Saturday, July 2, 2011

Romania: Radauti Synagogue Restoration

Romania: Radauti Synagogue Restoration
by Samuel D. Gruber

My sister Ruth Ellen Gruber recently reported on her Jewish Heritage Travel Blog that our ancestral synagogue in Radauti, Romania is under restoration, a process that appears to be proceeding quickly - a rare occurrence in Romania - where the Jewish community is overwhelmed with care for so many sites and is always strapped for funds.

Radauti, Romania. Synagogue interior. Photos: Ruth Ellen Gruber

I has a special fondness for the Franz Josef Synagogue - as it is known in memory of the Austrian emperor especially beloved by Bukovina Jews. Not only is it the site of my grandfather's bar mitzvah, but it is one of the first "historic" (by which I mean pre-modern) synagogues I ever visited. I was there with my parents on a trip to Romania in 1972. I was a skinny teenager with longish hair, but taller than any remaining Jew we met in the town (see picture). I remember well how one of the men who showed us the synagogue was amazed (real or feigned) over my hair.

When told I was a great-grandson of Anschel Gruber, he expressed skepticism (in part because of my hair), and said - "Well, Anshel Gruber was a very pious Jew, if you are his grandson, than read..." and he opened a siddur and stuck it in front of my face. Fortunately, my Junior Congregation and bar mitzvah Hebrew was good enough, and I passed the test.

Radauti, Romania. Two views of my visit in 1972. That's me on the bottom left, with my mother Shirley Moskowitz next to me. Note the Moorish-style horseshoe arches on the Ark and Ark wall. Photos: Jacob W. Gruber.

The next time I came to the synagogue was in the bitterly cold winter of 1978, in the company of Ruth, then UPI bureau chief in Belgrade, and Romania's chief Rabbi Moses Rosen (and retinue). Ruth and I accompanied the rabbi on his annual whirlwind Hanukkah pilgrimage to the Jewish communities of Romania. This time the old synagogue was filled with people, brilliantly lit, and filled with song from the children's choir that accompanied Rosen's roadshow. Since then much has changed in Romania - for its diminished Jewish community and for the entire country. But the synagogue still stands and is finally receiving a new lease on life. It is one of the surviving synagogues in the country deemed "operating," and by all accounts it will remain dedicated as a synagogue. How often and when it will be used is uncertain, for there are few Jews left in the area.

Radauti, Romania. Synagogue, interior decoration. The inclusion of instruments is a common occurrence in synagogues of the region - and elsewhere - illustrating the 150th Psalm. Photos: Arthur Schankler.


Hels said...

Franz Josef was really loved, wasn't he?

I am assuming the shule was built in 1879, but I cannot see what it looked like back then. Was there damage just before or during the war? Are they keeping the external appearance the same as it was 130 years ago?

Samuel Gruber said...

Yes, the synagogue is dated 1879. It has been little changed over the years and was not damaged - or not significantly so - during WWII. It has remained open and in use continuously for the past half century - though with fewer and fewer local Jews. Linking to Ruth's block,. you can see that the exterior form is being entirely retained - but important repairs to the exterior water handling system (roof, drains, windows, etc.) and replastering and repainting are in progress.
to read about the admiration, lvoe and affinity that Bukovina Jews felt towards Emperor Franz Joseph see "Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory," by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer (Univ. of California Press, 20100, especially part I.

Ety said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ety said...

I was so surprised to find my picture on your nice site.I am the young lady in the blue dress standing next to my mother. She 86 years old now.
My name is Ieti Klopper. I live in Israel now .
A year after our meeting I celebrated
my religious wedding in the synagogue. We have 2 children and 4 grandchildren.
This summer together with my daughter's family we made a roots tour in Radauti. The synagogue looks great.
Good Luck