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The Jewish Community of Bucharest

Bucharest

Romanian: Bucuresti

Capital of Romania

The historic Jewish district of Bucharest used to be centered around the Choral Temple, and spread from Piata Unirii east towards Dristor. However, most of the Jewish buildings that stood there were destroyed during the 1980s in order to make way for the Bulevardul Unirii. As of 2015, there remain a handful of points of Jewish interest in Bucharest, serving the community of approximately 3,500. The Choral Temple, the Yeshua Tova Synagogue, and the Great Polish Synagogue, continue to hold services; the latter also hosts the city's Holocaust Museum. The Beit Hamidrash Synagogue, which dates back to the late 18th century, is abandoned and decaying, though the structure itself is still (barely) standing. Another abandoned synagogue whose building still stands is the Hevra Amuna (Temple of Faith).

The Jewish History Museum (Muzeul de Istorie a Evreilor din Romania) is located in what was once a synagogue called the Holy Union Temple. The synagogue building itself was constructed in 1836; it began serving as a Jewish history museum in 1978. Mozes Rosen, the chief rabbi of Romania from 1964 until his death in 1994, founded the museum and provided a number of items for its collection.

The State Jewish Theater, which is located in Bucharest, is the oldest uninterrupted Yiddish-language theater in the world. The theater features plays by Jewish playwrights, plays about Jewish topics, and Yiddish plays that run simultaneous Romanian translations through headphones. The theater is located next to the Lauder-Reut Jewish school, which has over 400 students enrolled in its kindergarten, elementary, and middle schools.

HISTORY

The Jewish community of Bucharest was formed both by Sephardic Jews who arrived from the south, chiefly from the Otooman Empire, and later by Ashkenazi Jews arriving from the north. A responsum by the rabbi of Solonika during the 16th century that mentions a Sephardic community is the first documented evidence confirming the presence of Jews in Budapest. The Jewish community began to grow and prosper; some were even the creditors of the ruling princes. This economic success, however, eventually came at a steep price (pun intended); when Prince Michael the Brave revolved against the Turks in November 1593, he ordered that his creditors be killed, among whom were a number of Jews.

Ahskenazi Jews began arriving and establishing their own community towards the middle of the 17th century, drawn there after fleeing the Khmielnitski Massacres taking place in Ukraine. Their numbers grew, and eventually the Ashkenazi community became larger than the Sephardic community. For tax purposes, the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities were organized into a single community by the state, and were forced to pay a fixed tax to the treasury. Meanwhile, the general population, afraid of economic competition, was intensely hostile towards the Jews. In 1793 residents of the suburb Razvan petitioned Prince Alexander Moruzi to expel the Jews who had recently settled in the area and to demolish the synagogue that they had built. Though the prince ordered that the synagogue be closed, he did not remove the Jews from Razvan and, in fact, issued a decree confirming his protection of them. In 1801 there were anti-Jewish riots following blood libel accusations, and 128 Jews were killed or wounded.

In 1819 Prince Alexandru Sutu officially acknowledged both the Sephardic ("Spanish") and Ashkenazi ("Polish") communities, allowing them to operate as separate entities. This continued until 1949 when the Communist regime once again forced the two communities to join together. By 1832 there were 10 Ashkenazi and one Sephardi synagogues in Bucharest. The Great Synagogue, which was Ashkenazi, was dedicated on Rosh Hashanah, 1847.

In spite of the impressive Great Synagogue, the Ashkenazi community of Bucharest had to deal with a number of fissures and tensions during the 19th century. There were tensions between those were born in Romania, and those who immigrated to Bucharest, who were not under the same system of taxation as the native Romanians. This led the immigrants within the Jewish community, who were considered "foreign subjects" to refuse to pay the tax levied on kosher meat. This was a problem, as this tax constituted the sole income of the community council. The authorities, who were drawn into the conflict, at first upheld the traditional rights of the Jewish communal organization. However, following repeated complaints from both sides, as well as constitutional changes that took place in Romania in 1832, the community was given a new constitution that greatly curtailed its autonomy. Instead of operating autonomously, it fell under the direct authority and close supervision of the municipality. Eventually, in 1851, the Prussian and Austrian subjects (about 300 families) were officially permitted to found a separate community.

The increasing influence of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), also led to tensions within the Ashkenazi community. It is important to note that this conflict also reflected the economics of the community; those in favor of the Haskalah and who wanted the community to undertake more progressive reforms tended to be from the upper classes, while those who were more traditional tended to be further down the socioeconomic ladder. At that time, the Bucharest Ashkenazi community was torn by strife between the Orthodox and progressive factions. The controversy began to center around a school with a modern curriculum that opened in 1852, as well as the proposal in 1857, led by Ya'akov Lobel, to build a Choral Temple, that would incorporate modern ideas and principles into its services. The appointment of Rabbi Meir Leib Malbim in 1858 as the chief rabbi did not help quell the disputes. Malbim was a fierce and uncompromising opponent of the Reform movement, and he quickly made enemies among Bucharest's Jewish elite. The conflicts between Malbim and those who were in favor of the Reform Movement came to a head in 1862, when Malbim was arrested. He was freed only after Sir Moses Montefiore intervened, and on the condition that he leave Romania. The Choral Synagogue was completed in 1867, and became the center for the modernists of the community.

