Ludza Great Sinagogue
In 1937, Ludza had 8 synagogues, or 5 synagogues and 3 houses of prayer: 1. «Bet Hamedrosh — Hechadosh» (Vienibas Street 23, now 1 May Street), built by Ludza citizen Hirsh Rabinovich in 1960. Wooden building, tin roof.
2. Big synagogue (Vienibas Street 34), built during Rabbi V. Altschuler period, around 1800. Wooden building with brick lining, tin roof.
3. «Bet Hamedrosh — Hayashon» (Vienibas Street 36), built during Rabbi V. Altschuler period, around 1790. Wooden building, tin roof. Large restorations took place in 1829, 1860, and 1901.
4. House of prayer «Bet Medrosh — Harav» (Maza Ezera krasta Street 4), buit by Ludza citizens Avsey Edelshtein and Leib Klyachko with private donations in 1877. Wooden building, tin roof.
5. House of prayer «Mirian Machasidim» (Vienibas Street 38), built by Ludza citizen Zelik Gamush with private donations around 1860. Wooden building, tin roof.
6. House of prayer «Bet Hamedrosh de Cilevich» (Latgales Street 87), built by Ludza citizen Abram Locov around 1865. Wooden building, tin roof.
7. House of prayer «Bet Hamedrosh de Slobodka» (Talaviyas Street 112), built by Ludza citizen Yankel Zuser with private donations around 1875. Wooden building, tin roof.
8. House of prayer «Minian Ziske Levi» (Latgale Street a2), built by Ludza citizen Ziske Levi in 1813. Wooden building, tin roof. Building burnt down in June 11 1938 during the fire.
From generation to generation, Ludza Jewish community was famous for its Rabbis.
Because of that, in Jewish society Ludza was often called “Latvian Jerusalem”.
The first famous Rabbi of Ludza Jewish community was Wolf Altschuler, who moved to Ludza in 1786. He wrote and published three books of religious contents. Rabbi W. Altschuler has died in 1806 in Ludza.
After W. Altschuler’s death, David Zioni became Ludza’s Rabbi. It is believed that D.
Zioni appeared in Ludza in 1802 and was appointed the Rabbi after W. Altschuler died. He was known as a forecaster (Kabbalist) and died in 1808.
David Zioni’s son and successor Naftali Zioni served as a Rabbi in Ludza for 48 years, from 1808 to 1856. N. Zioni was loved and respected for his virtues, attentiveness to people’s wishes, and rare self-denial: “he would wake up at two in the morning and until sunrise he'd study; when the sun would have risen, he'd pray, read book, have a meal, and go to the city to visit the ill and the poor… Everyone loved him for his austerity and honesty.” Naftali Zioni died in 1856 and was buried on Ludza Jewish cemetery.
From 1856 to 1876 Jewish community’s Rabbi was Naftali’s son Aharon Zioni.
Don Yachya (Donhin) Leizer (Eliezer) was the first Rabbi from the old Rabbi family from Spain, related to the famous Jewish scholar and commentator of the Tanakh Don Yitzhak ben Yehuda Abarbanel (1437-1508). Don Yachya was born in 1847 in Drissa city (Verkhnyadzvinsk, Belarus). Eldest son of Rabbi Shabetay Don Yachya. He recieved religious education from local Rabbi Aharon Zelig Zioni. For many years was a Rabbi in Vizhun of Kovno province (Vyzuonos, Lithuania). He opened a manufactory that produced candles of his own recipe. After his father-in- low has died in 1876, he became a Rabbi in Lutsin.
Don Yachya (Donhin) Ben Zion — the last Ludza Rabbi from Don Yachya dinasty, apologist of religious Zionism, specialist of Jewish history. He was born in 1870 in Lucin.
Son of Ludza Rabbi Don Yachya Eliezer. In 1890-1899 studied in yeshivas of Volozhin (Belarus) and Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania). Made a Rabbi in 1898 by Rabbi of Kovno G.
Rabinovich and Rabbi of Slabodka (Vilijampole, Lithuania) M. Danushevsky. In 1900-1926 he was a Rabbi of Viļaka (Marianovo, Marienhuzen) in Latgale. In 1926 replaced his father as the head Rabbi of Ludza. Influenced by his father, became an active follower of religious Zionism. In May 1917, participated in the VII All-Russia Zionist Conference in Petrograd. Made a significant contribution to collecting funds for Jewish settlements in Palestine. Wrote several works about Jewish history (published in Yiddish and Russian languages).
In the first days of the German army invasion into USSR he refused to leave Ludza or encourage Jews to flee to Russia (as it was advised by Lithuanian and Polish Jews). He was executed in 1941. In 1958, his remains were reburied on Jewish cemetery in Ludza.
Sons: Shabetay Don-Yachya, worked for many years as a chief editor of Israeli religious newspaper Ha-Tzofeh; David Don-Yachya worked as a teacher in Kfah Hasidim moshav. Grandsons and grand-grandsons live in Israel.
The Big Ludza Synagogue, considering the amount of its authentic wooden details, can be called the oldest synagogue in Latvia and other Baltic countries. Wooden synagogues (the one in Ludza was built circa 1800, the one in Rezekne – in 1845) are unique monuments of Jewish culture in North-East Europe that in the other European regions were lost during the 20th century. It is supposed that in 700 years, about 700 synagogues were built in Eastern Europe. But the number of the remaining wooden synagogues in Europe doesn't exceed 4 or 5.
In the third quarter of the 19th century, when synagogue building began to develop technical problems, it was lined with a layer of bricks. The Big Synagogue is one of those few buildings that survived the big Ludza fire of 1938, when most of the city centre burnt down. Synagogue building was used as a temple until the 1980s. It maintained its original shape and form, the architectonic composition of the facade, wooden structural frame and the authentic room layout (hallway, praying room, separate praying room for women, storeroom (a room for studying sacral texts)). Intact were preserved also all the main furniture and decorative elements that present Jewish culture of the 18th and 19th centuries: a bimah with a reading desk, Aron Kodesh where Torah scroll was kept, various reading desks, writing desks, and benches.
In November 2013, The Big Ludza Synagogue was included into the list of Latvian cultural monuments as a unique landmark and a part of Ludza historical centre, which is a monument of urban planning.
In late 2014, Ludza district municipality began the implementation of a project “Restoration of The Big Ludza Synagogue and renewal of Jewish religious heritage”. The main activities were: restoration of the synagogue building, creation of expositions, craftsmen training, and exchange of experience with the partners – Hordaland museum centre (Norway). During the collaboration, wood examples were prepared for dendrochronological analysis. It was found that the most recent wood used in the synagogue dates back to 1781, which confirmed and specified the age of the synagogue, as well as amplified the building's historical value.
Restoration works were carried for almost a year – from the 20th March 2015 until the 22nd January 2016. The building's foundation was fortified; outer walls were restored but the red brick lining was taken down. Log walls were lined with wood planks, the wood part of the facade was coated with a primer and a layer of paint made of first cold press linseed oil. The historical tin-plated roof that was brought from Australia in 1930s was renovated and painted. The roof's wooden structure was fortified. Staircase was dismantled, a new foundation was built, and, using the recovered parts, the staircase was rebuilt. Old window frames were renovated or built anew after the example. The doors and the wooden flooring were restored on the second floor. In the hallway, a new floor was made using the dismantled facade wall bricks. The first floor was given a new wooden flooring and three stoves were built. The historical inside wall plastering was preserved (for about 65 %) and the paint layers on it were strengthened. The unique wooden cupola was also restored – the only one left in the Baltic region.