand of the Israeli public and politicians, their special feelings and position regarding Jerusalem as the united and non-divisible capital of the Jewish state, and infused the audience with her firm patriotism and her assured statehood approach.

Colonel (Ret) Moshe Leshem, legendary soldier who nowadays is a member of the Executive Board of the World Jewish Congress in Israel touched the hearts of everybody present in the Tallinn Synagogue Main Hall. Along with another member of the Israeli official delegation former Knesset member Shai Hermesh, who is currently chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Israel, Colonel Leshem was among the Israeli soldiers who were fighting for Jerusalem on June 7th, 1967. The presence of those two people at the Tallinn event united all the participants in no time; we all felt that the Jerusalem walls were just next to us, and that historic events and battles fought 47 years ago were happening just around the corner. Moshe Leshem who had been born in Poland in 1944 to Jewish parents during the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, came to Israel with his family as a child on one of the well-known ships that were bringing Jewish survivors from Europe to Palestine after WWII; and they spent several years in the Camp for Immigrants, not an easy experience for anyone. He has fought for Israel all his life, and some of his and his people’s battles were remarkable ones. The battalion that Colonel Leshev had been commanding, was the one who had built the bridge over the Suez Channel during the Yom Kippur War. Today, this notable Israeli soldier told people celebrating the Day of Jerusalem in the capital of Estonia of how proud he is of having a great – and big – family in Israel, being enrooted in the Jewish state, and blossoming there in the new generations of his family.

     Member of the Executive Board of the World Jewish Congress Colonel Moshe Leshem speaking at the Tallinn Synagogue on May 28th, 2014
Member of the Knesset Gila Gamiel speaking at the Tallinn Synagogue, May 2014. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation

Andras Patkai from Hungary and head of the Israeli Alliance in Brussels and David Parsons, director for media at the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, were the other members of the official Israeli delegation.

     Director of the Israeli Alliance Caucasus Josh Reinstein addressing the audience at the Special Event in Tallinn on May 28th, 2014
H.E. Ambassador of Finland to Estonia Aleksi Härkönen  addresses the audience at the Special Event in Tallinn. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation

The President of the Rogatchi Foundation, Inna Rogatchi was a master of ceremony for the second part of the evening.

She read the greeting letters from the Municipality of Jerusalem and from the Vilnius Jewish Public Library, and also conveyed to the public the personal greetings and congratulations from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia Mr Urmas Paet.

Inna Rogatchi addressing the public at the Special Event in Tallinn, May 2014. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation

In the greeting address of the Municipality of Jerusalem, Yossi Sharabi, director of culture, social and leisure activities administration of the Municipality of Jerusalem, and Francoise Kafri, director of international relations and exchange administration, was written:

“We are delighted to send on this special occasion our very best wishes to the Estonian Jewish Community and to our dear friends, Inna and Michael Rogatchi and the Rogatchi Foundation, for your love and support of Israel and of Jerusalem as well as strengthening the cultural ties between Estonia and Finland.

It is heartwarming to know that the Jewish community has been revived in Estonia and that the 7th anniversary of the Beit Bella Synagogue is taking place on the day that celebrates the reunification of the City of Jerusalem.

We hope that the ties between Jerusalem and Estonia will strengthen and that you all will visit our city, meet its people and experience its special spiritual and cultural atmosphere”.

In the greeting letter written and sent for the event by Zilvinas Beliaskas, director of the Vilnius Public Jewish Library which hosted Michael Rogatchi’s Jewish Melody exhibition from September 2013 through March 2014, was written:

“We are so happy that the sounds and sights as well as the spirit of the Jewish Melody links us up today with all of you letting us breathe in the same rhythm of emotional excitement. We are so happy that the Jewish Melody singing bird has perched in Tallinn Synagogue now and its melody is still reverberating in Vilnius with very vivid remembrance. Our hearts are with you and we wish all the happy moments of aesthetic delight as well as long flourishing years for the Estonian Jewish Community”.

H.E. Aleksi Härkönen, the Ambassador of Finland to Estonia, was very supportive and understanding in his thoughtful and meaningful speech. He described to the audience at length about the activities of Inna and Michael Rogatchis’ Foundation in Finland and world-wide, and its impact and significance. He also was telling at more length about the purpose of The Rogatchi Foundation’s support of educational activities in Estonia which is known as having very high standards, so to try to develop it into even more excellence is both a noble and demanding task; but it is always very good when the objections are high in activities like that. Mr Ambassador also expressed his respect and support for the Tallinn Jewish Community and the meaningful dates they were celebrating with all the guests, friends and supporters gathered together from many countries – Finland included as the closest neighbour and always standing friend.

The representatives of The Rogatchi Foundation from Finland at the Special Event in Tallinn: Tapio and Marja Holvitie. Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation.

The other members of the Finnish delegation spoke at length at the celebration dinner.  

Finnish veteran politician and co-founder of the Finnish-Israel Culture Association Tapio Holvitie told in his speech at the celebration dinner about his many decades’ experience of both parliament and public work with regard to international affairs issues and also about bringing the Israeli national heritage and legacy closer to the people living far from Israel, for better and deeper understanding of it, and for live, full and continuous dialogue. He was joined by his wife, well-known Finnish teacher Marja Holvitie. 