Among the most prominent spiritual and religious leaders of the community before World War I were Antoine Levy and Moritz (Meir) Beck, who were rabbis of the Choir Temple Congregation from 1867 to 1869 and 1873 to 1923, respectively. Other outstanding figures within the Choir Temple community were Iuliu Barasch and Yitzchak Leib Weinberg. Yitzchak Esiik Taubes was the rabbi of the Orthodox Congregation from 1894 until 1921. The most prominent lay leader was Adolf Stern. Moscu Asher led the Sephardic community, and Rabbi Hayim Bejarano was a noted scholar and poet. Later, the lawyer and politician Wilhelm Filderman would become the president of the Union of Romanian Jews, and Rabbi Jacob Isaac Niemirower would be the country's first chief rabbi. Filderman, in fact, would in 1941 work successfully to annul the decree forcing Jews to wear an identifying badge.

Between the two World Wars the Bucharest community grew in both numbers and importance. The Jewish population of the city, which had become the capital of Greater Romania and attracted immigrants from all parts of the country, increased from 44,000 in 1912 to 74,480 (12% of the total population) in 1930 and 95,072 in 1940. Most Jews worked as artisans, merchants, clerks, and bankers. Others were active in professions such as medicine and law. Several ironworks and foundries were established by the end of the 19th century. Major Jewish business leaders at that time included Leon Abramovici, Sigmund Prager, and Adolph Solomon.

There were a number of Jewish schools in Bucharest, particularly at the turn of the 20th century. Among the most influential was the abovementioned school established in 1852 by Yisrael Pick and Naftali Popper. These founders sought to imbue their school with the Haskalah principles that they believed in, and the school became extremely influential on Jewish education in Romania. There were also vocational institutions serving Jewish workers, including the Ciocanul (Hammer) school which trained Jewish craft workers.

Communal institutions included over 40 synagogues, two cemeteries, 19 schools, a library and museum, two hospitals, a clinic, two homes for the elderly, and two orphanages. There was also a B'nai B'rith, as long as a number of social and cultural organizations serving the community. A number of newspapers also served the community; the first Jewish newspaper, "Israelitul roman," was founded in 1855 and written in Romanian and French. Other publications included "Fraternitatea," "Revista Israelita," "Egalitatea," and "Curierul Israelit." Yiddish and Hebrew language publications included "Et LeDaber," "HaYoetz," and the Zionist newspapers "Mantuirea" and "Hasmonaea." A Yiddish theater was established in the late 1870s, and reached its peak during the interwar period. This theater would later be banned under Ion Antonescu.

Anti-Semitism continued to be a problem for the Jews of Bucharest. In 1866 the visit of Adolph Cremieux, a French lawyer who advocated for the political emancipation of the Jews, resulted in Jewish synagogues and shops being vandalized. The rise of prominence of nationalist leader Alexandru C. Cuza spurred the development of a number of anti-Semitic organizations, many of which were centered at Bucharest University.

In September 1940, with the rise of the Antonescu-Iron Guard coalition, Bucharest became one of the new regime's main centers of the anti-Jewish activities. This culminated in a pogrom during the rebellion of the Legionary Movement; 120 Jews were killed, thousands were arrested and tortured, synagogues were desecrated, and Jewish homes, shops, and community buildings were looted and destroyed.

Until the end of the Antonescu regime in August 1944, the Jews of Bucharest were subjected anti-Semitic legislation and persecution. Jews were legally downgraded to second-class citizens. They could no longer access state-funded education or health care, and their property was confiscated. These restrictions had major economic effects on the community: in 1942 only 27.2% of the city's Jewish population of about 100,000 were registered as employed, compared with 54.3% of the non-Jewish population. In September 1942 several hundred Jews were deported to Transnistria, where many eventually perished. Thousands of other Jews, particularly the young, were required to work as forced laborers.

The lack of access to education, combined with the growing poverty of the Jewish community, spurred the need for the community to greatly expand their own educational and social welfare activities. In 1943 the Jewish community ran 27 schools and 21 soup kitchens. Bucharest became the center of relief activities for Romanian Jews.

The Jews of Bucharest were saved after Antonescu was deposed on August 23, 1944 and German forces were not able to entering the city. Though Adolf Eichmann had begun making preparations to deport Romania's Jews, the fierce opposition on the part of the Romanian army, coupled with the entry of the Soviet Army on August 30, 1944, prevented any of these plans from being carried out.

