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Tallinn Jewish History Tour
Private tour: Learn about the important Jewish heritage in the historical center of Tallinn
- Private Tour Base price for 2 people
Private tour of Jewish History in modern Tallinn
If you’d like to dive deeper into Tallinn and are interested in the Jewish history of the city, then this 4-hour tour is a great match for you.
Begin the tour with a visit to the Estonian Jewish Museum which opened in December of 2008. The fascinating exhibition inside tells the story of the Estonian Jewry and is packed with text, photographs, and artifacts. A unique exposition in the Museum sheds light on the somewhat unknown Jewish history in Estonia through a series of well-archived and visually-accessible materials. It is a lovely place with genuinely amiable and passionate staff– in summary, a must-see for everyone interested in history and Jewish diasporas.
We continue our Tallinn Jewish history tour with a visit to the Synagogue (Beit Bella), the first to be built in post-war Estonia. Ultramodern Beit Bella seats about 180 people, and it opened on May 16, 2007, to architectural acclaim and international media attention. In addition to the main sanctuary, it also houses the rabbi’s office, a mikveh, a kosher restaurant, and a gift shop.
Ever since their arrival in the 14th century, Jews in Estonia have had a tumultuous history. Permanent settlements did not begin until 1865, when Russian Czar Alexander II granted Jews the right to enter the region. Highly-educated merchants and skilled artisans, they comprised the nation’s earliest semblance of a Jewish community. Jews lived within the city walls, particularly on Viru and Kullassepa Streets, although today’s Jewish Community Center is located a few minutes’ walk from the city walls.
In 1885, the Neo-Roman-style Great Choral Synagogue opened, to the delight of the 1,000-strong community. By the eve of World War II, the city’s Jewish population had doubled, with around 5,000 Jews calling Estonia home.
During World War II, the Jewish community that had existed in Tallinn was all but wiped out, and its Synagogue bombed. By 1942, the Nazis had murdered those who remained, and Estonia was the first state declared Judenfrei (German for “Jew free”). When the war ended, Jews returned to Estonia, attracted by a comparatively high standard of living and the absence of official anti-Semitism, which was prevalent in the Soviet empire.
It was only after Estonia regained independence in 1991 that a real Jewish religious community was re-established there. First, a cultural center was built, then a Jewish school. In 2000, following the appointment of Rabbi Shmuel Kot as the chief rabbi of Estonia, a prayer center was set up nearby.
Most of Estonia’s 2,000 Jews, including 700 Holocaust survivors, reside in Tallinn. Today, Jews participate in every level of Jewish communal life, made easier by the abundant social and religious services present in the city.
Our second part of the Tallinn walking tour takes place in the Old Town. Many of the historic Jewish remnants in this area have little to no markers. During much of the Soviet era, the community maintained a prayer house not far from Old Town, originally a warehouse, which was quite rundown. The prayer room at Kreutzwaldi Street that took its place between 1946 and 1966 was later demolished to make room for a hotel.
The Old Cantonists’ Synagogue building (1867-1870) still stands in Old Town; it’s a one-story, one-room stone edifice that now serves as the Estonian Maritime Museum. The former Great Choral Synagogue, which was destroyed in a March 1944 Soviet air-bombing raid, is nearby. Nothing marks its site.
The Magasini Cemetery dates back to the beginning of the Jewish community. A plaque on the remaining wall reads: “Here was the Jewish cemetery from the 18th century until the end of the 1960s.” Today, unfortunately, it’s a parking lot.
Tallinn’s only active Jewish burial ground is the Rahumae Cemetery, which opened in 1909. Visitors may be interested in admiring the wooden hevra kaddisha building.
There are also two other notable memorials: one for those who perished in the Holocaust, and the other for those who were deported, killed, or exiled during the Soviet occupation. Beila Barski, for whom the synagogue was named, is buried there. Alexander Bronstein, her son, was the project’s most significant contributor.
It is possible to have add on a visit to the Klooga Concentration Camp, which is about 45 km away from Tallinn and was the best-known National Socialist camp in Estonia. One of the three largest labor camps in Estonia, Klooga was established in the summer of 1943. The camp held about 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners who arrived in August and September of 1943. Additionally, about 100 Soviet prisoners of war were also interned there.
The Germans began evacuating Klooga in the summer of 1944. On September 19, SS men shot the last 2,500 prisoners in the camp. Only 85 prisoners managed to hide and thus survive.Three monuments–set up in 1951, 1994, and 2005 commemorate the camp’s victims.
Please contact us if you want to add Klooga to your itinerary.
- Pick up at the hotel, cruise ship or the ferry
- Estonian Jewish Museum
- Beit Bella Synagogue
- Dr. Fr. R. Kreutzwald Memorial Museum
- The Old Cantonists’ Synagogue
- Great Choral Synagogue
- The Magasini Cemetery and Levinovitschi Mausoleum
- Tallinn Jewish primary school at Raua Street
- Estonia Avenue and small merchant Girshevich’s shops
- Gloria Palace and Vene Theater
- Expert local guide
- Port pickup and dropoff
- Hotel pickup and dropoff
- Transport between monuments in a private vehicle
- Private tour
- Food and drinks
- Donation at the synagogue
- Arriving on a cruise ship or a ferry? Please specify details such as the ship’s name and docking time.
- Staying at a hotel? Please specify your accommodation details when booking.