Riga(11,000) is the most important center of Jewish life in the Baltic States. There are several smaller communities, notably in Daugavpils, Liepaja, Jekabpilsand Jelgava.
The Jewish presence in current-day Latvia dates back many centuries to the Jewish communities in the principalities of Courland and Livonia. That presence is confirmed by Jewish tombstones dating back to the 14th century. These territories changed hands many times over the course of history, and the situation of the Jews there was always dependent upon the ruler in power. Latvia’s geography also meant that its Jews were exposed to German, Russian and Eastern European influences while developing their own distinct characteristics.
Courland was beyond the so-called pale of Jewish settlement; consequently, only Jews who could prove that they had lived there before the advent of Russian rule were allowed to remain. Over time, however, other Jews who were considered useful were granted the privilege of settling there.
Jews played an important role in the commercial and industrial development of independent Latvia that arose after World War I, but the government pursued a policy aimed at squeezing them out of the economy. These policies brought ruin to much of the community. Still, Latvia was an important center of Jewish life and learning. Zionism was especially widespread among the Jews of Latvia, and Riga was the birthplace of the Betar youth movement, spawned by Jabotinsky.
On the eve of the Shoah, there were some 85,000 Jews in the country—40,000 in Riga, 10,000 in Liepaja (Libau), and the rest scatted in other communities, most notably Daugavpils (Dvinsk). Immediately following the German invasion, elements of the local population began to torment the Jews. By the end of the war, more than 90% of Latvian Jewry had perished.
After the war, some 3,000 of the survivors returned, but today the majority of Jews in the country are descendants of those who came to Latvia from other parts of the former Soviet Union during the decades of Soviet rule. As a result, the community is largely dominated by Russian-speakers. In the 1970s, Riga became a major center of Jewish dissident activity. After the collapse of Communism and the resurrection of independent Latvia, all restrictions on Jewish life were removed.
The Latvian Jewish Culture Community (LJCC) was founded in 1988. In 1992 the LJCC was reorganized into the Riga Jewish Community, which currently is the largest in the Baltics and numbers about 8,000 members. The Riga Jewish Community house on Skolas Street is the centre of Jewish life in Latvia. Various Jewish organizations, creative groups, clubs and studios operate out of the community house; the “Jews in Latvia” museum, library, youth and community centers are located there. The social centre provides humanitarian assistance to low-income members of the community. Different educational and culture programs, concerts, performances and exhibitions take place within the house and Jewish holidays are celebrated. The Riga Jewish Community pays special attention to preserving and propagating Jewish culture.
Israel and Latvia have full diplomatic relations.
Elizabetes iela 2, 3rd floor
The Jews in Latvia Museum was established in 1989 to research and commemorate the history of Latvia’s Jewish community. The museum’s exhibition is housed in three halls in the historical building of the former Jewish theatre that was restituted to the community.
In the Rumbula forest outside Riga, a monument has been erected on the killing grounds of some 25,000 inhabitants of the Riga ghetto who were gunned down in 1941. The marker was designed by architect Sergey Ryzh. Over the mass graves there is a large menorah and rocks engraved with the names of the Jews executed there. The paving stones forming the Star of David bear the names of the streets of the Riga ghetto.
There are synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in a number of cities and towns, some of which have been preserved. In Daugavpils, in addition to other sites, there are monuments to the famous Yiddish actor Solomon Mikholes who was murdered at Stalin’s behest and the American Jewish painter Mark Rothko, both of whom were born in the city.
A kosher restaurant called Cafe L’Chaim.is located in the basement of the Jewish Community Center of Riga.
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
The Latvian Council of Jewish Communities was founded in 2003 and unifies 13 communities in Riga and 8 other Latvian towns and cities.
Jewish Community of Latvia
Riga, LV 1010
Tel:/fax (+371) 67-285-601
The Art Nouveau Peitav Shul in the Old Town dating back to 1905 (and designed by Wilhelm Neumann Hermann Seuberlich) was the only synagogue of the forty that exited in pre-war Riga to escape destruction during the Holocaust. During the war, the synagogue was used as a warehouse and in Soviet times it was one of very few synagogues functioning in the USSR as well as one of only four that maintained a choir. Despite the unofficial prohibition of Jewish religious practices and constant surveillance by the national security bodies, the synagogue remained the centre of Jewish life in the city. The building was thoroughly renovated in 2007–2008. The synagogue is presided over by a Chabad rabbi, which also serves as a Chabad house.
The Max Goldin Society of Jewish Culture Heritage was established in 2011 to maintain and develop Latvian Jewish culture and traditions and to develop ethnic dialogue in the field of culture based on the values and ideals of the European Union
There are four Jewish educational institutions in Latvia: the S. Dubnov Riga Jewish Secondary School; the Riga Jewish Private School “Ohel Menahem” of Chabad; Chabad-Lubavich kindergarten; and “Emuna” kindergarten.