After World War II, large numbers of Jewish refugees and concentration camp survivors began arriving in the city; by 1947 the Jewish population had grown to 150,000. The Communist regime, which came to power in 1947, gradually closed all Jewish national, cultural, and social institutions in Bucharest. The welfare institutions were nationalized and the schools were absorbed into the general educational network. A state Yiddish school was opened in 1949, but closed a few years later. A State Yiddish Theater was founded in 1948 and a Yiddish drama school was established in 1957. Two Jewish newspapers, the Romanian "Unirea," followed later by "Viata Novua" and the Yiddish "Ikuf Bleter" were published. Of the 44,202 Jews (3.6% of the total population) registered in the city in the 1956 census, 4,425 of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. In spite of the difficulties in living under a Communist regime, Rabbi Mozes Rosen was able to successfully navigate the opaque policies of the Romanian government, allowing Bucharest to continue to serve as the center of Jewish communal and cultural life.

The rise of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was the dictator of Romania between 1965 and 1989, prompted mass emigrations to Israel. In 1969 it was estimated that there were 50,000 Jews living in Bucharest; by the turn of the 21st century there were only about 4,000.
Place Type:
City
ID Number:
237354
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Rafael Radu Dragan (1909-1986), composer, pianist and teacher, born in Bucharest, Romania. He immigrated to Israel and during the 1950s he was the founder of the music conservatorium in Nahariya. He was a piano and voice training teacher. The Israeli composer, musician, singer, arranger, and lyricist Matti Caspi is one of his students. Dragan appeared on stage as an accompanying pianist of vocal music recitals. He died in Tel Aviv. 

Filderman, Wilhelm (1882–1963), leader of the Romanian Jews, born in Bucharest, Romania. Filderman studied law in Paris, France. He returned to Romania and after teaching for two years at the Jewish high school in Bucharest, started his law practice in 1912. In 1913 he was elected to the central committee of the Union of Romanian Jews. During World War I Filderman was an officer in the Romanian army. At the Versailles Peace Conference he was chosen to be a member of the Comité des Délégations Juives. He demanded the total emancipation of the Jews and the inclusion of this principle in the peace treaty with Romania.

In 1920 Filderman became the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Romania and in 1923 was elected president of the Union of Romanian Jews. Between the two world wars, he fought antisemitism, and worked for the effective realization of full citizenship for the Jews. He published a number of books against antisemitism. He was opposed to a separate Jewish party. In 1927 Filderman was elected a member of the Romanian parliament on the Liberal Party list. From 1931 to 1933 he was the president of the Jewish Community of Bucharest, and in the same period he became president of the Federation of Jewish Communities. When the enlarged Jewish Agency was constituted in 1929, he was elected as a non-Zionist delegate to its founding congress in Zurich.

After 1940, when the anti-Semitic fascist symparthiser Ion Antonescu took over the leadership of the country, Filderman intervened with him as a representative of the Federation, several times obtaining the revocation of serious measures, such as the wearing of the yellow badge, the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps in Poland, etc. At the beginning of 1942, when the Federation of Communities was dissolved, Filderman continued to write to authorities to denounce the racial measures. He was a member of the underground Jewish Council, formed of representatives of the principal Jewish trends. When he expressed his opposition to the special tax of four billion lei imposed on the Jews he was sent to Transnistria (March 1943), returning after three months through the intervention of the papal nuncio and the Swiss and Swedish ambassadors. Back in Bucharest, he immediately reported to the Romanian government on the terrible situation of the deportees in Transnistria and asked for their return, which was obtained at the end of the same year.

After the war, he again became president of the Federation of Communities and of the Union of Romanian Jews and representative of the JDC. He was however persecuted by the Communists, In 1948 he secretly left Romania and settled in Paris.

Liviu Rotman (b. 1947), researcher of the history of the Jews of Romania, born in Bucharest, Romania. He graduated from the Mihai Viteazul High School and then attended the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest earning a PhD. He immigrated to Israel in 1985. Between 1990 - 2003 he worked as a researcher and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, especially within the framework of the Romanian Jewish History Center Goldstein-Goren, a department of the Diaspora Research Institute of the University.  Rotman is an associate professor at the University of Bucharest and member of the Academic Council of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Bucharest. Rotman edited a five-volume series on the history of Romanian Jewry. His works include Şcoala israelito-română: Învăţămantul evreiesc modern din România (“Education as a mirror of society: Jewish-Romanian school, 1851-1914”, 1999), Memory of the Holocaust in Communist Romania: from Minimization to Oblivion (2003); Evreii din România în perioada comunistă 1944-1965 ("Jews in Romania during the Communist regime", 2004); The Kehillah in Romania: The Pulse, Character and History of the Jewish Community of Romania (2015).

