Kiev Jews regain a shul, proving that money talks

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KIEV, Ukraine — The story of a successful seven-year struggle to regain a synagogue in Ukraine appears to prove the old adage that money talks.

A Chassidic congregation in Kiev recently reclaimed possession of the Brodsky Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the Ukrainian capital.

The move came as uncertainty surrounded the future of a 1991 decree ensuring the restitution of communal religious property. The decree was scheduled to expire at the end of last year.

Soon after then-President Leonid Kravchuk signed the decree in 1991, Jews moved into the Brodsky Synagogue, which was confiscated by the communists in 1926 and turned into a workers' club.

But the Culture Ministry and Kiev's city administration did not want to give up the building, which since 1955 had housed a popular puppet theater.

As a compromise, the congregation received three rooms in the building, which served as the community's central synagogue.

The Jewish community eventually filed suit against the theater and the city administration, and Ukraine's High Court of Arbitration ruled that the theater should move out of the synagogue by Dec. 1.

But Jewish leaders say the theater would not have moved out if it were not for the efforts of Vadim Rabinovich, one of the country's richest men and the president of the newly formed All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress.

Rabinovich donated $100,000 to refurbish a club to serve as a temporary home for the theater.

Since the 1991 decree was issued, more than 30 synagogues have been returned to local Jewish communities.