Along with my constant concern for the characteristics of our Jewishness as a way to assert our Romanian, Jewish identity both individually and as an ethnic, group, I have always had the deep-set conviction that a fertile osmosis has taken place between the country where our forefathers settled several centuries ago and the people from whom we are descended. History – one that has had its tense moments, but also its profuse intertwining, which has enriched the diversity of the Romanian environment – is the best paradigm of that osmosis. Romanian, Jewishness is a result of the process, and this specific cultural enrichment can be traced in literature, arts and other spiritual areas, in ways of life, etc. No efforts are great enough to stimulate researches, works, and actions that will shed further light on it.
As we set out a Jew years ago to reshape the museum of the Jewish communities in Romania that Chief-Rabbi Dr. Moses Rosen of blessed memory had founded two decades earlier, we tried to find the most appropriate, convincing ways of showing both the significance of Romania to her, Jews and how they, too, had been significant to their adoptive country.
With the assistance of my coworkers – advocate Iulian Sorin, architect Tiberiu Benedek, Lya Benjamin, architect Lilica Enachescu, Hary Kuler, and others – I think we have succeeded in conveying to the visitor, whether Jewish or not, local or foreigner, the image of an ethnic group with a call for inter-ethnic solidarity that over a few centuries has built up a biography of great accomplishment and prospect.
A museum usually houses records of the past. Ours, Bucharest’s sole museum of an ethnic minority, has been conceived as a demonstration for the future, one that should have a beneficial influence on the Romanian public as it grows increasingly adapted to multiculturalism – a daring project considering that it is proposed by one of the smallest ethnic minorities of today’s Romania.
Professor Dr. Nicolae CAJAL Member of the Romanian Academy
THE INAUGURATION OF THE MUSEUM
The museum, originally known as that “of the Jewish Communities in Romania,” opened on January 15, 1978. A frosty day in the dead of winter and in a hard period for Romania where Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime ran like an overstrained clockwork, wheels spinning frantically on. A strict ideological benchmark used to provide administrative, political, and other penalties for any initiative that would diverge from the party line.
This line, which was anything but straight, imposed via the intricate censorship system of the day that ethnic minorities (particularly those falling in the “etc.” category, as the Jews did) were not to be praised nor indeed disparaged: they were simply not to be mentioned.
It is in these circumstances that a prominent Jewish personality decided to break the official silence with respect to the local Jewry. Dr. Moses Rosen, who served as chief rabbi of the Romanian Jews from 1948 to his death in 1994 and also as leader of the Federation of the Jewish Communities from 1964, began by founding a magazine called Revista Cultului Mozaic (“The Mosaic Cult Magazine”) in 1956.
A Documentation Center on the History of the Romanian Jews was discreetly established in 1977.
Along with a broad range of other Judaic cultural and ritual activities, its main task was to counter a rising trend of making the Jews – those that were not immigrating to Israel or elsewhere – forsake their ethnic and religious identity and ultimately disappear as an ethnic group.
In retrospect, the establishment of the museum just as the (Ceausescu regime’s leftist nationalism not entirely free of an anti-Semitic touch was on the rise in 1978, indicated a good measure of civic courage on Dr. Rosen’s part, but also some political confusion among those who tolerated his initiative.
The new museum was hardly a high-profile institution: housed by a former worship place, the Holy Union or the Tailors’ Synagogue, as it was also known, it was located on Mamulari Street, in a far-flung corner of the Vacaresti neighborhood that would be leveled to the ground a few years afterward.
Its appearance, nevertheless, did not go unnoticed by either the domestic public or especially foreign visitors. This obviously defied the authorities’ policy of holding back the fact that the Jews used to be the second largest ethnic component in the Old Kingdom of Romania, then the fourth largest, 800,000-strong, in the new state emerging from the 1918 Unification. A community as strong as that had evidently made a valuable contribution to the development of local civilization and culture.
While the past and present history of the Romanian Jews was an open secret, the official propaganda loathed seeing it showcased in a museum in which objects and documents bore testimony of a creative Jewish presence in every sector of Romanian culture and society. The unitary history of the Romanian people appeared doubled by another one – that of the cultural Judaic life which gradually developed an original Romanian Jewish nature, blending specific forms of spirituality, such as, say, Hasidism, Zionism, the Yiddish theater, with contributions to Romanian life and culture. Of course, the museum also pertinently mirrored the various acculturation elements resulting from the Jewish-Romanian interferences.