Myriam Marbé (1931-1997), composer of avant-garde music, pianist, and musicologist, born in Bucharest, Romania, the daughter of Max Marbe, a medical researcher, and of Angela Marbe, a piano teacher. She began her musical studies with her mother followed by studies at the Conservatory of Music of Bucharest from 1944 to 1954 under the guidance of Mihail Jora, a leading Romanian composer. She served as a film director at Casa de filme in Bucharest from 1953 to 1965 and a lecturer at the Conservatory of Music of Bucharest from 1954 to 1988. She participated three times at Darmstädter Ferienkursen in Darmstadt, Germany, during 1968-1972, and at the Festival of Contemporary Music in Royan, France, in 1971. Marbe was granted a working grant by the city of Mannheim during 1989-1990. Marbe composed over fifty pieces of music in a variety of genres - music for ballet, chamber music, liturgical music, symphonic compositions, vocal music, opera and lyrical music – including Nunta Zamfirei (1954), In Memoriam (1959), Le Temps Inévitable (1968-1971),  Serenata – Eine kleine Sonnenmusik (1974), Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1977), Souvenir d'un paysage inconnu (1979), Concertul pentru Daniel Kientzy și saxofon (1986), Dialogi – nicht nur ein Bilderbuch für Christian Morgenstern (1989), Fra Angelico - Chagall – Voroneț, Requiem (1990), Sym-phonia for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble on poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1996), and Song of Ruth (1997).

Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005), conductor and violinist.

Born in Bucharest, Romania. He studied at the Bucharest Music Academy. His first appearance as a conductor took place in 1948. He worked with the Romanian State Ensemble, and the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. In 1959 he settled in Israel and conducted the Haifa Symphony Orchestra and Israel Chamber Orchestra. Later he moved to the United States and conducted the Ulster and Baltimore Opera Houses. He was the Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Spanish national broadcasting network orchestra in Madrid, he conductor of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music Symphony. He died in Oklahoma City. 

Julius Popper (1857–1893), engineer, adventurer and explorer, born in Bucharest, Romania. He started his education at his father's private school and at the age of 17 moved to Paris, France, where he attended the Politechnique and then the École des Ponts et Chaussées graduating as a mines engineer. He also attended various courses on chemistry, physics, meteorology, ethnography, geology and geography at Sorbonne.

He started his travels around the world in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey), from there he moved to Egypt where he worked for some time at the maintainance of the Suez Channel. He continued to India, China, and Japan, and from there he returned to Romania to visit his family in 1881, never to come back. He restarted his travels first to Siberia, Russia, and then to Alaska, Canada, and the USA, where he stayed for sometime in New Orleans, LA. Popper then moved to Cuba, at the time a Spanish colony, where he contributed to the urban planning of the city of Havana being the main responsible for its modern development. From Cuba Popper traveled to Mexico, where he started a journalistic career, then to Brazil, and finally in 1885 he arrived in Argentina following rumors of gold rush.

In Argentina he organized the "Popper Expedition" in 1886. Leading a team of eighteen people, Popper discovered gold dust on the beach of El Páramo, a Patagonian peninsula. He lead his team much as a private army and step by step, following the discovery of significant amounts of gold, his company Compania de Lavaderos de Oro del Sud succeeded in making large capital gains at the Argentine stock exchange. Popper started issuing his own coins and stamps and when the Argentinian currency lost its much of its value in the crash of 1890, his gold coins were widely accepted as trusted alternative currency.

Popper's activities in Tierra del Fuego have been quite controversial with accusations of involvement into the exploitation and even mass murder of the local native population. However, he received the support of the Argentinian government who was interested in the development of province of Tierra del Fuego, and Popper even started the preparations for an expedition to enforce the Argentine claim for parts of Antarctica.

Popper died in Buenos Aires in unclear circumstances: he was found dead in his room, some rumors suggested that he was assassinated, others that he committed suicide or died of a heart attack.

Mîndru Katz (born Mandy Katz) (1925-1978), pianist, born in Bucharest, Romania. While still a child, his talent was recognized by many leading musicians, among them by the Romanian composer George Enescu. He studied in Bucharest with the same teacher as Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) and Radu Lupu (1945-2022). He continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest graduating in 1947. He immediately started a successful career as pianist performing with Bucharest Symphonic Orchestra and other Romanian orchestras until his immigration to Israel in 1959. In Israel he developed a career of both a pianist and a music teacher.  Katz was one of the jury members of the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition held in Tel Aviv in 1974. During his career Katz performed in some 40 countries with the most prestigious orchestras, including Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Orchestra, and Symphony Orchestra in Cape Town. Katz died on stage while playing Beethoven’s Sonata 17 “The Tempest” in a recital in Istanbul, Turkey.

Iosif Iser (1881-1958), painter and graphic artist, born in Bucharest, Romania. He studied in Munich, Germany, and Paris, France. Iser, who harbored Socialist opinions, worked for the socialist publications Facla and Adevărul where he published numerous caricatures, of them many satirizing the Romanian monarchy.

