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Today about synagogues - Tomorrow maybe about the whole jewish architecture patrimony in Romania


Ph.D. Professor Mircea MOLDOVAN

The first child of the Jewish community in Cluj-Napoca was born a few years ago, after many years. It has been a great joy for everybody because the presence of the Jews in a world is a sign of its well-functioning.

We cannot ignore though a certain fact: there was a community in 1990 which had a house of prayer on David Francisc street, The Deported`s Temple on Horea street, the synagogues on Croitorilor and Paris streets (still functional) and the disaffected one on Baritiu street. These last-mentioned three have now become: The Institute of Judaism Dr. Moshe Carmilly of UBB (after an unfortunate commercial avatar), a multi-media institution and The Transit House (specialized in contemporary art events: happenings, performances, installations, a.s.o.), and these are privileged situations compared to the Romanian casuistry, which is probably to be found also in many other countries.

It appears as obvious that a patrimony without a community which may outpass a certain critical mass is extremely vulnerable. A hope and an opportunity, resulting from this, comes from the contemporary movement by which architecture has turned from resource-consuming (according to the traditional anthropological school of the 20s-from the pyramids to The House of The People) into resource-generating.

Our post-modernist times, apart from the strictly cultural homonymic name, are historicist times (compared to other non-historical or even anti-historical events), history thus becoming a moulding instrument, also through topological techniques.

There is room for a lot of actions within this climate:

- Historical research (including the updating through digital techniques of the art and architecture history methodology in which the Cluj University already has a tradition and reputation of over half a century). The computer and the latest equipment allow us the relevation, the making of all the necessary pieces, 3D modeling, an unprecedentedly conceivable architectural comparability and also a new type of imaginary/virtual museum, out passing the concept introduced by Malraux.

- Building restauration, at the risk of an inefficient investment if there is no certainty of its future resistance.

- Building rehabilitation and re-destination (according to the mosaic concepts)
- An efficient, up-to-date management of the architectural patrimony.

When I talk to my students I tell them that one way to step into architecture`s history would be to find a gothic synagogue in Romania, because there are very few all over the world (our Dr. Moshe Carmilly conference has already found such an attempt in Sibiu).

I had the great joy to find the plans of some demolished synagogues (like the saphard one in Alba Iulia or the second one on Baritiu Street in Cluj-Napoca).
Urban history also has records of Judaism-specific configuration in Romania.

My students have made, measurements to existing conditions campaigns during the summer practice in Transylvanian towns, the resulting material being extremely charmfull.
The Mosaic Communities` Confederation is going to restaure, at the highest standards, the Coral Temple in Bucharest. The album entitled Synagogues in Romania, by Aristide Streja and Lucian Schwartz, Hasefer Publishing House, 1996, remains the greatest work in this field. According to the Jewish Communities` Confederation in Romania there are nowadays in our country 98 synagogues and 802 Jewish cemeteries.

Many hopes are related to the created National Commission for The Jewish Patrimony. I regretted not being closer to the famous Amalia Pavel in order to check my hypothesis that, while Renaissance seems related to the fall of the Byzantine Empire and to the migration of its elite to Italy, the appearance of abstract modern art in Europe may be related to the Jews` emancipation, to the coming of the Eastern people to the West, and to their practicing (let us not forget the anthropological touch of anti-iconism) of plastic arts. There also is a recent normative act concerning the Jewish patrimony.

Maybe we should also present/analyze case-studies of synagogues that have been worked on and projects made for some synagogues.

For instance, it appears as very interesting to turn the Timisoara synagogue into a symphonic concert hall, starting from a project made by reputed architects and a specific assistance would only increase the efficiency of the investment if we only remembered that neologists have introduced music into the temple (one of the reasons for Orthodox anathemizations), so the acoustics are perfect from the very start (see the quasi-continuous religious services in the Budapest temple).

The cultural destinations maybe the most shocking in case of conversions but let us remember that after the desacralization of a synagogue there is a wide range of options. Even I, (who has not joined the restaurateurs in profit, but stayed with teaching art and architecture history), have had the chance during my UK stage to turn a gothic chapel into a living space and managed to compare the artistic requirements there (the soft structure and the simple-reversible compartimentations, sufficiently-distanced to the walls and the architecture elements of the original building so that they might be not only protected, but also perceived, studied and admired) with the invasive concrete-using techniques and the radical/irreversible transformations endorsed by some people.