Co-founder and president of The Rogatchi Foundation Inna Rogatchi presented her new work that she completed to mark the Day of Jerusalem this year, 2014. Her essay The Feeling of Jerusalem and the accompanying video-essay Jerusalem. My Stones were presented to the guests at the Tallinn Event for the first time publicly. 

The video-essay was created by Inna Rogatchi on the collection of her fine art photography works The Jerusalem Album. The audience received the presentation wonderfully, saying that “there could not be a better presentation for such an occasion” as Tapio and Marja Holtivitie stated after the presentation, congratulating Inna. 

The Feeling of Jerusalem essay and Jerusalem. My Stones art-video were both published by the Israel National News as the main material on the Day of Jerusalem coverage.

     Inna Rogatchi's work, The Cloud of Glory, from her collection Jerusalem. My Stones
Inna Rogatchi’s presentation in Tallinn. © The Rogatchi Foundation.

In her presentation, Inna Rogatchi shared with the public a special story about her and her husband, Michael Rogatchi’s personal and artistic relations with one of the most important and dramatic land-marks of Jerusalem, the Hurva Synagogue and its famous Arch. 

When both Michael and Inna Rogatchi saw the Arch of the Hurva Synagogue some 25 years ago, it went into both of their hearts, and stayed there, – said Inna. To the degree that Michael has painted his now famous My Stones. Jerusalem painting which belongs to the  Permanent Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem, alongside works of Marc Chagall and other great artists who have loved Israel and Jerusalem with all their heart. 

Twenty years on, the Hurva Synagogue has been restored, to all its splendor, and this time Inna took one of her artistic photographs of the restored Hurva which has become the symbol of hope and life again. Moreover, together, Inna and Michael created a unique artistic collage merging Michael’s painting of Hurva’s Arch with Inna’s photograph of Hurva restored. 

The art work which exists in only one copy is entitled Hurva Return. The Rogatchi family donated it to the outstanding Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetski who has played a pivotal role in making the restoration of Hurva possible and completed.

The main point of Inna’s speech was the “very special way in which a strong emotion caused by the dramatic history of ones’ people and its spiritual land-marks could transform into a special and symbolic piece of art, to continue its life and bring out its message to the coming generations. That’s what makes one’s life and efforts worthy”, – said Dr Rogatchi.

Artist Michael Rogatchi and H.E. Aleksi Härkönen, Ambassador of Finland to Estonia, Tallinn, May 2014 . Courtesy © The Rogatchi Foundation.

World-renowned artist Michael Rogatchi, co-founder and chairman of The Rogatchi Foundation, started his address with personal memories from the Soviet Gulag in Kazakhstan where his family had been exiled to. “During the war of 1967, I was at the age of Bar-Mitzvah. Living in exile, in the steppes of Kazakhstan, in the middle of huge Karlag, one of the vastest parts of the Soviet Gulag, we were following events in Israel painstakingly, even at the very big risk of further punishment for listening to Voice of America. I do remember all my life, so very clearly, the sunny day in June 1967 when our close friend, the man who did not get emotional easily, jumped to the air, with his hands waving and crying out of joy: ‘We won! We won! We retook Jerusalem! Jerusalem is ours again!’ many people were frightened – so if it will lead to new arrests and further persecutions which would be only natural under the circumstances. But our friend, neither do we, our family, we did not mind – we won on that day, and we won our Jerusalem back to us, forever and ever. That’s one of my most vivid childhood memories – and today, I am truly very happy to celebrate this so special day with you, our friends in Tallinn, with you, our dear guests, and especially with you, the great soldiers of the great Israeli army who did fight for Jerusalem on that morning in June 1967” – said Michael Rogatchi in his speech.

The artist also presented to the public his Jewish Melody collection at the exhibition opening at the event. This unique art series is dedicated to the memory of the artist and his wife’s grandparents. And importantly, it is also a charitable event. The proceeds from the sales of Michael Rogatchi’s original artworks during the exhibition – from May 28th through September 10th, 2014 – will be supporting the school and educational activities of the Estonian Jewish Educational Centre. The school which is the best in Tallinn teaches both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

Artist, co-founder and chairman of The Rogatchi Foundation Michael Rogatchi at the Special Event in Tallinn. May 2014.

In his address at the celebration dinner, Michael told about the time of entering the new month in the Jewish calendar, the month of Sivan. “The word ‘sivan’ means twins in Hebrew. And for me, the twins are the Jewish people living in Israel and those Jewish people who live in Diaspora. As for real twins, for either of them the other ‘twin’ is essential, either cannot live normally without the other. And there is one thing which is vital for those both twins in their life – it is Jerusalem”, – said Michael Rogatchi.

Inna and Michael Rogatchi and The Rogatchi Foundation presented to the Tallinn New Synagogue and the Jewish Religious Community of Estonia The Lion of Jerusalem artwork by Michael Rogatchi, in commemoration of the 7th anniversary of the Beit-Bella Synagogue in Tallinn.

Michael Rogatchi © The Lion of Jerusalem