His early style was strongly influenced by the expressionist movement, but he later created his own artistic language. His travels to Spain and then the discovery of the landscape and people of the south-eastern region of Dobruja (Dobrogea) were decisive for adopting exotic themes. Iser painted many portraits of the Tartar inhabitants of Dobruja; this series were followed by works that dealt with the life of harlequins and circus artists. Following the instauration of the Communist regime in Romania, Iser returned to his socialist inspired themes painting especially portraits of working people. Iser was elected a full member of the Romanian Academy in 1955.

Eugen Taru (born Eugeniu Starck) (1913-1991), graphic artist, best known for his cartoons, comics and book illustrations, born in Craiova, Romania. He studied at the Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, graduating in 1936. He began his artistic career in 1930 with drawings, caricatures, and portraits published in a number of periodicals. After the establishment of the Communist regime in Romania, he worked for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Scanteia, Romania libera, Scanteia tineretului, and particularly for the he satire and humor magazine Urzica, as well as for several children’s magazines. He participated in all annual Romanian state exhibitions, and after 1968 in the Humor Salons. In addition, his works were displayed at major international illustrated book fairs in Moscow, Leipzig, Bratislava, and Bologna as well as at numerous cartoon fairs in Bordighera, Tolentino, Gabrovo, Akșehir, Skopje, Moscow, Marostice, Montreal, and Athens. He was awarded the Gold Medal at Tolentino in 1969, 1971, and 1977, the Special Award of the magazine Krokodil of Moscow in 1973, and the First Prize in Tolentino in 1979. His important collection of art, known as Colectia Josefina and Eugen Taru, including paintings by leading Romanian artists (Ion Andreescu, Nicolae Tonitza, Theodor Pallady, Stefan Luchian, Iosef Iser, Alexandru Ciucurencu, Francisc Sirato, Dumitru Ghiata) as well as Chinese and Japanese porcelain and 18th century French furniture, was donated to the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest.

Rabbi and scholar

Born in Bucharest, he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau and the University of Leipzig. From 1881 he was lecturer at the University of Bucharest until 1885 when he was expelled on account of his protests at the persecution of Jews. He then settled in England where he taught at Oxford University until 1887 when he was chosen as Haham (chief rabbi) of the London Sephardi community, serving until his retirement in 1917. An authority on Romanian philology, literature and folklore as well as in many branches of Jewish knowledge , he wrote numerous studies in all these fields. A leader of Hovevei Zion in his native Romania, he joined the political Zionist movement at its outset. In 1898 Gaster was one of the founders of the English Zionist Federation and during World War I took a leading role in talks with British statesmen that culminated in the Balfour Declaration.
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The Jewish Community of Bucharest
Bucharest

Romanian: Bucuresti

Capital of Romania

The historic Jewish district of Bucharest used to be centered around the Choral Temple, and spread from Piata Unirii east towards Dristor. However, most of the Jewish buildings that stood there were destroyed during the 1980s in order to make way for the Bulevardul Unirii. As of 2015, there remain a handful of points of Jewish interest in Bucharest, serving the community of approximately 3,500. The Choral Temple, the Yeshua Tova Synagogue, and the Great Polish Synagogue, continue to hold services; the latter also hosts the city's Holocaust Museum. The Beit Hamidrash Synagogue, which dates back to the late 18th century, is abandoned and decaying, though the structure itself is still (barely) standing. Another abandoned synagogue whose building still stands is the Hevra Amuna (Temple of Faith).

The Jewish History Museum (Muzeul de Istorie a Evreilor din Romania) is located in what was once a synagogue called the Holy Union Temple. The synagogue building itself was constructed in 1836; it began serving as a Jewish history museum in 1978. Mozes Rosen, the chief rabbi of Romania from 1964 until his death in 1994, founded the museum and provided a number of items for its collection.

The State Jewish Theater, which is located in Bucharest, is the oldest uninterrupted Yiddish-language theater in the world. The theater features plays by Jewish playwrights, plays about Jewish topics, and Yiddish plays that run simultaneous Romanian translations through headphones. The theater is located next to the Lauder-Reut Jewish school, which has over 400 students enrolled in its kindergarten, elementary, and middle schools.

HISTORY

The Jewish community of Bucharest was formed both by Sephardic Jews who arrived from the south, chiefly from the Otooman Empire, and later by Ashkenazi Jews arriving from the north. A responsum by the rabbi of Solonika during the 16th century that mentions a Sephardic community is the first documented evidence confirming the presence of Jews in Budapest. The Jewish community began to grow and prosper; some were even the creditors of the ruling princes. This economic success, however, eventually came at a steep price (pun intended); when Prince Michael the Brave revolved against the Turks in November 1593, he ordered that his creditors be killed, among whom were a number of Jews.

