This shul may become a music hall

The fate of the historic Great Synagogue in Transylvania is in dispute

By Chloe Markowicz, September 3, 2009
The Great Synagogue:   It was handed to the Jewish community under the FJCR when the Communists took over

The Great Synagogue: It was handed to the Jewish community under the FJCR when the Communists took over

A strictly Orthodox rabbi has started a campaign to stop part of a historic synagogue in Transylvania being turned into a concert hall. However, the owners of the Great Synagogue of Dej say that no such plans exist.

Rabbi Eliahu Caufman alleges that part of the women’s section in the shul, which was built in 1865, will be transformed by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

“They want to make the synagogue a place where men and women are together and wear immodest clothing,” he said. “It’s a cultural crime, surely. This community doesn’t care about the rules of the religion. They change want they want to.

“If tomorrow someone took over a Satmar synagogue in England and turned it into a concert hall you could imagine the reaction. This is the situation in Dej.

“It’s worse because it’s our own community doing this. It’s not the fault of the Romanian government.

“The community has to respect the synagogue. This is one of the most special synagogues in Romania.”

The FJCR, however, said there were no plans to turn any part of the shul into a concert hall.

According to Paul Schwartz, vice president of the FJCR, a renovation plan for the synagogue proposed by the local mayor in 2001 is still on the table.

“He wants to improve the interior and exterior. The plan is to keep the synagogue but have expositions on the Holocaust and the Romanian Jewish community in the annex.

“At the moment everything is only on paper. The mayor is still trying to get funds from the European Union.”

There are around 6,000 Jews in Romania, most of them elderly. The Jewish community in Dej is made up of around 10 families.

The beautiful Dej synagogue is in reasonable condition compared to other synagogues in the area. It is mainly unused, except during the major holidays and when it is visited by Jewish tourists.

Rabbi Caufman, who was rabbi of a shul in Romania until 2004 and now lives in Israel, represents the Panet family, who he says is the rightful owner of the synagogue.

“Rabbi Moishe Panet was given this synagogue by Franz Josef,” he said. “He was the first Chasidic rabbi of Dej. When the emperor gave it to him, he said clearly: ‘I give you this place for holy things and for religious purposes, nothing else.’”

Rabbi Caufman said that after 1945, when the Communists took over, the synagogue was handed to the Jewish community under the FJCR.

According to Alex Sivan, a former director general of the FJCR who was sent to Romania by the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, there was another synagogue in the region which was turned into a concert hall.

Mr Sivan said the FJCR worked with the local authorities to transform the unused, dilapidated synagogue in Bistritza, near Dej. He added: “The community is trying to do their best to save the cemeteries and synagogues but it’s a fight against time. It’s almost impossible.

“We found a way to transform the synagogue into a cultural place with concerts and art exhibits. This way the municipality will be able to take care of the synagogue even after the remaining Jews pass away.”

Mr Sivan said that the FJCR insisted on rules including a dress code and a rule against playing Wagner.

Last updated: 1:49pm, September 3 2009