The European day of the Jewish Culture

Continuing the tradition of the “The European Days of the Judaic Culture”

(Iasi, September, 2001)

“The European Days of the Judaic Culture” in Romania – first organized last year, in fall – asserted themselves as a model, yielded and promise to turn into a tradition. Whether this was declared or not, the re-opening of the Temple in Targu Mures, and the more recent re-inauguration of the Temple in Brasov, as well as the Festival of the Jewish Youth Choirs and the Seminar “60 years since the pogrom in Iasi (June 28-30, 1941)”, all belong to the same informational area, aiming to reveal the part played by the Romanian Jews in the country’s life. What else have the Hanukiads been insisting on underlining in the more than 30 years of existence, other than our will to last through culture?! Even the synagogue in Sighisoara, a town that is inhabited by only one Jew, filled with life when it was visited by the young singers of the “B’nei Milu” Choir in Brasov, attending the Festival “The Days of the National Minority Groups ‘ProEtnica’ 2001″… This year’s “European Day of the Jewish Culture” in Iasi belongs, in its turn, to the same colloquy of Jewish-Romanian spirituality with a European touch.

  • Landmarks of the Jewish culture in Iasi

Academy members, professors, researchers, whole families, younger and older people, Jews and non-Jews, gathered on September 2 in the festivity hall of the Jewish Community in Iasi, willing to learn significant aspects of the Judaic culture in Iasi. Some of them were loyal friends of the community, others were interested in getting more familiar with the historic, social, cultural and spiritual issues of the Jews; they all thought that this European Day of the Judaic Culture was also a day of celebration for themselves.

In the opening speech, the president of the Jewish Community in Iasi, engineer Pincu Kaiserman, pointed out the tradition of the cultural meetings, like the one in progress, organized under the aegis of the “B’nai B’rith Europe” Organization and of the “B’nai B’rith” Forum “Dr. Moses Rosen” Romania, in cooperation with the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania (FJCR).

Engineer Paul Schwartz, FJCR councilor, read the message from Academy member Nicolae Cajal, president of the FJCR, and president of the “B’nai B’rith” Forum “Dr. Moses Rosen” Romania. The message expressed wishes of success for the proceedings of the seminar dedicated to this Day. The delegation from the Federation also included jurist Isa Schottek, vice-president of the “B’nai B’rith” Forum Romania, dr. Harry Kuller, and the author of this article. Dr. Silviu Sanie pointed out significant moments in the cohabitation of the Jewish population with the Romanian nation and with other ethnic groups. Dr. Odette Blumenfeld talked about the history of the Jewish theater in Iasi. The portrait of the exceptional scholar Itic Svart-Kara, made by engineer Pincu Kaiserman, was a great lesson of active, dynamic Judaism, an example of a life dedicated to the Judaic culture until the end. Engineer Adrian Cuperman, teacher of Talmud Torah in Iasi, spoke with the utmost respect about the one who taught him and many generations, Slomo Friedenthal. (AGHI CARABA)

  • Dr. HARY KULLER

Three complementary steps:

- Hassidism and rabbinism

- Zionism and Haskala

- Yiddishism and Yiddish theater

The choice of Iasi as the host of this manifestation for 2001 proved to be a fortunate one from all points of view. Mainly, because, for several centuries, this city [...], located in the proximity of the great Judaic centers of the East, contributed to at least three pairs of major steps of the Judaism yielded in this Galician-Moldavian-Podolo-Lithuanian “enclave”: Hassidism and rabbinism, Zionism and Haskala, Yiddishism and Yiddish theater [...]. Amidst the European Judaism, Romanian Judaism has its right to “centrality”, and amidst the latter, so do the Moldavian Judaism, the Judaism in Iasi, in Bucovina, in Transylvania etc [...]. Congratulations to all the organizers for initiating this successful evocation of the local Judaism and of its preeminence in the Jewish-Romanian Judaism. Congratulations to this prestigious audience [...] – another proof that the generous attitude towards Jews and Judaism, towards the Jewish-Romanian tradition in Iasi, is what defines today, like it always has, the most important part of the Romanian people [...].

