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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Synagogue to Join War Memorial

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin fulfilled half a century of dreams with a single shovelful of dirt Tuesday.

In an unprecedented governmental blessing of Jewish religiosity, Chernomyrdin broke ground for a new synagogue at Poklonnaya Gora, the state complex that honors Russia's sacrifices in World War II. The complex already includes an Orthodox cathedral.

For Jews who fought in the war, it was a moment of supreme redemption, said Moisei Maryanovsky, a Hero of the Soviet Union for his wartime exploits and now the chairman of the Union of Disabled Jewish War Veterans.

"It was deeply satisfying for us when the premier said he would come forward in support of this project," Maryanovsky said. "We waited more than 50 years for those words. They took away the insults that burned our hearts -- words thrown about in the time of Stalin that Jews had fought poorly. It was a lie and an insult to the soldiers."

Construction will be funded by the Russian Jewish Congress, headed by MOST-Bank chairman Vladimir Gusinsky. It will be designed by architect Moshe Zahre and artist Frank Meisler, and is scheduled to be finished in time for Moscow's 850th birthday next September.

The synagogue is the first new Jewish house of worship to be built since the 1917 Revolution and will bring Moscow's synagogue total to four.

Tuesday's event began with a prayer by Russia's Chief Rabbi, Adolf Shaevich. Then followed speeches by Chernomyrdin, World Jewish Congress leader Israel Singer, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and other luminaries. Finally, to the accompaniment of a Jewish choir, Chernomyrdin, followed by others, broke ground and a time capsule was placed honoring the day's events.

For former naval aviator Naum Kravets, the government's willingness to have a synagogue at Poklonnaya Gora was a sign that the lessons of the war had not been lost.

"This means a lot for me," he said. "I fought on the front. There was no separation among us soldiers -- Jews, Russians, Ukrainians -- we were all together. I'm touched to the depths of my soul that I didn't fight in vain, that my father and my brother didn't die in vain."

Tsiva Chernyak, who was a field nurse on the third Ukrainian front, sees a bright future when she looks to the yellow-leaved birch grove before which the synagogue is to stand.

"Our generation grew up under atheism," said the 73-year-old. "We didn't know the history of our people, our traditions. Now we have a chance to know the great God of the Jews."

Yefim Gologorsky, who was nine years old when the war began, said the foundation of the synagogue was an event of international significance.

"It's important for all Jews living in Russia, but not only in Russia. It's also big for those who left, those in Israel and the United States who dreamed it would happen in our generation."