Old Meets New in Rebuilt Shul of Zhytomyr, Ukraine

When faced with the prospect of demolishing the historic shul of Zhytomyr due to its age and condition, shliach Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm decided to reconstruct it, while creating a beautiful new center at the same time.

By Anash.org reporter

A number of years ago, Zhytomyr shliach Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm was faced with a hard choice: demolish the city’s historic shul, or reconstruct it and remain with the limited space it provided?

The city’s historic shul, known as “The Peddler’s Shul” had a rich and long history behind it, along with hundreds of thousands of tefillos davened inside. Just over 150 years ago, the ancient wooden shul was rebuilt in stone, and the new/old building continued to serve as the city’s main shul.

During communist times, the shul continued to function, albeit secretly, until WWII. During the Nazi occupation, the shul was used as a warehouse, and then in later years, the Soviets transformed it into a club. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the shul was returned to the Jewish community.

In recent years, the condition of the building deteriorated, and the shluchim were faced with a tough choice: They could either demolish it and build a new, modern and spacious shul, or they could rebuild the historic shul, but that would make serious constraints on the amount of attendees by tefillos and events.

So, the shluchim decided to go for a third option. They kept the outer walls of the shul, while building a new, modern building around it. Thus, the rich history of the shul would continue, while the community would have ample space to grow.

“The old shul is more than just nostalgic,” Rabbi Wilhelm told Anash.org. “It was also build in a unique fashion. The donor commissioned the shul in the fashion of the Old City of Yerushalayim, and the entrance resembles the Sha’ar Harachamim gate.”

After the new construction, the shul gained a second floor, and hundreds more square feet. Additional plans call for the original Aron Kodesh, Bima and bookshelves to be rebuilt as well. The community will also be celebrating a Siyum Sefer Torah this coming Friday.

“After many trials and tribulations, the shul has finally resumed its rightful place as the main Jewish center of Zhytomyr,” Rabbi Wilhelm said.

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