Soldiers’ Synagogue in Tomsk, Russia
The story behind the Soldiers’ Synagogue in Tomsk, Siberia is unique and remarkable. It was founded by Jewish Cantonists - 19th century forcefully conscripted child soldiers who had to serve 25 years in the Czar’s army. When they returned after their service, many struggled to re-integrate into the Jewish community and one such ex-soldier Hertzel Tsam decided to build a synagogue specifically for the Cantonist community - hence the Soldiers’ Synagogue of Tomsk.
The building is also one of the last remaining wooden synagogues in the world and it has special features with windows containing Stars of David and exterior door in the shape of a Torah scroll.
It was confiscated in the Soviet period but in 2017 was finally returned to the Jewish community of Tomsk.
The Russian Ministry of Culture recognized the uniqueness of this synagogue and it is formally registered as a historic building.
Prior to the building being returned, it was used as a hostel and, while the Municipality found new homes for the tenants, squatters moved in and this led to further damage to the interior. The building is in a very poor state and the small local Jewish community now faces the challenge of having to fund its restoration.
The Jewish community wants firstly to conduct a structural survey to assess the physical state of the building and public funding has been secured for this.
The longer term plan is to restore the synagogue and use it as a Jewish museum and visitors centre for the entire Siberian region, while also returning it to being available as a place for religious services.