Ahskenazi Jews began arriving and establishing their own community towards the middle of the 17th century, drawn there after fleeing the Khmielnitski Massacres taking place in Ukraine. Their numbers grew, and eventually the Ashkenazi community became larger than the Sephardic community. For tax purposes, the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities were organized into a single community by the state, and were forced to pay a fixed tax to the treasury. Meanwhile, the general population, afraid of economic competition, was intensely hostile towards the Jews. In 1793 residents of the suburb Razvan petitioned Prince Alexander Moruzi to expel the Jews who had recently settled in the area and to demolish the synagogue that they had built. Though the prince ordered that the synagogue be closed, he did not remove the Jews from Razvan and, in fact, issued a decree confirming his protection of them. In 1801 there were anti-Jewish riots following blood libel accusations, and 128 Jews were killed or wounded.

In 1819 Prince Alexandru Sutu officially acknowledged both the Sephardic ("Spanish") and Ashkenazi ("Polish") communities, allowing them to operate as separate entities. This continued until 1949 when the Communist regime once again forced the two communities to join together. By 1832 there were 10 Ashkenazi and one Sephardi synagogues in Bucharest. The Great Synagogue, which was Ashkenazi, was dedicated on Rosh Hashanah, 1847.

In spite of the impressive Great Synagogue, the Ashkenazi community of Bucharest had to deal with a number of fissures and tensions during the 19th century. There were tensions between those were born in Romania, and those who immigrated to Bucharest, who were not under the same system of taxation as the native Romanians. This led the immigrants within the Jewish community, who were considered "foreign subjects" to refuse to pay the tax levied on kosher meat. This was a problem, as this tax constituted the sole income of the community council. The authorities, who were drawn into the conflict, at first upheld the traditional rights of the Jewish communal organization. However, following repeated complaints from both sides, as well as constitutional changes that took place in Romania in 1832, the community was given a new constitution that greatly curtailed its autonomy. Instead of operating autonomously, it fell under the direct authority and close supervision of the municipality. Eventually, in 1851, the Prussian and Austrian subjects (about 300 families) were officially permitted to found a separate community.

The increasing influence of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), also led to tensions within the Ashkenazi community. It is important to note that this conflict also reflected the economics of the community; those in favor of the Haskalah and who wanted the community to undertake more progressive reforms tended to be from the upper classes, while those who were more traditional tended to be further down the socioeconomic ladder. At that time, the Bucharest Ashkenazi community was torn by strife between the Orthodox and progressive factions. The controversy began to center around a school with a modern curriculum that opened in 1852, as well as the proposal in 1857, led by Ya'akov Lobel, to build a Choral Temple, that would incorporate modern ideas and principles into its services. The appointment of Rabbi Meir Leib Malbim in 1858 as the chief rabbi did not help quell the disputes. Malbim was a fierce and uncompromising opponent of the Reform movement, and he quickly made enemies among Bucharest's Jewish elite. The conflicts between Malbim and those who were in favor of the Reform Movement came to a head in 1862, when Malbim was arrested. He was freed only after Sir Moses Montefiore intervened, and on the condition that he leave Romania. The Choral Synagogue was completed in 1867, and became the center for the modernists of the community.

Among the most prominent spiritual and religious leaders of the community before World War I were Antoine Levy and Moritz (Meir) Beck, who were rabbis of the Choir Temple Congregation from 1867 to 1869 and 1873 to 1923, respectively. Other outstanding figures within the Choir Temple community were Iuliu Barasch and Yitzchak Leib Weinberg. Yitzchak Esiik Taubes was the rabbi of the Orthodox Congregation from 1894 until 1921. The most prominent lay leader was Adolf Stern. Moscu Asher led the Sephardic community, and Rabbi Hayim Bejarano was a noted scholar and poet. Later, the lawyer and politician Wilhelm Filderman would become the president of the Union of Romanian Jews, and Rabbi Jacob Isaac Niemirower would be the country's first chief rabbi. Filderman, in fact, would in 1941 work successfully to annul the decree forcing Jews to wear an identifying badge.

Between the two World Wars the Bucharest community grew in both numbers and importance. The Jewish population of the city, which had become the capital of Greater Romania and attracted immigrants from all parts of the country, increased from 44,000 in 1912 to 74,480 (12% of the total population) in 1930 and 95,072 in 1940. Most Jews worked as artisans, merchants, clerks, and bankers. Others were active in professions such as medicine and law. Several ironworks and foundries were established by the end of the 19th century. Major Jewish business leaders at that time included Leon Abramovici, Sigmund Prager, and Adolph Solomon.

There were a number of Jewish schools in Bucharest, particularly at the turn of the 20th century. Among the most influential was the abovementioned school established in 1852 by Yisrael Pick and Naftali Popper. These founders sought to imbue their school with the Haskalah principles that they believed in, and the school became extremely influential on Jewish education in Romania. There were also vocational institutions serving Jewish workers, including the Ciocanul (Hammer) school which trained Jewish craft workers.

