From Braşov, we went on trips into the surrounding countryside, to climb the
mountain above the ski resort of Pioana Braşov, and hike on the Babele
tableland nearly 2300m above sea level. On one trip we passed through a forest
lapping the feet of the Carpathians; aviva_m's
father informed us that in his parents' days this used to be the haunt of
highwaymen, who would chop down trees so they crossed the road, then hold up
travellers when they found their way blocked and demand money to let them
proceed on their way.
Fortunately, no such incident befell us on our excursion to Sibiu, or
Hermannstadt, which, as the German name gives away is another of the
Siebenbürgen. 2500 Saxons originally came to Hermannstadt, but only
100 survived the Magyar conquest.
Like Braşov, Sibiu has a picturesque old centre, but we were lucky still to be
able to visit it today: Ceauşescu planned to raze the lot, and only the fact
the revolution happened first saved it.
As a cohen, I can't go into churches where there are people buried; kudos to
aviva_m's parents for doing the research first
to discover whether this was actually the case before taking me into any. As a
result of this research, I learned two interesting things: Firstly, burying
people in churches is a western Christian thing; they don't do it in Orthodox
churches. (Romania is split between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and (in Saxon
areas) Lutheranism.) And secondly, like Britain, Romania passed legislation in
the nineteenth century prohibiting burial indoors; however, unlike Britain it
seems they actually exhumed all bodies that were already buried in churches.
In some cases, the tombstones were left in place in the church floor; in other
cases, they were subsequently mounted on the walls. In one case, the bodies
were reinterred beneath a flowerbed outside the church. ("So that's why the
roses are growing so well," I commented.)
After Sibiu, we had planned to see Sighișoara (Schäßburg), another pretty
Saxon town, but aviva_m preferred to go hiking
in the mountains instead. Her parents asked my opinion, but I said this
holiday was all about her family, and I was just tagging along, so I would go
with whatever she preferred.
As Jews travelling abroad, aviva_m and I are
always on the lookout for sites of Jewish interest and synagogues. Romania was
unusual for a communist country in that it let Jews who wanted to emigrate
(such as aviva_m's parents) go, provided they
went to Israel. Of course; once they did so, there was nothing keeping them
there; aviva_m's father stuck it out for a few
years, her mother headed instead for Germany, where, thanks to her education in
Braşov, she already spoke the language.
As a result, the community is considerably shrunken today. We found the shul
in Tulcea in the Danube delta; I believe it's still functioning, but we didn't
get to meet the community.
In Constanţa the small community was still meeting in the synagogue as recently
as 1996 according to Wikipedia, but maintenance was paid for by the state, and
after the revolution in 1990, the money dried up, and now the roof has fallen
in (and Wikipedia says anything not nailed to the floor has been looted). I
went to have a look from the outside; aviva_m
said it was too depressing and chose not to join me.
What was surprising was the number of Israelis we met all over Romania: it's a
cheap and not too distant holiday destination for them. Our tour guide in
Bucharest told us he frequently has Jewish clients exploring their family roots
in Romania. As it happens, the other two people on
aviva_m and my tour, a young American couple,
turned out also to be Jewish; and went ended up spending a half-hour break at a
café entirely schmoozing and playing Jewish geography.
As a result of the small Jewish population but prevalence of Israelis,
non-Jewish Romanians seem to have a worse problem than in other countries of
keeping the concepts of Jewish and Israeli separate.
In Bucharest, there are several synagogues, but only one still functioning, the
cathedral synagogue Templul Coral (the name means "choral", not "coral").
Furthermore, while in the rest of the Jewish world, only progressive
denominations call their synagogues temples, because for Orthodoxy and
Masorti/Conservative Judaism, the only Temples were the two in Jerusalem,
Romania seems to be like Italy in that even Orthodox synagogues are called
temples. At least one of the other synagogues has been converted to use as a
museum, but we didn't go there.
When we wrote asking about Shabbos meals, the community in Bucharest (which was
Ashkenazi but דרפס חסונ in rite) invited us to join us for both Friday night
and Shabbos lunch. At the end of the Friday night service, a boy of about
twelve called Joseph went up to the bimah to drink the kiddush wine, following
which the congregation sang "siman tov umazal tov" to him, so we assumed he was
about to be barmitzvahed. It turned out, however, that he had rather just had
his bris (circumcision, which is normally done at the age of eight
days amongst Jews): ulp! The community made a bit of a fuss over him over the
course of Shabbos, and I'm not surprised!
In Braşov there were according to two synagogues according to Wikipedia, one
Neolog and one Orthodox. (Neolog is an indigenous Hungarian denomination
(Transylvania used to be part of Hungary until the end of the First World War)
just to the left of Orthodoxy, but which affiliates with Masorti Olami.) The
Orthodox one had closed (we looked for it but couldn't find it) and the Neolog
one is now Orthodox in practice. We davened there on Shabbos morning, but they
didn't have a Friday night service that week. There's also a kosher restaurant
in Braşov, but it's only open on weekdays, and until four o'clock, so we didn't