  • Engineer PINCU KAISERMAN (excerpts)

“The secret of death is… never to die” (Sebastian Costin)

[...] Writer, Yiddishist, historian, translator, ITIC SVART-KARA was – like professor Andrei Hoisie Corbea characterized him – “the patriarch of the Judaism in Iasi”, and we take great pride in him [...]. He graduated from the Romanic Philology Faculty (French Department) of the Cernowitz University and he taught for a while at the Israelite School [...]. The war sent him over the border. He went as far as Eastern Prussia, where he fought in the first line. In November 1945, he was demobilized and he returned to Moldavia, where he managed an orphanage in Bacau for several years. Then he settled in Iasi [...]. Between 1949 and 1963 he was the literary secretary of the State Jewish Theater, translating many plays into Yiddish and Hebrew (from English, French and German).

His presence in the Yiddish magazines in Romania soon made him noticed by the Jewish circles in the US, Israel, Russia, Poland, France and Spain. The works he published comprise memoirs, Yiddish literary history in Romania, monographs of some Jewish communities (Podu Iloaiei, Bacau, Iasi), Judaic studies [...]. He published hundreds of articles on history and literary history, covering a wide range of the Jewish life in Romania: the organization of the communities, the Jewish culture, folklore, Hassidic courts, Jewish art, observations on the Judaic objects of cult [...]. Until his final hour, he worked for the Yiddish adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare [...].

He was also known as a gifted pedagogue. With his tenderness, he would make his pupils trust him and become his friends [...]. Although immobilized in bed in his final years, as a result of an accident, he would competently and kindly attend the children, whom he would teach the Hebrew customs, tradition and language, and would prepare for Bar Mitzvah [...]. He was, until a very old age, a talented orator [...]. The appreciation for his work was translated into prestigious prizes: “Hers Segal”, “Ianculovici”, the Romanian Academy’s “Hurmuzachi”, FJCR’s “Jacques Pineles”. A Jewish-Romanian patriot, he donated to the Central Library in Iasi a series of priceless documents which were named the “Kara” fund [...].

“In a way, the secret of death is never to die”, wrote Sebastian Costin, an important Israeli poet of Romanian expression, who also departed this life. Through what he created, through the cultural heritage he left us, through the example of his life of work and dignity, Itic Svart-Kara, reb Itic, confirms this verse.

  • Dr. SILVIU SANIE (excerpts)

A brief survey of the history of the Jews in Iasi

“The mission of the Jewish people has never been to make the world more Jewish, but to make it more human” (ELIE WIESEL)

Rebuilding the picture of the Judaic culture in Iasi, as it is known in each important chronological sequence over a period longer than five centuries, calls for the description of the manifestations in each compartment of culture (religion, moral, art, thought etc.). Many of those who dedicated a great part of their lives to the study of Judaism avoid closing it in a definition. More general dictionaries define Judaism as “a generic term referring not only to the religion of Israel, but also to all the testimonies of the Jewish culture and history. It is the unifying force that creates brotherly feelings between the majority of the Jews in the world” (Judaic Dictionary, p.160). As this definition contains much truth, we will not comment upon it; we will however reveal the historicism, a degree of differentiation in time, an evolution that was marked by Chronos.

Let us go back in time, bearing in mind the fact that what is about to be said considers Iasi as a town on a trade route of the 15th century, then as the capital of Moldavia, after 1576, a craftwork and trade center and, last but not least, a political and cultural one. Information on the existence of the Jews in Iasi – from the Judaic inscriptions on a tomb stone in 1476 to the rabbinic replies – do not mention any notable names or events for these first centuries. The first important break in the wall of anonymity can be situated at the beginning of the 17th century. In the preface to “Sefer Metzaref Le Hochma”, the work of the great rabbi, philosopher, cabbalist, mathematician and physician Slomo Iosef of Candia (also known as Delmedigo), who lived between 1591 and 1655, his disciple, Smuel Askenazi, narrates some important moments in Delmedigo’s life. On his way to the Polish king’s Court, Delmedigo apparently lingered in Iasi for a while; it is difficult to estimate the length of his stay, which was in 1619 or 1620. In the Moldavian capital, he had long and interesting conversations with the old rabbi, physician and cabbalist Slomo Ibn Aroyo (or Arvay).

