My Visit To

October 6, 1999: Bialystok to Suwalki
Plaque in
Sejny Synagogue
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"The history of the Jewish community of Sejny dates back to the end of the 18th century. The oldest headstones of the Sejny cemetery (which no longer exists) date from this period. The first wooden synagogue was built in the 1780's. Father Bortkiewicz, a superior of the Dominican order, contributed to the creation of the synagogue by giving his permission to construct the building. In 1885, Rabbi Moses Becatel Luria began to build a brick synagogue, which exists to this day. His successor was the religious philosopher Moses Isaac Avigdor, the founder of a Yeshiva with a popular-revolutionary character, which was well known among supporters of Jewish enlightenment. Due to the Yeshiva, Sejny became a center of enlightenment for the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Also, a Hebrew school was established here by the writer Tuwla Pinkas Shapiro – it was one of the first Jewish schools that was secular in nature.

"According to data from the last pre-war general census, 819 Jews lived in Sejny in 1931, comprising 24% of the city's population. Their primary occupations were as traders of agricultural and forestry products and as craftsmen. When the Augustow Canal was built, many of them were employed as forestry workers, transporting and working with wood.

"Architecturally, the inside of the synagogue is a mixture of Gothic and baroque architecture. There are three aisles in the synagogue. There is a multi-colored niche for the Torah cabinet in the eastern wall. An area for women and a podium were located in the center aisle surrounded by four pillars.

"During the occupation, the Germans used the synagogue as a fire station. After the war, the building served as a fertilizer warehouse and as a storage building for municipal transportation equipment. During this period, the building was badly damaged. The restoration of the synagogue began in 1978 and continued through 1987.

"The Sejny region is an area of ethnic minorities, a place where different traditions, cultures, and religions meet. This is a theme of the activities in the 'Borderland Center of Arts, Cultures, and Nations,' which is now hosted by the 'White Synagogue' of Sejny." (Translation provided by Marek Tobolewski.)

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