Let us bear in mind the educational part. When they discussed at Varsovia about the methodology of teaching Holocaust in schools, I dared to suggest that it would be extremely productive to also present the monotheist community, the succession and interactions-hence the story in which the time-traveler engaged in a battle who kills his opponent, finally disappears because he has been left without any ancestors. I have built my book on synagogues in this pleading form.

Contrary to the recklessness to be found in our country, where in some places the architectural patrimony is seen as <land book extract> , I could not help but admire the civilized, sympathetic, and therefore extremely efficient way in which the synagogue in Hania-Creta is valued. We can move on from this point to the management of architectural management, and the joy of teaching comes also from the teacher-student way of dialogue, and I had the privilege of having a Ph.D. student with a lot of experience at the Ministry of Culture, who is also in charge with the management of historical monuments and places.

One can mention the syntagm of peoples who fight standing on their two feet (the State power linked to the religious power), contrary to the Jewish people who ""had to fight standing on one foot only", so this workshop which is dedicated to synagogues, can be seen as a starting point gathering experts in an efficient space network.

It only seems natural, since Europe is now ready to accept and proclaim its Judeo-Christian roots.


Ph.D. Professor Mircea MOLDOVAN

Judaism has brought a real revolution in religion:monotheism.The majority of historians accepted that this has fullfilled its own architectural expression by the time it replaced the ritual sacrifice with prayer and brought the whole community in a newly configured space: the synagogue. From now on, in all the monotheistic religions the two poles of the politheist temples, the statue of the god and the sanctuary will be substituted by the sacred place and the preacher place. The monotheistic religions will evolve one from another and will have great influences on each other in art and architecture throughout history.

 Balfour used to say that we all have a badly fullfilled duty regarding judaism.Considering all the events that have taken place in the XXth century, I have allowed myself to analyse the method of teaching the Holocaust in Eastern European schools(which has been discussed from the 1990’s in Varsovia) that it would be extremely helpful to present the monotheism comunion, the succesion and the interactions, thus to evoke the text of the science-fiction pioneer that writes about the time-traveller that took part at the Waterloo battle, killing his enemy and suddenly disappeard because he lost his ancestor. The people that have tried to tear appart from the judaic origin, have lost their humanity. To sustain this idea, i have written the book about synagogues.

Time has proven me right because today, Europe seems to be disposed to recognize its christian-judaic roots. Beginning from the philosophical discovery that the origin of hate is the fear of the others, we can only appreciate the recent promotion of the empathic intelligence. This new view of the European world is in a great contradiction to the stubborness that the Romanian community still shows, so that the architectural patrimony is seen as a land book extract, and a reason to use it as a proof in different revendications and exclusions, I can only admire the empathic civilised and by this extremely efficient way that the synagogue from Hania-Creta has been valued. A few years ago there has been born a new baby in the jewish community from Cluj-Napoca, first one after  many years. It was a very happy event because the presence of the jews in a community is a sign of welfare.

The history of architecture states that several civilisations have prioritary architectural programmes that integrate arts and drain major resources.

It is not easy to wipe off the effect of several decades and this is why we cannot forget the reality: in 1990, a jewish community still existed in Cluj-Napoca, and it had a prayer house on David Francisc street, The Temple of the Deported on Horea street, synagogues on Croitorilor and Paris streets(still functioning) and the one on Baritiu street which is disaffected. Today, last three of them have become: the Institute of Judaic Culture Dr.Moshe Carmilly of the University “Babes Bolyai”, a multimedia institution and the Transit House (specialized in contemporary arts manifestations, happenings performances, and installations) and those are the privileged cases, opposite to the great number of unfortunate cases that exist in Romania and many other countries

It is apparently obvious that for all these things to change it is necessary for the community to reach a critical number at least. There is still hope and a chance, starting from the present day mutation in which architecture is no longer a waster of resources (according to the traditional anthropology scholl of the 20s – from the Pyramids of Egypt to People’s Palace in Bucharest, passing along the Chartres Cathedral Palace, that generated a revolt in the near villages, and the Palace of Versailles) to a money resource due to cultural tourism and the amount of free time today and all the possibilities to spend it. Secularization, which is intensively discussed today, has brought in a new problem: many churches are now transformed into residential buildings, commercial spaces and urban endowment. On the other side, we cannot forget a phenomenon that has spread recently, „cultural seduction”; more and more people have consumed their own culture and head towards another, or syncretism, including religious syncretism. This is not the combination of circustances to develop the ‘New Age’ theme.

Our post-modern times, apart from the strict cultural current, have brought a big change: the acknowledgement of the historic value (unlike other time periods in which history was not acknowledged, or there even existed anti-historic currents). History is becoming a modelating instrument, also including topological techniques.

