Community in Estonia - World Jewish Congress

According to information provided by the population register, there were 1,939 Jews living in Estonia in 2023. Jewish religious and cultural life in the region has completely revived in the past 35 years, after being nearly extinct at one time. Most Estonian Jews are Ashkenazi and participate in regional activities with the neighboring Jewish communities in both Latvia and Lithuania.

The Jewish community in Estonia is represented by the Jewish Community of Estonia – the Estonian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
The Jewish Community of Estonia

+372 6623034

Social Media:
Facebook: Jewish Community of Estonia
Instagram: @jewish_community_of_estonia
YouTube: Jewish Community of Estonia

Chairwoman: Alla Jakobson

Individual Jews lived in Estonia as early as the 14th century, but there was no permanent Estonian Jewish community until the mid-19th century. Tsar Alexander II lifted a centuries-old prohibition on Jewish settlement in the region in 1865, allowing Jews to enter Estonia. Many of these initial Jewish settlers were former soldiers who had served with Russian garrisons in the region, and shortly after their arrival, Jews from other Baltic states began trickling into Estonia.

In the successive decades after the formation of the first Jewish communities in Estonia, the Jewish population spread to cities throughout the country. The early years of the 20th century saw a Jewish renaissance, as the majority of Estonian Jews at this time were tradesmen and artisans. Estonian Jewry, along with other minorities in Estonia, enjoyed complete cultural autonomy in the 1920s.

The Republic of Estonia gained independence in 1918, ushering in a new era for Estonian Jews. Members of the Jewish community had fought in the War of Independence, resulting in Estonia developing a tolerance towards all inhabitants of the territory. The newly installed government actively sought to combat discrimination and persecution, and as a result, Estonian Jewry was able to grow politically and culturally in the years following the First World War. The Jewish Cultural Council acted as the community’s administrative body, and several Jewish religious, cultural, and political institutions were formed in Estonia during the interwar years.

However, antisemitism began to creep into the country in the late 1930s, as Estonian nationalist groups, encouraged by Nazi Germany, began to espouse antisemitic sentiments and attack local Jews. Despite such troubling proceedings, the Estonian Jewish community’s autonomy remained untouched until the country’s annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940. The arrival of the Soviets saw the termination of autonomy for all minority groups, and though the Jewish community saw all its political and cultural institutions closed, several Estonian Jews were appointed to official state positions.

The aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust saw the return of many Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union. Jewish cultural life did not resume, however, as the policies of the Communist Party in occupied states were hostile to “foreign” influences. As a result, Jewish life in Estonia was dormant, if not almost extinct, during the Communist era. The only vestige of Judaism in Estonia was related to religious practices, which were conducted privately.

Due to the difficulty in gaining admittance to most higher education institutions in the Soviet Union, many young Jews from other parts of the U.S.S.R. came to Estonia to study at the University of Tartu. Estonia was generally more welcoming to Jews than other parts of the Soviet Union, and those who arrived found life in Estonia to be relatively stable.

In 1989, as the Soviet Union began to slowly disintegrate and its influence was weakened, Jewish organizations and institutions began gradually popping up in Estonia. The Jewish Cultural Society was formed and shortly after, a Jewish day school and other cultural clubs were established.

Estonian independence was restored in 1991, and Estonian Jews were once again able to defend their rights as a national minority. The Jewish Community was established in 1992, and for the first time in almost 50 years, Jewish life in Estonia had institutional support and representation. Today, Estonian Jewry continues to experience a rebirth in Jewish religious and cultural life.

The Years of the Holocaust

The Soviet occupation of Estonia, while extremely harmful to Jewish life, was largely limited to the cultural and social oppression of Estonian Jews. Starting in 1941, with the Nazi army advancing, the Soviet Union deported some 500 Jews regarded as “dangerous social elements” to Siberia. Almost all the remaining Jews—around 3,000 people—were able to escape due to the amount of time it took for the Germans to eventually conquer Estonia. The 1,000 Jews who were left in Estonia at the end of the year were nearly all killed, making those who stayed less fortunate. This was largely done through collaborative efforts on the part of the Estonian police.

After the murder of Estonian Jews, the Nazis began establishing concentration camps in Estonia. This was part of a larger plan to use the occupied Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—as killing sites. Vaivara, a transit and work camp, and Klooga, a labor camp, served as the more infamous camps established in Estonia. From 1942 to 1942, more than 20,000 Jews from ghettos in Vilna and Kovno (Kaunas) and other parts of Europe were transported to Estonia. Some were murdered upon arrival, while others worked in the labor camps, providing resources for the German war machine.

