Dnepropetrovsk City Establishes Memorial For Former Chief Rabbi

by Zalman Nelson - Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

March 17, 2009

(lubavitch.com) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878-1944), the former chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, on Sunday became Ukraine’s first spiritual leader to have his life commemorated with a public memorial during a ceremony at his former home in downtown Dnepropetrovsk. Schneerson was the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory.

Over 600 people attended the historic event at which Dnepropetrovsk City Council Deputy Zagid Krasnov unveiled the monument along with the city’s chief Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky and building owner/memoria sponsor Grigory Derevitsky. The unveiling of the plaque, affixed on the house, opened an exhibit about Shneerson’s life in the adjacent building and attracted Ukrainian national media attention.

“No spiritual or religious leader in Ukraine has ever received such an honor,” said Chabad Rabbi Kaminetsky, who conceived and helped direct the project. “The event’s uniqueness attracted a large crowd and made for a fitting tribute to a tremendous leader.”

Written in Hebrew and Russian, the stone plaque indicates that Rabbi Schneerson lived in the 13 Barrikadnaya Street home from 1934 until 1939 when he was arrested by Soviet NKVD agents for defying their efforts to eliminate Jewish learning and practice.

Guests were greeted by Kaminetsky, building owner and project sponsor Grigory Derevitsky, Israel Embassy Attaché Vladislav Krischanovich, Dnepropetrovsk Jewish Community Chairman Grigory Korol, and staff from the local Ohr Avner Chabad day school which bears Levi Yitzchak Schneerson’s name.

Kaminetsky told Lubavitch.com that he was always aware of the building and its significance, but its desirable location made its purchase extremely difficult.

“I was watching and waiting a long time to see who would purchase the building, hoping for an opportunity for this project.”

When the Schneerson home and adjacent buildings were purchased eight years ago by Jewish businessman Grigory Derevitsky to create 100,000 square feet of offices, Rabbi Kaminetsky approached him with the project.

“I explained to him the building’s Jewish connection and he agreed to work to preserve its heritage.”

In renovating the buildings, Derevitsky directed architects to separately restore the two-storey building’s facade based on historical documents and images. The adjoining, modern-style building’s large lobby houses the exhibit on Schneerson’s life and activities, featuring pictures, biographical and historical materials, and the original doors of the home. According to Kaminetsky, the exhibit is viewed by thousands of people each day as the walk through the lobby.

“Once we realized the building’s significance we knew we had to restore it as part of the city’s heritage and preserve the memory of this great spiritual leader and countryman,” said Derevitsky in his address.

According to Kaminetsky, government permission for the first-of-its-kind memorial required months of tremendous effort. The successful campaign was spearheaded by his wife, Chana, who was named for Rabbi Schneerson’s wife.

A distinguished kabbalist and Jewish leader, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lived in Nikolayev until 1909 when he was appointed to serve as rabbi of Yekaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk. After his 1939 arrest just before the holiday of Pesach, he was detained and tortured for almost nine months in a local KGB facility before being transferred to Kiev and then sentenced to exile in Kazakhstan, where he died in 1944. 

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