25 December 2010

Saint Petersburg

In late June 2010 I had the opportunity to visit the synagogue in St. Petersburg, built in Moorish and neo-Byzantine style between 1880 and 1888, after special a permit issued by the Tsar Alexander II, the first to allow Jews to settle in the city officially. Under renovation since 2000 thanks to a donation of $ 5 million by the Safra family, it was reopened five years ago to the public under the name of Great Coral Synagogue Edmond J. Safra.

I had the opportunity also to visit, at the cemetery Tikhvin, next to the Monastery of Alexander Nevski, the tomb of Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) - pianist, composer, conductor and founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In the excellent company of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Glinka, Borodin and Balakirev, I found his tomb covered with pebbles left by visitors who know of his Jewish origin.

Rubinstein was born in a village in the Russian province of Podolia, now part of Transnistria, the breakaway republic from Republic of Moldova. Before he was 5 years old, his grandfather ordered all family members to convert to Orthodox Christianity. Raised in a family that spoke Yiddish, German and Russian, Anton wrote later in his diary:
Russians call me German, Germans call me Russian, Jews call me a Christian, Christians a Jew. Pianists call me a composer, composers call me a pianist. The classicists think me a futurist, and the futurists call me a reactionary. My conclusion is that I am neither fish nor fowl – a pitiful individual.

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