The museum of the Jewish communities clearly showed that a constructive attitude had to be taken with respect to this people, whose specific social, cultural, and spiritual life, as illustrated there, far from harming the country in any way, had constantly invigorated it.
By breaking the Communist Party’s “rule of silence” over the Jews and ethnic minorities as a whole, the museum proved that hushing up the facts had hardly any heuristic- value. Actually, by redeeming the Romanian Jewish history from oblivion, it constituted a challenge to, perhaps even a protest against, the government.
Its challenge extended to the broader, ingrained mentality, which regarded the Jews as a “source of dissolution of culture and civilization.”
Furthermore, it also challenged and even disavowed those assimilated Jews, with or without an “internationalist” creed, that underestimated the forces and creative power of local Judaism, largely because they had no idea about the history of the Romanian Jewish `tribe’ or the role they had played in Romanian history, in eastern Jewry, or in the global history of the Jews.
This first museum therefore was an important step. So, before we start our imaginary tour of the current, revamped, modernized halls and review the cultural and educational functions of this institution as a preserver of the past and even present values of the Romanian Jewish heritage, we would just like to linger a bit longer over its former shape.
The Holy Union Synagogue, or the Tailors’ Great Synagogue, was built 150 years ago, rebuilt during the first decade of the 20th century, and then arranged to host the museum that opened in 1978.
Those who planned and carried out the original project of putting the history of the Romanian Jews into “pictures” deserve a pious word. No one can tell this story better than the very first director of the museum, the journalist and writer Marius Mircu, author of many papers on the Romanian Jews. “It was the Mircus and the Maneas that designed according to Dr. Rosen’s indications the first museum of the Jewish communities in Romania,” Mircu, now in his nineties, vividly recalls.
“The Maneas, husband and wife, would have been unable to arrange it without me, because I knew the history of the Romanian Jews and I also knew the material the documentation department had gathered.
But neither would I have managed, without these two artists’ assistance, to create a real museum. All by myself, I think a chock-full storehouse was the best I would have done.”
In its present, restructured form, the museum provides with appropriate illustration a consistent, systematic outline of Jewish history in the Romanian lands. Thousands of exhibits reflect the communal, cultural life of the Jews; their economic, social, and political integration with Romanian society; their scientific, literary, and artistic creations-indicating a rich multi-centennial Jewish activity within the circumstances of Romanian history.
The ground floor traces the political, cultural, and economic evolution of Romanian Jewry from the 14th to the 20th century.
But before that, some information is provided as to the historical roots of the people going back to ancient Judea on the eve of the Roman conquest (1 st century CE). A replica of a basrelief from Emperor Titus’ triumphal arch in Rome shows how the Romans chased the Jews from Judea leading to their dispersion around the world, mainly into Europe.
A number of archeological findings prove that the wandering sons of Israel, particularly those who served in the Roman troops, occasionally arrived as far as the territory of Roman Dacia.
However, one cannot speak of any Jewish settlement during those early times, nor for the next one thousand years. It was not until the early 2 nd millennium that a Jewish traveler, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, mentioned in his diary he had found Jews among the Wlachs living south of the Danube River.
A French version of the rabbi’s book printed in Amsterdam in 1’734 is among the most valuable possessions of the museum.
EXHIBITS FOR A JEWISH HISTORY IN ROMANIA
IN THE 14TH – 19TH CENTURIES
A map of the Romanian principalities shows the places where the Jews founded transitory and stable settlements, and the progress of their organization into communities from the 140, to the 19th centuries. It is not incidentally that the portraits of several princes of Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania are on display. Contemporary documents indicate these rulers had various connections with the Jews in Poland and Constantinople, and of course in their own states.
A broad range of exhibits in chronological and topical orders reflect the early stages of community life, the dynamics of the Jewish population, and their diversity in terms of social standards and professions. Princely edicts reflect the trade exchanges and institutional relations that were going on between the Jews and the Romanians.
A good deal of exhibits shows how the Jews involved themselves in economic life. Some documents, for example, describe how Jewish merchants and artisans took an active part in founding small urban communities, while others point to their organization into guilds.