The numerical growth of the community, at the end of the 17th century, is mainly due to the Jewish immigration coming from the Polish and Ukrainian territories, after the great pogroms initiated by Bogdan Hmelnitki. The former half of the 17th century is marked by an important development of Iasi – let us think only of Vasile Lupu’s edifices (“Three Hierarchs” and Golia Monasteries, The Vasilian School). The legislative, administrative and cultural activities also intensify amidst our community. Beginning with this period, we have more information about the rabbis than mere notes with their names and the years in which they shepherded the community in Iasi. Petahia Lyda, for instance, the one who came to Iasi from Lemberg, is known as the author of “Iad Kol Bo” and would later become a rabbi in Frankfurt upon Main. But a famous name, often quoted, is the one of Nathan Hanover, present in Iasi between 1652 and 1670, author of “Saare Zion” and other works, the one responsible for the design and the erection of the Great Synagogue in Targu Cucului [...]. The culture of these centuries was primarily a religious one. Religion has constantly been like mortar for the Jewish people. Rabbis held a central position in the life of the community and their responsibilities went beyond the cult-related activities. They presided the rabbinic courts, which applied the “halacha” (Judaic legislation), and represented the community before the sovereign. Around the rabbi gathered those who, through study, reached the stage of attempting to interpret biblical fragments, or of commenting on the Talmud, those who gained the necessary knowledge to correctly interpret and apply the legislation, receiving offices and titles: “daian”, “more horaa” etc. At another level were situated those who studied in order to be able to go to the Bar Mitzva and to become parishioners. Synagogues were not just Beit Hamikdas (House of Prayer) or Beit Haknesset (House of Assembly), but also Beit Hamidras (House of Study).

Together with the synagogues, the cemeteries represent significant historical sources. The destruction in 1943 of the first great cemetery in Iasi – the one in Ciurchi, with monuments from the 16th-19th centuries, which functioned until 1880 and had 23,300 graves – was not only an act of profanation, but also a tremendous loss for the history of the Jewish community in Iasi. The epitaphs saved through copying – an activity initiated as early as the years 1887-1889, by Wilhelm Schwarzfeld, M. Braunstein-Mibasan, N. Beldiceanu, then carried on by rabbi historian M. A. Halevy –, the laborious activity of Moses Duff and the material published by the late I. Kara, in 1994, together with Stela Cheptea, only represent an infinitesimal percentage [...].

From the rich history of the print and of the press in Iasi, we mention: in 1832 – a request for the foundation of a Jewish printing shop (68 personalities); the printing, in 1842-1843, of a number of books of prayer – “Slihot” (“Pardons”), “Teilim” (Psalms), “Saare Zion” (“The Gates of Zion”), Nathan Nate Hanover’s book, translated into Yiddish. Many volumes were printed at Hers Goldner’s printing shop, opened in 1859. This business is long dominated by the Saraga family – printers and antique dealers. In 1855 “Korot Haitim” (“The Events of the Time”) is launched; in 1859 – M. Feldman-Campeanu’s “Romanian-Jewish Gazette”; in 1874-1875 – “The Israelite Magazine”; in 1887 – Stefan Stanca’s “Light” and “Der folks fraind” (“The people’s friend”), in Yiddish; “The Enhancement” (1889-1891) – for which wrote M. Braunstein Mibasan (Hebraist, historian), K. Lippe, Wilhelm Schwarzfeld (who militated against assimilation); “The Dawn” (1894-1901) – publishing articles by dr. Niemerower, Horia Carp, Enric Furtuna, A. Axelrad etc. A. Steuerman-Rodion, the misfit poet, and Carol Drimer, the translator who ended in the “Death Train” also had a lasting career in the press. It would be more difficult to mention all those who left Iasi or those who were brief contributors to the culture magazines or the painters. We will however recall the name of the one who is best known for his French period – Beniamin Fundoianu. And there were others who left special works and who were famous at the time: Eugen Relgis, I. Ludo, G. Spina, M. H. Maxy etc. [...].

The contributions in the field of thought, of science as a whole, will be the subject of another communiqué; not because they would stray too far from the title, but because they require more than a field-based inventory. The Jewish moral is illustrated by the great diversity of assistance institutions, which cannot be presented now. Also, the better known rabbis – in the last centuries of the 2nd millennium – wrote many interesting works (which cannot be mentioned here), not just replies and indications on how to apply the Jewish legislation.