During this time, native Estonians were recruited into the Waffen SS. Units of the Estonian Home Guard also collaborated with the Nazis and were directly involved in genocidal actions against Jews and the Roma.

The advancement of the Red Army in 1944 saw thousands of Jews evacuated from Nazi camps in Estonia and moved to Germany and other locations. In a desperate attempt to "evacuate" the camp, the Germans killed some 2,500 prisoners at the Klooga camp. Only about 85 prisoners were able to survive, with some reporting that non-Jewish Estonians helped them do so.

By the time Estonia was liberated in September 1944, only about 100 Jews who had been transferred to Estonia from other countries were still alive.


Statistics Estonia, the Estonian governmental agency within the Ministry of Finance, places the Estonian Jewish population at about 1,950 people out of a total population of 1,320,097.

Most Estonian Jews live in Tallinn, the country’s capital, but there are other communities in cities such as Tartu, Narva, and Kohtla-Järve.

Community Life

The Jewish Community of Estonia acts as the representative communal body for Estonian Jewry. In recent years it has experienced active and rapid growth, with an increase in membership and its ability to provide Jewish-related activities for its members. Moreover, it shares many regional programs with neighboring Baltic Jewish communities in Latvia and Lithuania.

There is a Community Programs Centre in Tallinn that offers several Jewish programs and conferences and acts as a center for Jewish life in the capital. Special attention is paid to elderly members of the Estonian Jewish community, with several Jewish clubs available to them. The Social Centre of the Jewish Community of Estonia operates out of nine cities in Estonia and works as a relief organization that provides financial assistance to members of the Estonian Jewish community in need. The Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) is also active in Estonia and helps aid socially and economically disadvantaged members of the community.

Every year, the Estonian Jewish community hosts a forum called “Yahad,” meaning “together” in Hebrew. Yahad attracts participants and lecturers from around the Jewish world who discuss many topics relating to various facets of Jewish life—religious, cultural, political, academic, etc. There are also options available for children interested in attending.

Religious and Cultural life

In terms of Jewish religious observance in Estonia, there is only one functioning synagogue, the “Beit Bella” in Tallinn. Beit Bella was built in 2007 and is presided over by Rabbi Efraim Shmuel Kot, who also acts as Estonia’s Chief Rabbi.

Kosher Food

There is a kosher restaurant adjacent to the Beit Bella synagogue in Tallinn.

Jewish Education

Almost all Jewish education in Estonia is run through the Jewish Community of Estonia. There is a community private school, Eshkol, established in 2019. Eshkol offers a complete Jewish education, lessons in Jewish traditions and the Hebrew language, and kosher food. Tallinn Jewish School, which was reopened in 1990 and is considered the first national minority school in the Republic of Estonia, now operates as a municipal school. A Jewish kindergarten, “Aviv,” is also run under the auspices of the Jewish Community of Estonia.

The Community Programs Center in Tallinn offers a number of activities and organizations aimed at providing Jewish learning to the Jewish youth of Estonia.

The Community Programs Center in Tallinn offers a number of activities and organizations aimed at providing Jewish learning to the Jewish youth of Estonia.


Many Jewish youth groups are run through the Jewish Community of Estonia, including a summer camp for younger children called “Bamba.” Another organization, Maccabi, is very active in Estonia.

Many Jewish youth groups are run through the Jewish Community of Estonia, including a summer camp for younger children called “Bamba” and a spring camp for school-age children called the School of Madrichim (ATID). Another organization, Maccabi, is also very active in Estonia.

Information for visitors

The Estonian Jewish Museum in Tallinn is a notable Jewish site in Estonia that displays the history of Estonian Jews and contains a substantial archive of Jewish documents. There is also a Jewish cemetery in Tallinn.

The former site of the Klooga concentration camp contains a monument to the victims of the Shoah. Additionally, there are memorial markers on the sites of other concentration camps and mass killing fields throughout Estonia.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Estonia maintain full diplomatic relations, with Israel having recognized the independent Republic of Estonia almost immediately in 1991. Israel is represented in Estonia through its embassy in Helsinki, Finland.

Embassy of Israel in Finland
Yrjönkatu 36 A
00100 Helsinki

Telephone: +358-(0)9-6812020
Fax: +358-(0)9-13569

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