The symbols of these guilds, their banners, and their rosters, provide a detailed picture of the Jewish trades and of the traditional religious nature of these vocational associations.
Some of the banners on display indicate the beginnings of a Romanian Jewish tradition. We mean particularly the custom of placing traditional Jewish symbols against the background of the
Romanian colors. A showcase is dedicated to the Jewish engravers’ work, which included medals the political, cultural, and academic Romanian institutions ordered to mark various events and anniversaries of major historic significance.
Other exhibits related to business life refer to the first Jewish financiers such as Bercovitz, who set up the famous namesake bank in Bucharest in 1836; the bankers Hillel and Leon Manoah, the latter of whom also became noted as one of the earliest wholesale traders of manufactured products in Walachia; Solomon Halfon, who established Halfon Bank in 1829; Michel Daniel and son, well known money-changers in the town of Iasi; Marmorosh and Blank, founders of Marmorosh-Blank & Co., one of the biggest, longest lived banks, and so on. The Jewish contribution to the development of mechanical industries, and other economic sectors is also illustrated.
The way in which the Jews involved themselves in 19th century Romanian politics can be seen in a photo-montage illustrating how a number of Jews joined the 1848 revolution; the revolutionary manifestos, the provisions of which included the emancipation of the Jews; the work of Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, whose paintings rendered the lofty ideals of the revolution, etc. The political and legal status of the Romanian Jewry in the second half of the 19th century is relevantly reflected in a number of documents, concerning Prince Alexandru loan Cuza’s favourable stand towards the Jews naturalization.
To tell the truth, Prince Cuza’s intentions did not materialize. Article 7 of the 1866 Constitution provided a stateless status for the Romanian Jews and stipulated that non-Christians were not to be granted Romanian citizenship. The condition of the Jews tended to become a most ambiguous one: on the one hand, they would be persecuted and chased, yet on the other hand, some of them would enjoy an increasingly higher social standing, marking a start to gradual integration with Romanian society. A late 1901 century map of Bucharest by O. Papazoglu shows, for example, several central streets (e.g., the Synagogues Street, Spanish Street, Palestine Street) which were prevailingly,Jewish; a number of main
Jewish buildings, including synagogues, community, seats, etc., are also indicated. Certain streets got Jewish denominations.
A special showcase is dedicated to Jewish culture and spiritual life in second half of the 19th century, with a particular emphasis on Jewish Enlightenment. Israelite-Romanian schools opened up during this period; Jewish newspapers and magazines were published, the Choral Temple was built, etc. At the heart of this cultural boom were outstanding characters such as Julius Barasch, the Schwartzfelds, – Elias, Wilhelm, and Moses -, I. Psanter, and so on.
The Choral Temple that was to play a key role in animating religious and secular spirituality among Romanian Jews officially opened July 18, 1867.
Original medals and diplomas, portraits of Colonel Mauriciu Brociner and other Jewish military, remind that the Jewish population provided an important moral and material support for the Romanian War of Independence of 1877-1878 and a significant number of Jews enlisted as volunteers, although, the Jews were still denied the right to naturalization.
An interesting contemporary engraving shows an important Jewish delegation of the Bucharest Jews attending the crowning of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth in 1881. The document is indicative of the high economic and social standing at least some of the city’s Jews had attained. Indeed only a wealthy, upper class community could have afforded to mount, as seen in this engraving, a grandiose chariot representing the solemn coronation of King Solomon. Accompanying the chariot were delegations of the country’s main Jewish organizations that had come to greet the new king and wish him a reign as long and glorious as that of i I king of the Israelites.
True, not all Romanian Jews belonged to the fashionable society. The community was actually quite polarized in terms of wealth and standing. Except for a few rich, the Jews suffered many hardships and deprivations. Contemporary photos show Iate 19 the century convoys of so-called “pedestrians”-destitute Jews who were leaving the country on foot, in order to escape their miserable lot.
JEWISH LIFE IN THE EARLY DECADES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
At the end of the 19th century and in the early 201h century, the Romanian Jewry moved on to establish various political organizations. Exhibits illustrate the beginnings of the Zionist movement; the Romanian Jewish participation in the First Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897; the creation of the Native Jews Union (1909) aimed at winning civil rights.
