(JTA) – Rabbis in Saint Petersburg opened Russia’s first prison Jewish prayer space for women.
Opened on Tuesday, the Jewish house of worship in the Number 2 Penal Colony of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia has a capacity of 20 worshippers, the news site www.jewish.ru reported.
Services in the space will be led out of St. Petersburg by Rabbi Ifrah Abramov.
“Convicts of Jewish faith received with joy at the news about the opening of a prayer room in the colony,” he said.
The opening ceremony was attended by the deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Valery Nikolaev, and the chief rabbi of St. Petersburg, Menachem Mendel Pevzner, as well as Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, who works with prisoners across Russia.
Elsewhere in Russia, many prisons for men have prayer spaces and synagogues.
Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, at Hanukkah in December visited the synagogue at eastern Moscow’s Butyrka Prison – previously a notorious penitentiary for dissidents of Soviet Union Communist governments. The synagogue opened there two years ago and services 15 men, most of whom were jailed for nonviolent crimes.
“Giving attention and religious services to people behind bars can have a much more profound effect on them than on other populations because these are people facing what is often the most difficult moments in their lives,” Lazar told JTA after lighting Hanukkah candles there with prisoners.