Communal institutions included over 40 synagogues, two cemeteries, 19 schools, a library and museum, two hospitals, a clinic, two homes for the elderly, and two orphanages. There was also a B'nai B'rith, as long as a number of social and cultural organizations serving the community. A number of newspapers also served the community; the first Jewish newspaper, "Israelitul roman," was founded in 1855 and written in Romanian and French. Other publications included "Fraternitatea," "Revista Israelita," "Egalitatea," and "Curierul Israelit." Yiddish and Hebrew language publications included "Et LeDaber," "HaYoetz," and the Zionist newspapers "Mantuirea" and "Hasmonaea." A Yiddish theater was established in the late 1870s, and reached its peak during the interwar period. This theater would later be banned under Ion Antonescu.

Anti-Semitism continued to be a problem for the Jews of Bucharest. In 1866 the visit of Adolph Cremieux, a French lawyer who advocated for the political emancipation of the Jews, resulted in Jewish synagogues and shops being vandalized. The rise of prominence of nationalist leader Alexandru C. Cuza spurred the development of a number of anti-Semitic organizations, many of which were centered at Bucharest University.

In September 1940, with the rise of the Antonescu-Iron Guard coalition, Bucharest became one of the new regime's main centers of the anti-Jewish activities. This culminated in a pogrom during the rebellion of the Legionary Movement; 120 Jews were killed, thousands were arrested and tortured, synagogues were desecrated, and Jewish homes, shops, and community buildings were looted and destroyed.

Until the end of the Antonescu regime in August 1944, the Jews of Bucharest were subjected anti-Semitic legislation and persecution. Jews were legally downgraded to second-class citizens. They could no longer access state-funded education or health care, and their property was confiscated. These restrictions had major economic effects on the community: in 1942 only 27.2% of the city's Jewish population of about 100,000 were registered as employed, compared with 54.3% of the non-Jewish population. In September 1942 several hundred Jews were deported to Transnistria, where many eventually perished. Thousands of other Jews, particularly the young, were required to work as forced laborers.

The lack of access to education, combined with the growing poverty of the Jewish community, spurred the need for the community to greatly expand their own educational and social welfare activities. In 1943 the Jewish community ran 27 schools and 21 soup kitchens. Bucharest became the center of relief activities for Romanian Jews.

The Jews of Bucharest were saved after Antonescu was deposed on August 23, 1944 and German forces were not able to entering the city. Though Adolf Eichmann had begun making preparations to deport Romania's Jews, the fierce opposition on the part of the Romanian army, coupled with the entry of the Soviet Army on August 30, 1944, prevented any of these plans from being carried out.

After World War II, large numbers of Jewish refugees and concentration camp survivors began arriving in the city; by 1947 the Jewish population had grown to 150,000. The Communist regime, which came to power in 1947, gradually closed all Jewish national, cultural, and social institutions in Bucharest. The welfare institutions were nationalized and the schools were absorbed into the general educational network. A state Yiddish school was opened in 1949, but closed a few years later. A State Yiddish Theater was founded in 1948 and a Yiddish drama school was established in 1957. Two Jewish newspapers, the Romanian "Unirea," followed later by "Viata Novua" and the Yiddish "Ikuf Bleter" were published. Of the 44,202 Jews (3.6% of the total population) registered in the city in the 1956 census, 4,425 of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. In spite of the difficulties in living under a Communist regime, Rabbi Mozes Rosen was able to successfully navigate the opaque policies of the Romanian government, allowing Bucharest to continue to serve as the center of Jewish communal and cultural life.

The rise of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was the dictator of Romania between 1965 and 1989, prompted mass emigrations to Israel. In 1969 it was estimated that there were 50,000 Jews living in Bucharest; by the turn of the 21st century there were only about 4,000.
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Radu Rafael Dragan

Rafael Radu Dragan (1909-1986), composer, pianist and teacher, born in Bucharest, Romania. He immigrated to Israel and during the 1950s he was the founder of the music conservatorium in Nahariya. He was a piano and voice training teacher. The Israeli composer, musician, singer, arranger, and lyricist Matti Caspi is one of his students. Dragan appeared on stage as an accompanying pianist of vocal music recitals. He died in Tel Aviv. 

Filderman, Wilhelm
Filderman, Wilhelm (1882–1963), leader of the Romanian Jews, born in Bucharest, Romania. Filderman studied law in Paris, France. He returned to Romania and after teaching for two years at the Jewish high school in Bucharest, started his law practice in 1912. In 1913 he was elected to the central committee of the Union of Romanian Jews. During World War I Filderman was an officer in the Romanian army. At the Versailles Peace Conference he was chosen to be a member of the Comité des Délégations Juives. He demanded the total emancipation of the Jews and the inclusion of this principle in the peace treaty with Romania.

In 1920 Filderman became the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Romania and in 1923 was elected president of the Union of Romanian Jews. Between the two world wars, he fought antisemitism, and worked for the effective realization of full citizenship for the Jews. He published a number of books against antisemitism. He was opposed to a separate Jewish party. In 1927 Filderman was elected a member of the Romanian parliament on the Liberal Party list. From 1931 to 1933 he was the president of the Jewish Community of Bucharest, and in the same period he became president of the Federation of Jewish Communities. When the enlarged Jewish Agency was constituted in 1929, he was elected as a non-Zionist delegate to its founding congress in Zurich.

