Jewish heritage in Romania

According to Greek inscriptions, Jewish communities exist since the 5th century BC, on the Pontus Euxinus shore (nowadays Black Sea).
Between the 9th and 12th centuries, the Jews became famous as tradesmen. Their route was Prague – Cracow – Lwow or Kiev – Black Sea harbors.
Thrown away from Western Europe, Poland and Romania, Jews number started to raise in the 11th century.

Wallachian Jews came especially from:
* SE Europe, in the 15th century, Sephardic Jews thrown out of Spain and Portugal
* and Ottoman Empire, in the 16th century, merchants and moneylenders.
In Romania, from the beginning to the end of the 19th century, their population increased by 15 times, reaching 443,000.
Thus, Romania was one of the European countries with the highest ratio of Jews per 1,000 inhabitants: 47 – like Poland – while Bulgaria had 10 (Moldavia had 107 and Iasi 519).
Romanian Holocaust reduced the Jewish population to half.
About 140,000 Jews from Moldavia and Wallachia were deported to Transnistria, a variant of Poland’s concentration camps.

During the war, 47 ships with over 26,000 Jews left Romanian harbours of Galati, Braila and Constanta to Palestine.
At the end of the war over 130,000 of Transylvanian Jews were deported to Košice – Csap and Auschwitz.
Affected by nationalization imposed by communists, Jews started to move to Israel after 1948 when the state was founded.
Romanian government saw an opportunity in this.
So it made a mutual agreement with the Israeli one to virtually sold its Jews for USD 10,000 per person.
Since 1956 the Jewish community from Romania decreased by 18 times.
Thus, nowadays there are only 8,000 Jews from which 70% are over 60 years old.
450,000 Jews originating from Romania are living in Israel.


The first document that mentions (Sephardic) Jews in Bucharest is a rabbinical correspondence from 1550 naming 8 Jews.
Ashkenazim (from Ukraine and Poland) and Sephardic Jews came to Bucharest at the end of the 17th century, during the rule of Voivode Constantin Brancoveanu.
They had their own praying settlements and their own guild, being i
nvolved mostly in trade, money lending and crafts.
Thus the Jews developed a strong community in Bucharest, becoming the largest minority of the city.

In the late 18th century Jews were tax exempt by Phanariote Prince of Wallachia Nicolae Mavrogheni.
This also granted them a plot of land to build a synagogue.
The significant Jewish population around the synagogue in Nicolescu Inn, in front of Razvan Church (OBT = cea de langa Cavafi Vechi) upset the Patriarch of Jerusalem who had the synagogue closed down.
Hanul Ovreesc / Evreiesc / Zisu (Jews’ / Zisu Inn) appeared also in the 18th century on nowadays Calea Mosilor, across Razvan Church Street.
Greatly developed in the 19th century, Bucharest Jewish community had districts around today’s:
* Vacaresti and Dudesti Avenues,
* Mosilor Avenue – the areas nearby St. George Church (opposite to Old City Center), Fire Tower and the crossing with Dacia Avenue

During the entire 19th century Bucharest’s population of Jews increased by 27 times reaching 40,000.
And this happened to the synagogues and houses of prayer too.
From only 10 Ashkenazim and 1 Sephardic ones in 1832 their number reached 30 in 1860.
In 1848 they established the Orthodox Jews Society bearing the name of Rabbi Meir Malbim.
Came from Poland, Rabbi Meir Leibish Malbim (1809-1879) was one of the outstanding Jewish figures of his time.
Chief Rabbi of Bucharest and Romania (1858-1864), he preached in Bucharest.
His synagogue bore his name until the communists decided otherwise.

Due to WW2 and migration especially towards Palestine and USA (after 1940s) and Israel (after 1948), Romanian Jews’ number considerably decreased.
As a consequence, most of the colorful Jewish neighborhood of Bucharest disappeared.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were 44,000 Jews and 70 temples in Bucharest.
In the ’20s a little over 10% of Bucharest’s inhabitants were Jews (70,000).
In the late ’60s remained only 15,000 Jews and 23 temples.
And today there are only 4,000 Jews.
Two temples still hold services, two host museums, one is abandoned and a few others no longer serve the community.
Most of the synagogues we can still see today date from the 19th century.

Some of the Romanian artists of Jewish descent found fame across the ocean.
Edward Goldenberg Robinson (Bucharest 1893 – Hollywood 1973), one of the greatest American actors of the last century, had Romanian origin.
Sergiu Comissiona (Bucharest 1928 – Oklahoma 2005), an Israeli violinist and musical director, became Director of ‘American Symphony’ orchestra in New York in 1977.

Jewish heritage in Bucharest