Eager to integrate into Romanian society, more than 10 percent of the country’s Jewish population fought in the Romanian Unification War of 1916-1919. Many documents, writings and photos, and original medals bear witness of their bravery, even though the problem of a collective unconditional naturalization of the Jews had yet to be resolved.
An entire wall left of the main entrance is dedicated to the inter-war period, illustrating the way the Jews involved themselves in the crucial events of Romanian history that took place during that period. Excerpts from contemporary Jewish documents show the Jewish adhesion to the Great National Assembly in Alba Iulia that voted for the unification of all Romanians on December 1918. Unique photos indicate that a Jewish delegation attended the crowning, also in Alba Iulia, of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary in 1922. The new Constitution of 1923 provided civil rights for the Romanian Jews and extended equality of rights to all inhabitants of Romania, Jews included. An ethnographic map of Greater Romania shows the number of the Jews, their share of total population, and their strength in the big cities. Following that merged the Old Kingdom and the other historical Romanian territories, the Jewish population had grown considerably. It totaled roughly 750,000, or four percent of the entire population in 1930.
Their social and professional structure, their role in the dynamics of capitalist economy, the contribution Jewish businessmen made modernizing Romanian society in the period between the two world wars are illustrated in numerous statistic reports, photos, documents and writings. Further exhibits – banners, medals, pictures, brochures, books, and other printed matter – dating back to the same period reflect the part the Jews were taking in public life, the activity of Jewish lawmakers, as well as the life and structure of a vast network of worship places, cultural and educational institutions, sport clubs, and political movements. Portraits are displayed of the most proeminent rabbis and community leaders – the Jewish elite that guided the religious and communal activities, and provided them moral and financial support.
The last panel on this wall refers to random anti-Semitic acts during the inter-war period, which were to turn into state policy after a government led by O.Goga. And A.C.Cuza came into power in December 1937.
A memorial hall evokes the martyrdom of the Romanian Jews during the Holocaust years of 1940 to 1944. Contemporary pictures retrace the peak moments of that tragedy; the pogroms of Dorohoi, Bucharest, and Iasi; the pogroms tn Bessarabia and Bukovina; the deportations to Trans-Dniester; the deportations of northern Transylvania Jews to the death camps on order of the Horthyite authorities; the slaughter by the Hortyite troops of over 150 Jews – entire families, including children, women and old people – in the village of Sarmas (September 1944), etc. Records of this terrible period are also presented on a videocasette that can be played on demand.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO CULTURE AND SCIENCE
No modern world history of the ,Jews will fail to note their outstanding contributions in the areas of science, arts, and letters. Similarly, every museum of their history will be inclined to illustrate their gift to civilization as a whole and to the secular culture of the countries in which they have settled and integrated. As for the Romanian Jews, they are particularly famous for their artistic and literary works, though their merits in science, technology, or social-historical researches are by no means lesser. An entire sector of the ground floor is devoted to these personalities.
Literature. A row of showcases at the center of the ground floor hall takes the visitor through the realm of Romanian Jewish authors, particularly vernacular writers, beginning with Cilibi Moise, often portrayed as a “Romanian Jewish Aesop,” and Ronetti-Roman, whose Manasseh is regarded as a major work of Romanian Jewish drama and of Romanian drama as a whole.
Yiddish literature by Romanian Jewish authors
The presentation goes on to several generations of noted fiction writers, poets, and literary critics, including B. Nemteanu, Steuerman-Rodion, Al. I. Dominic, L. Feraru, G. Baltazar, M. Banns, F. Aderca, M. Sebastian, M. Blecher, I. Peltz, I. Calugaru, Ieronim Serbu, Aurel Baranga, S. Tita, V. Porumbacu, M. 13rcslasu, Sergiu Dan, etc. Authors who wrote in languages other than Romanian such as Alfred Margul Sperber, who wrote in German, or who rose to fame abroad, such as M. Rusu in Paris, E. Relgis in Montevideo, K. Bercovici in New York, and Paul C,elan in France and Germany, are also on display. A special area is devoted to leading surrealists, including Tristan Tzara, Benjamin Fondane, and Ilarie Voronca. Another showcase illustrates the works of literary critics from Dobrogeanu-Gherea, I. Trivale, E. Sanielcvici, to T. Vianu, and up to M. Petroveanu, Savin Bratu, and Paul Cornea. Authors of the current generation, some of whom are still writing, have not been overlooked. A special emphasis, somewhat to the expense of other areas, is laid on literary publications, particularly on literature publishers such as S. Benvenisti, L. Alcalay, S. Ciornei, Samitca, and Saraga.