In this climate there is space for a wide range of actions:

-historical research (including updating this to the digital techniques of  the methodic history of arts and architecture-in which the University from Cluj-Napoca already has a half-century tradition and a certain reputation).

Computers and recent devices allow revealing, creating 3d models, architectural comparisons that have never been imagined before and a new type of virtual museum, that has overcome the concept that Malraux has imagined.

After searching in archives I was very happy to find plans of old demolished synagogues (like the one in Alba Iulia and the second one on Baritiu Street) and other original documents.

The students from FAU-UCTN and from Jewish Art and Architecture of UBB have shown great enthusiasm for helping in our attempt to reveal and terrain research, by doing practical research in several cities of Transylvania. The material that they have gathered is extremely interesting and full of charm (some of them have contributed at the creation of jewish monument sheets). When  I talk to my students I always tell them that the sure way to be an important name in history of architecture would be to find a gothic synagogue in Romania, because there are so few in all the world(our annual conference ‘dr. Moshe Carmilly’ already registered, few years ago, an attempt regarding Sibiu)

Urban history registered some specific configurations of the Jewish branch in Romania: Jewish neighborhoods are easy to recognize, and the configuration of an orthodox synagogue is distinct to the modernism that exploits the illot in the case of the neolog synagogue.

As a case study, we can analyze Oradea, the way the events in the XIX and the XX century were seen by Carol Iancu in his prestigious scientific work (which synthesized the idea that the continuity is the one that insures the ‘chosen people’ their eternity and the changes that are able to end the continuous fight for emancipation and the tragedy that ended in Shoah). The best documenting resource for Oradea is the research done by Mrs. Tereza Mozes - Jews from Oradea (Mozes,Tereza, Evreii din Oradea, Editura Hasefer, Bucuresti,1997) and the campaigns done by our students in order to reveal and take photos during several years.

In Oradea the emanicipation will illustrate this idea, that the architecture is a history of a civilization and a way to enclose a territory housing the Jewish population, that really has no real geographical status, and to be obliged to build in the style of different countries, to accept many kinds of interdictions.

The emancipation has changed the Jewish communities for politic reasons in religious collectivities, the slogan was Napoleon’s ‘everything for the individual-nothing for the group’, has suppressed the help of the community, and individualism has gained more space. The Jews weren’t obliged anymore to live outside the town and could express their wills and fantasies, exploring other domains (aesthetics in this case) not only religion and showing a real appetite for architecture.

Oradea has become a center of these processes, and creative fantasy and the quality of the technique shown in this region explain the name of ‘a Jewish Florence of the end of XIX the century (we should remember that a comparison between Florence and Venice show the variety and effervescence, not only ideas and art), to emphasize especially affinities that were manifested through art nouveau, the European spirit shown by the art protectors and the Jewish artists of the age)

We should   mention the Jewish architects and constructors from Oradea, Bihor, or that have come from other countries: Vago brothers born in Oradea, that have worked for a long time together (the Moskovits palace-P-ta Unirii no.35, Vago House-Mosoiu Street no. 14, Roche and Darvas houses –Iosif Vulcan no11 , the building of the University of Oradea that used to be a JANDARM school) the constructors Komor Marcell and Jakab Dezso (the ‘Black Eagle ‘ Palace , the building of the Industry and Commerce Chamber –D. Zamfirescu street no 3, Fuchsl House-Independence street no 11,Okanzi-Schwarz Villa-Eminescu street no 25,Stern Palace-Republicii street no 10, Adorjan House1-Patriotilor street no 6

The architects Bach Nandor (the synagogue of the orthodox Jews- Mihai Viteazul street), Reisinger (house of dr.Konrad –on the street that used to be General Berthelot no 6, Sonnenfeld Report House–Moscovei street) Joszef, Markus Geza, Rendes Vilmos, Guttman Joszef, Spiegel Frigyes, Lobl Ferenc (Ullmann Palace –Piata 1 decembrie street); constructors Incze Lipot, Incze Lajos, Gold &co. firm; Schiffer Miksa, Rosenberg Izso, Rosental and Kraus, Weiszlovich.

We also have to mention the help of the financers of the constructions: Adorjan, Ullmann, Weiszlovits, Deutsch, Moskovits, Stern, Fuchsl, Konrad, Okanyi, Schwartz, Brull, Freinfeld, Erkler, Roth, Goldstein, Blazer, Guttmann, Grunfeld. The special buildings are known even today by the name of the ones that ordered them: Moskovits, Adorjan or Ullmann, Sonnenfeld and Konrad houses

This example confirms our certitude that if the end of XXth century was marked by the postmodern history, the XXIst century will be determined by the anthropological culture and its two characteristics: what is common to all the people and what is special to each of them; with a corrolary in the seduction power of great cultures helped by globalization and improved communications.

