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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

This Star Was Lost for 113 Years

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With great fanfare Wednesday, wraps will be pulled off a restored dome complete with a star of David atop the country's most prestigious synagogue, a reconstruction that aims to absolve a century-old injustice and bring healing to the Jewish community.

It wasn't known until just six months ago that the Choral Synagogue ever had a dome, said Dmitry Zagranichny, spokesman for the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations.

Synagogue staff stumbled across dusty records in the synagogue archives chronicling how a jealous Russian Orthodox Church had convinced Tsar Alexander III in 1888 to tear down the dome from the synagogue, which was under construction, Zagranichny said. Work on the synagogue started in 1886, and the grandiose place of worship was only opened — with no dome — in 1906.

The records told of the chief procurator of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, declaring that the dome crowned with a golden, six-pointed star of David was offensive to Orthodox believers. The Holy Synod is the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Zagranichny described Pobedonostsev as a "great anti-Semite" who wielded great power over the state. According to Zagranichny, Pobedonostsev once declared that one-third of Russian Jews should convert to Orthodoxy, one-third should emigrate and one-third should be killed.

Pobedonostsev wrote to the tsar demanding that the dome be removed, and Alexander III ordered Moscow's Governor General Vladimir Dolgorukov to fulfill the request, according to the synagogue records.

Although Dolgorukov was no anti-Semite, he could not disobey the tsar and had the dome removed in one day, just a year after it had been built, Zagranichny said.

The synagogue has had an ordinary roof for the past century.

After the records were found, archivists searched for information about the synagogue's architect, Simon Eibushitz, to confirm that he had wanted to top the synagogue with a dome.

"We then found a sketch of the dome and searched the archive for the original plans," Zagranichny said.

Dolgorukov's contemporary equivalent, Mayor Yury Luzhkov, helped the synagogue cut through the cumbersome red tape for building permits, and the new dome was raised on the synagogue at 10 Bolshoi Spasoglinishchevsky Pereulok within six months, Zagranichny said.

Mikhail Chlenov, president of the VAAD Jewish umbrella organization, said the restoration of the dome was a symbolic gesture of reconciliation, not just from injustices done during tsarist times but those performed by the Communists.

"I think it will be visible from the former Communist Party headquarters [on Staraya Ploshchad] that are now used by the presidential administration," he said.

Luzhkov and Adolf Shayevich, one of two claimants to be Russia's chief rabbi, will lead celebrations Wednesday marking the restoration of the dome. About 700 guests have been invited, including delegates from the Russian Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Council.

Leaders of all faiths in Russia, including Rabbi Berl Lazar, the second claimant to be the top rabbi, have been invited, Zagranichny said.

Lazar's spokesman Borukh Gorin said the rabbi would not attend because the reconstruction was largely the work of the Russian Jewish Congress, which is at loggerheads with Lazar's ultra-orthodox Chabad Lubavich movement. The congress, which Lazar helped found in 1996, recognizes Shayevich as chief rabbi.

However, Lazar welcomed and approved of the restoration and the quality of the work done on the synagogue, Gorin said.

Luzhkov and Shayevich will lay a cornerstone for a Jewish community center near the synagogue at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon. At 7 p.m. a concert open to the public will be held, and festivities will end with fireworks and a laser show.

Zagranichny said the dome is part of a $7 million refurbishment program at the synagogue. The interior of the synagogue will also be restored to its original grandeur. The interior was poorly preserved in Soviet times when the local Jewish community was persecuted and destitute. Some of the most beautiful decorations were crudely painted over and are now being restored to their original state.

"Despite Soviet attempts to destroy the synagogue's role in Jewish life, it nevertheless continued to operate as a synagogue even under the most difficult circumstances," Zagranichny said.

"This synagogue has always been at the center of Jewish life in Russia, not just religious life. We want to restore it to a state appropriate to a building of such status."

About 150,000 Muscovites take part in local Jewish life, while another half a million Muscovites are of Jewish descent but don't identify themselves as such, he said.

Also as part of the reconstruction project, Bolshoi Spasoglinishchevsky Pereulok, which runs in front of the synagogue, has been repaved and will become a pedestrian zone.

Despite the cornerstone being laid Wednesday, the Jewish community center on a lot recently filled with garages is already taking shape.

On the grounds are a replica of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall and a sculpture by Igor Burganov of a hand and a dove.

Zagranichny said the dove symbolized the secular Jewish community, while the hand was a symbol of protection.

Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, is a place of prayer and pilgrimage that is considered sacred to the Jewish people. The wall is all that is left of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in the first century.

Jews lament the destruction of the temple and pray for its restoration at the wall and wedge notes in its cracks in the hope that God will fulfill their requests.

The Moscow replica also has places where notes could be left, but it will not be used for any religious purposes, Zagranichny said. It is more of a reminder of the bond between Jews in Israel and Russia, people who have seen their buildings repeatedly destroyed and reconstructed in both countries, he said.

The wall, which Zagranichny said was dreamed up by synagogue staff and City Hall, will form part of the community center.