Synagogues for sale

The Romanian Jewish Community has found a new use for the places of prayer

The synagogues in Romania that would serve as a mediator between man and divinity a few years ago are now being used for very mundane purposes: as storage facilities for liquor or furniture or for other activities that have no connection with faith, representing a source of income for the Jewish community. There is only one reason for this: the Jews in Romania are a population threatened by disappearance; thus, many of their places of cult are abandoning their initial purpose. There are about 8.000 Jews living in Romania, out of whom half live in Bucharest. At least 80% of them are over 60 years old. There are hundreds of communities not having one single Jew.

The Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania (FJCR) rents or sells the deserted synagogues under certain conditions settled through contracts. Half of these places of cult are currently in this situation. An essential condition is that the new owner does not worship another cult in the synagogue. Icons, crosses or Bibles cannot be sold or manufactured in a Jewish place of cult.

Furthermore, a synagogue can be demolished, but a Christian church cannot be erected in its place. “A synagogue is compatible with a furniture warehouse as long as it is not turned into a Christian church or into a brothel”, says Aristide Streja, custodian at the Great Synagogue in Bucharest. “First of all, the Christians wouldn’t accept it; second of all, the Jews wouldn’t agree. Even with furniture inside the synagogue, the religious signs are kept. The Christians would take the place, but they would not keep it the way it is”, claims Aristide Streja. The synagogue on Croitorilor Street in Cluj-Napoca was rented to a furniture factory for four years. The factory went bankrupted and was no longer able to pay the rent. In August 2002, the synagogue was bought by the “Babes-Bolyai” University, for the courses of the Judaism Department. In the same city, the synagogue on George Baritiu Street has been rented by the “Tranzit” cultural foundation for five years. It was renamed “The Tranzit House”.

The Jewish Community also closes contracts by which the beneficiary, without having to pay any rent, must renovate the building. It is the case of the synagogue in Tarnaveni (rented to the “Tarnava Mica” Cultural Foundation) and the synagogue in Timisoara (rented to the Philharmonic Society for two years now). In Oradea, all the three synagogues were rented: one serves as a carpentry workshop and the other two – as warehouses. In Bucharest, one synagogue out of six functions as a liquor and bread warehouse for the Jewish community. Some places of cult reach the final solution: they are sold or demolished. The sell of the synagogue in Seini (near Carei, in the Satu Mare county) caused a real scandal. It was sold 15 years ago (while still under the communist regime) to a cooperative that was bought by its president after 1990. He brought about great fuss when he placed a classified ad notifying that he was selling a… synagogue. The FJCR became the patsy back then. In 1993, the synagogue in Reghin was bought and then demolished. In Bucharest, the “Vointa” Temple on Dacia Avenue (declared historic monument) was demolished.

At the World Jewish Convention in September 2002, mention was made of 98 synagogues in Romania, as opposed to 107 in 1990. 54 of them are functional, while 44 are closed or serve to other purposes. “We currently have 100 synagogues. Not all of them are functional, as the number of the Jews has diminished. In some towns where there are synagogues there are no more Jews, or there are so few of them that they gather in a praying hall” said Ludovic David, secretary of the Commission for the preservation of the Jewish monuments.

[ from Cotidianul, Aug 8th ]