Great Synagogue of Iasi
Blog Post

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles—Destination: Romania

Great Synagogue of Iasi

After a brief stop in Venice for a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto—one of many that are planned throughout 2016—I traveled to Romania.

In the region of Transylvania, a 3.5-hour train ride from Cluj-Napoca, is the small town of Medias, one of the best preserved citadels in Romania. Next to the train station, sitting just outside the historic center of the town is a late nineteenth-century synagogue. Although the Jewish community in Medias survived World War II, mass migration to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s left the empty synagogue to decay. Today, there are ongoing grassroots efforts to revitalize the complex, which includes the sanctuary, the former Rabbi’s house, and garden. The books and documents that were found in the synagogue—which had been sealed for decades—have been catalogued by the Leo Baeck Institute through their Archival Survey of Transylvania and Bukovina. The synagogue also received an EU 2020 Horizon grant, which will allow for cultural and artistic programs to take place from 2016-2018.

On April 2, I traveled to the city of Iasi in the Moldavia Region, the main destination on my Romanian trip. The Great Synagogue of Iasi is the oldest extant synagogue in Romania and is one of two surviving synagogues in a city that once housed over 100 Jewish houses of worship. WMF has been involved with the site since its inclusion on the 2014 World Monuments Watch. The purpose of my visit was to attend an international open house event at the synagogue where participants learned about the ongoing restoration of the building. The event was hosted by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania and the Jewish Community of Iasi, with the support of WMF. It included the opening of an exhibition on Romanian synagogues, presentations by the conservators and the Jewish Community, and a lively performance of traditional Jewish music.

Last year, WMF helped support the emergency stabilization of the aron kodesh—an impressive polychrome wood sculptural ensemble that was in danger of collapsing from decay.  A team of conservators dismantled the ensemble and treated the sculptured wooden elements to protect the work from biological infestation. Given the extent of deterioration of the wooden elements, the pieces were carefully documented and catalogued for future reinstallation once the funds were secured. Many of our generous Jewish Heritage Program supporters answered our call to action and made donations to the project at the end of 2015. During the event I had the pleasure of announcing that the rest of the funds for the completion of the work on the aron kodesh were secured, thanks to the generous contribution from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage. Through the summer of 2017, experts will work to return the imposing aron kodesh to its original glory as the centerpiece of the synagogue space. 



Also by this author: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles - Destination: Venice.