Jewish Heritage Romania

Also putting together tours, this time for a clientele seeking sophisticated lodgings and looking for a touch of class and potentially specialized interests — like Jewish heritage, for example — is Eduard Popescu of Medieval Tours, Bd. Magheru 32-36, sc. C. ap. 17, 010337 Bucharest (tel. 021/326-6268 or 0721-162-323; www.medievaltours.com ). Eduard will not only tailor-make a tour that will bring Romania to life in an especially memorable way, but he’ll also go above and beyond the call of duty to attend to special requests and unique interests. Fond of seeking out the undiscovered and not afraid to say it how it is, Eduard injects his tours with great charm and humor — if you want to discover the grown-up version of Romanian history and get under the country’s skin whilst seeing its most alluring sights, this is an especially satisfying option.

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“The affable Popescu seems to know everyone, and he is an evangelist for understanding a people through its articles of faith, be they in bricks or words.”
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I am a child of Romania and my being is deeply connected to the Romanian countryside
Dr Alexandru Safran, chief rabbi of Geneva and an important figure for both world Judaism and Romanian culture, speaking in 1940, as the youngest chief rabbi in the world.

Romania is the country that gave birth to the Nobel Prize Winner – Elie Wiesel. It is a country with many beautiful and well preserved synagogues. 98 synagogues and 802 Jewish cemeteries, at the last count.

Romania is a country with a rich Jewish heritage. The modern story of Romania’s Jewish people mirrors the experience of other Eastern European Jewish communities: a dynamic cultural and spiritual life in the face of recurrent periods of anti-Semitism.

Generally speaking, it is a renaissance of Jewish life here in Romania,” says Aurel Vainer, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania and the community’s representative in Parliament.

The Jewish population of old Romania was for the most part an urban one. According to the 1899 census, 79.73% of the Jewish population lived in cities, forming 32.10% of the whole urban population of the country. Only 20.27% lived in villages, forming 1.1% of the whole rural population.

Before the second world war, the jewish life in Romania was a good one, with up to 800, 000 numbering the population. After the war, Romania had the second largest surviving population of jews, after the Soviet Union.

Jewish people came from the most diverse locations and established here diverse cultures, architecture, giving Romania a diverse and wide-ranging heritage.

Since most of the Romanian Jewish population were of Polish or Russian extraction, their religious and cultural traditions were similar to those of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. Their rabbis and teachers, as well as their religious trends, came from there.

The spoken language of the Jewish population was Yiddish; Romanian became more widely used among them only in the second half of the 19th century, at the time when the first Romanian universities were established (Iasi in 1860 and Bucharest in 1864).

From the 800,000 who lived in Romania before the holocaust, about half survived. Under the Communist dictatorship almost all left the country. Today in Romania there exists around 10,000 jews, half of whom live in Bucharest and 75% of those are now living in old age.

Today visitors will find poignant reminders of Romania’s Jewish heritage and their own Jewish roots, in nearly every village and certainly in every town. It’s possible to find signs everywhere that attest to one hundred years of Jewish life and prosperity.

In addition to the Bucharest community, there are organized communities in the Transylvania regions of Cluj, Oradea, Arad, Timisoara and in eastern Romania in Piatra-Neamt, Botosani, Iasi, Galati, Constanta, Ploiesti, Brasov, Sighet, Satu-Mare, and a large number of small communities. Ten kosher canteens are still operated by the communities and kosher meat is provided by three ritual providers.

The country is unique in Eastern and Central Europe for its scores of well-maintained synagogues and cemeteries in use by Jewish communities and scattered throughout Romania.

Discover it with us: Jewish Heritage in Romania!