I was honored when a German student has requested my help in assisting him in elaborating his license project that had as a start the contest theme for a religious and cultural Jewish center in his own town.

The restoration of the buildings, with the risk on an inefficient investment if the future of the building is not assured.

The mosaic communities’ federation intends to restorate at the highest level the Coral temple in Bucharest

The album Sinagogi din Romania, Aristide Sterna and Lucian Schwartz, Editura Hasefer, 1996, is still a reference work in this domain. From the date owned by the mosaic communities federation in Romania, today, there are 98 synagogues and 802 Jewish cemeteries in our country.

There is an interesting study about the synagogue from Iasi

Reabilitation and redestination (by the mosaic laws) of the buildings:

Maybe we should present or analyze the case studies of some synagogues that have been changed and projects conceived for others synagogues.

Probably the cultural destinations are the least shocking in the case of conversions but we should not forget that after the loss of the sacred sense there is quite a wide range of possibilities. Even I (although I didn’t enter the  restorators guild ,being only interested in history of arts and architecture) during my stage in UK, had the extraordinary possibility to transform a gothic chapel in a house and I could compare the exigencies in that country(light structure and reversible compartimentations, with a sufficient distance to the walls and architectural elements of the original building so that they can be preserved and to maintain the possibility of perceiving, studying, admiring them) and invasive techniques with concrete and irreversible changes that some people agree with.

It is noticeable for example the intention of some to transform the synagogue from Timisoara in a concert hall by the idea of some reputated architects and a specific assistance would increase the efficiency of the investment and only if we would remind that the neologists have reintroduced music in temples (one of the reasons of orthodox anathemization) thus the acoustics is intensively studied and perfected (like in the quasi-continuous religious services from the Budapest temple)

The synagogue on the Croitorilor street,where in the 90s you could still see the sukkot and huppa hut, has become the mosaic institute Dr. Moshe Carmilly of UBB, but after an unfortunate commercial  avatar, tore the wall with the ‘Torah ark’ for a main entrance and a stair of reinforced concrete, although the entrance in still on the side. The resources of the university and its politics that made possible the appearance of the first academic institute destined  to the Romanian jewish history have assured the  appearance of good quality executions.

The synagogue on Paris street, where was an azym production facility and a ritual restaurant, became through compartimentations and intermediate floors a multimedia institution (publishing house, tv channel). Maybe a unique beneficiary and  a unitary coordination in its’ execution and exploitation would have brought another level of quality to the building.

The synagogue on the Baritiu street, that survived demolition when the Fashion House was built (unlike the one near it) became Tranzit House (specialized in contemporary arts manifestations – happenings, performances, instalations etc). Financing is late to appear for a building in such a central area, although, in public perception, some bohemian or underground tint are associated to the actual destination.

Efficient and contemporary management of the architectural patrimony.

From here we can pass to the management of the architectural patrimony and the charm of education which also comes along with the dialogue between the teacher and the student –I have had a Ph.D. student, which had an amazing experience in the ministry of culture and who concentrates in his study on the management of monuments and historical areas

There are many hopes linked to the work of the National Committee for Mosaic Patrimony. I regretted not being closer to the well known Amalia Pavel to check my hypothesis that as the Renaissance seems to be correlated to the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the migration of its’ elites to Italy, the appearance of the modern European abstract art can be correlated to the emancipation of the jews, the arrival of the eastern to the west and their practice (lets not forget the anthropological cultural  meaning of anti-iconism) of plastic arts.

Behind the well known Guide of Mrs. Gruber, we can also establish points of local interes and itineraries and events that can correlate them.

In Romania there is a recent normative act which refers to mosaic patrimony

The history of mosaic population in Romania shows us that in every city, before the synagogue, there had been the Israeli Sacred fraternity (Hevra Kedosa) ‘the noblest reunion and most human of the jewish people:the funeral with all the rituals, visiting and curing ill people, helping the poor’. It was not in vain that the late Mr. Stanciu suggested me during the 1990’s, to extend my research in the study of the cemetery chapels, some of them having some architectural potential, and many of my students have made research in jewish cemeteries

Without thinking to victor Hugo’s opinion about architecture - a civilization’s history, we can consider that by beginning a scientific network in the study of synagogue, the logics of life will take us tomorrow to researching and studying the whole jewish patrimony.