Jewish heritage in Romania

In the 5th century BC, Greek inscriptions mentioned for the first time the existence of Jewish communities on the Pontus Euxinus shore (nowadays Black Sea).
Between the 9th and 12th centuries, they became more and more involved in the trade alongside the route connecting Prague – Cracow – Lwow or Kiev – Black Sea harbors.
In the 11th century their number started to raise as they were thrown away from Western Europe, Poland and Romania.

The Jews in Wallachia came especially from SE Europe in the 15th century (the Sephardic Jews thrown out of Spain and Portugal) and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century (the merchants and moneylenders).
The boom of the Jews in Romania was in 19th century when their population increased by 15 times from 29,000 (in 1803) to 443,000 (in 1899), most of them living in Moldavia.
Thus, in the late 19th century Romania was one of the European countries with the highest ratio of Jews per 1,000 inhabitants (47, like Romania, while Bulgaria had 10; Moldavia had 107 and Iasi 519).
During WW2 (1940-1944) the Romanian Holocaust reduced the Jewish population to half.
About 140,000 Jews from Moldavia & 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.
Soon after WW2 the nationalization imposed by communists affected the Jews too, so after 1948 when the Israeli State was founded they started to leave there.
When the Romanian government saw an opportunity in this, it made a mutual agreement with the Israeli one according to which Romania virtually sold its Jews for USD 10,000 per person.
In 1956 there were 146,000 Jews, in 1977 – 25,000 Jews, nowadays being only 8,000 Jews (70% over 60 y.o.).
450,000 Jews originating from Romania are living in Israel.

Bucharest Jews

The first document that mentions (Sephardic) Jews in Bucharest is a rabbinical correspondence from 1550 (16th century) naming 8 Jews, from which 2 (Habib Amato & Isac Rufus) had a shop.
At the end of the 17th century, Sephardic and Ashkenazim Jews (the latter from Ukraine and Poland) came to Bucharest and started to develop.
So Jews had their own praying settlements and established their own guild (during the rule of the Voivode Constantin Brancoveanu).
Involved mostly in trade, money lending and crafts, Jews developed a strong community in Bucharest, being the largest minority of the city.

In 1787 (late 18th century) Phanariote Prince of Wallachia Nicolae Mavrogheni granted the Jewish community a plot of land to build a synagogue in the same mahala and decreed Jews as tax exempt.
In 1794 there was a synagogue in Nicolescu Inn, in front of Razvan Church (OBT = cea de langa Cavafi Vechi), and a significant Jewish population around, which upset the Patriarch of Jerusalem who had the synagogue closed down.
Most of the Jews lived in the Mahalaua Popescului district (around the crossing of Cauzasi Street and the actual Mircea Voda Avenue), where they had synagogues ever since the 17th century.

The same 18th century saw the building of the so-called Hanul Ovreesc / Hanul Evreiesc (Jews’ Inn), also known as Hanul Zisu (Zisu Inn) along the actual Calea Mosilor, across the street from Razvan Church.
The 19
th century saw a great development of the Jewish community in Bucharest, with districts where its members lived in majority or had a major role, such as the ones around the Calea Dudesti, Calea Vacaresti, parts of the Calea Mosilor (including the actual crossing of the Calea Mosilor with the Dacia and the one around the Foisorul de Foc), the quarter of Sf. Gheorghe.

In the 19th century the population of Jews in Bucharest increased by 27 times from 1,500 Jews (in 1803) to 40,000 by the end of the century.
The number of synagogues and houses of prayer also evolved, from 10 belonging to the Ashkenazim community and 1 to the Sephardic one in 1832, to the 30 in 1861.
1848 – The Orthodox Jews Society was established, 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, being Chief Rabbi of Bucharest and Romania (1858-1864), preaching in Bucharest in the synagogue that would bear his name until the communists decided otherwise.

Due to the WW2 and the migration started in the 1940s especially towards Palestine and USA and then to Israel starting 1948, the number of Jews in Bucharest and Romania considerably decreased, most of the colorful soul of the Jewish neighborhood in the capital disappearing.
20th century in Bucharest: 44,000 Jews & ~ 70 temples (in 1912) – 70,000 (in 1921, = 11% of city’s inhabitants) – 98,000 Jews & 32 temples (in 1941) – 150,000 (in 1948) – 15,000 Jews & 23 temples (in 1966) – 4,000 (nowadays with 2 temples holding service, 2 hosting museums, 1 abandoned and a few others no longer serving the community)

In 1832 there were 10 houses of pray belonging to the Ashkenazim Jews and one belonging to the Sephardic Jews; in 1860 there were 30 synagogues.
Most of the synagogues we can still see today date from the 19th century.
In the beginning of the 20th century there were 70 synagogues and temples in the city, in 1940 their number dropped to 32, in 1975 to 15 and today there still exist 7, of which only 3 are still in use for services, and other 2 for museums.

Among the Romanian artists of Jewish descent who found fame across the ocean there are:

* 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 who became the director of the ‘American Symphony’ orchestra in New York in 1977

Jewish heritage in Bucharest

Bucharest luxury private car tour