Samples are also on show from the hundreds of books on Jewish lore, faith and history Hasefer publishing house has put out since its creation on Rabbi Moses Rosen’s initiative in 1993.
Books, documents, portraits, and various other exhibits illustrating Yiddish literature and culture in Romania are displayed in several showcases. Prominent personalities in this area such as the poet W. Z. Ehrenkranz, Eliezer Steinberg, best noted for his fables, I. Groper (poet and essayist), I. Manger, poet and fiction writer, are represented, along with other gifted authors, including M. Altman, S. Bickel, I. Sternberg, E. Frenkel, and B. Snabl. Some of them can be seen in a family picture taken at the First Yiddish Congress that was held in Czernowitz, in 1908. Special attention is devoted to Dr. Sotec-Leteanu, a distinguished intellectual and a dedicated advocate of Yiddish culture in Romania.
More books and photos tell of fine Hebrew scholars such as Frenkel, Papa, M. Halevy, M. Beck, I. D. Hakohen, Dr. K Lippe, M. Braunstein, and S. Schechter. Due to limited room on the ground floor, which has been planned as a comprehensive panorama of Romanian Jewish history in every area, many significant exhibits on these personalities are kept in the museum’s documentary fund to be displayed on special exhibitions marking various events.
Science. The contribution of Romanian Jewish scientists is illustrated by portraits, papers, and documents relative to noted mathematicians such as David Emmanuel, E. Abason, A. and M. Haimovici, S. Sanielevici, S. Marcus; architects Marcel Iancu, J. Vladeanu, and H. Maicu, explorers Benjamin II and Julius Popper, Fenichell, and others; the geologist D. Roman; famous chemists such as L. Edeleanu and I. Blum; and prominent doctors, including Prof. Dr. Nicolae Cajal, member of the Academy.
Many exhibits refer to eminent philologists such as Gaster, Saineanu, Byck, Tiktin, Candrea, Graur, and others. A number of historians – Psantir, Barasch, Kaufman, etc. – are mentioned, but they are just a few representatives of the rich Romanian Jewish school of history that has continued to this day.
A long roll of full-fledged, corresponding, and honorary members of the Romanian Academy may give the visitors an inkling of the Jewish creativeness in the realm of science.
Press. A “tower” of the press suggests the lively world of Jewish journalism as illustrated by at least 500 periodicals that have been published in Romania so far, in languages such as Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Ladino, or in bilingual form. The latest museum revamp has devoted a special area to the leading Jewish journalists and reporters that have contributed to the most important Romanian dailies.
All of these exhibits rely on a vast documentary research compiled in studies such as The Contribution of Romanian Jews to Culture and Civilization (editors: Acad. N. Cajal, Dr. H. Killer, Bucharest, 1996) and, Jewish Contributions to Modern Romanian Culture (in Revue Roumaine, nos. 339-341), which amply inventory authors and works in every literary area.
Music. Many Jews have made noted careers as composers and performers in Romanian music. The showcases illustrate the activity of folk musicians, composers, researchers of the Romanian and Jewish folklores, etc., and scores of synagogue music, symphonic works, pop music, and so on are on display. From among the earlier generations are cited the folk band of the cellist ,Jean Marcu, and the musicians A.L. Ivela, C.I. Bernstein, I. Rosensteck, Joseph Schmidt, Alberto della Pergola, Immanuel Bernstein, Eliachem Algazi, Rudolf Steiner, Rudi Ledeanu, Emil Cobilovici, Mauriciu Cohen-Lanaru, Stan Golestan, Filip Lazar, Marcel Mihailovici, Haim Schwartzman, Teodor Fuchs, Leon and Alfred Mendelson,,Jehuda Leib Levin, Leopold Stern, the conductor Otto Akerman, Clara Haskil, the famous pianist, the opera director Jose Aratti, and so on.
Following in their footsteps and adding to their artistic quests and achievements, bright musicians of today’s Romania are also presented through various scores, photos, and other documents.