After 1940, when the anti-Semitic fascist symparthiser Ion Antonescu took over the leadership of the country, Filderman intervened with him as a representative of the Federation, several times obtaining the revocation of serious measures, such as the wearing of the yellow badge, the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps in Poland, etc. At the beginning of 1942, when the Federation of Communities was dissolved, Filderman continued to write to authorities to denounce the racial measures. He was a member of the underground Jewish Council, formed of representatives of the principal Jewish trends. When he expressed his opposition to the special tax of four billion lei imposed on the Jews he was sent to Transnistria (March 1943), returning after three months through the intervention of the papal nuncio and the Swiss and Swedish ambassadors. Back in Bucharest, he immediately reported to the Romanian government on the terrible situation of the deportees in Transnistria and asked for their return, which was obtained at the end of the same year.

After the war, he again became president of the Federation of Communities and of the Union of Romanian Jews and representative of the JDC. He was however persecuted by the Communists, In 1948 he secretly left Romania and settled in Paris.
Liviu Rotman

Liviu Rotman (b. 1947), researcher of the history of the Jews of Romania, born in Bucharest, Romania. He graduated from the Mihai Viteazul High School and then attended the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest earning a PhD. He immigrated to Israel in 1985. Between 1990 - 2003 he worked as a researcher and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, especially within the framework of the Romanian Jewish History Center Goldstein-Goren, a department of the Diaspora Research Institute of the University.  Rotman is an associate professor at the University of Bucharest and member of the Academic Council of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Bucharest. Rotman edited a five-volume series on the history of Romanian Jewry. His works include Şcoala israelito-română: Învăţămantul evreiesc modern din România (“Education as a mirror of society: Jewish-Romanian school, 1851-1914”, 1999), Memory of the Holocaust in Communist Romania: from Minimization to Oblivion (2003); Evreii din România în perioada comunistă 1944-1965 ("Jews in Romania during the Communist regime", 2004); The Kehillah in Romania: The Pulse, Character and History of the Jewish Community of Romania (2015).

Myriam Marbe

Myriam Marbé (1931-1997), composer of avant-garde music, pianist, and musicologist, born in Bucharest, Romania, the daughter of Max Marbe, a medical researcher, and of Angela Marbe, a piano teacher. She began her musical studies with her mother followed by studies at the Conservatory of Music of Bucharest from 1944 to 1954 under the guidance of Mihail Jora, a leading Romanian composer. She served as a film director at Casa de filme in Bucharest from 1953 to 1965 and a lecturer at the Conservatory of Music of Bucharest from 1954 to 1988. She participated three times at Darmstädter Ferienkursen in Darmstadt, Germany, during 1968-1972, and at the Festival of Contemporary Music in Royan, France, in 1971. Marbe was granted a working grant by the city of Mannheim during 1989-1990. Marbe composed over fifty pieces of music in a variety of genres - music for ballet, chamber music, liturgical music, symphonic compositions, vocal music, opera and lyrical music – including Nunta Zamfirei (1954), In Memoriam (1959), Le Temps Inévitable (1968-1971),  Serenata – Eine kleine Sonnenmusik (1974), Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1977), Souvenir d'un paysage inconnu (1979), Concertul pentru Daniel Kientzy și saxofon (1986), Dialogi – nicht nur ein Bilderbuch für Christian Morgenstern (1989), Fra Angelico - Chagall – Voroneț, Requiem (1990), Sym-phonia for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble on poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1996), and Song of Ruth (1997).

Sergiu Comissiona

Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005), conductor and violinist.

Born in Bucharest, Romania. He studied at the Bucharest Music Academy. His first appearance as a conductor took place in 1948. He worked with the Romanian State Ensemble, and the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. In 1959 he settled in Israel and conducted the Haifa Symphony Orchestra and Israel Chamber Orchestra. Later he moved to the United States and conducted the Ulster and Baltimore Opera Houses. He was the Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Spanish national broadcasting network orchestra in Madrid, he conductor of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music Symphony. He died in Oklahoma City. 

Julius Popper

Julius Popper (1857–1893), engineer, adventurer and explorer, born in Bucharest, Romania. He started his education at his father's private school and at the age of 17 moved to Paris, France, where he attended the Politechnique and then the École des Ponts et Chaussées graduating as a mines engineer. He also attended various courses on chemistry, physics, meteorology, ethnography, geology and geography at Sorbonne.

He started his travels around the world in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey), from there he moved to Egypt where he worked for some time at the maintainance of the Suez Channel. He continued to India, China, and Japan, and from there he returned to Romania to visit his family in 1881, never to come back. He restarted his travels first to Siberia, Russia, and then to Alaska, Canada, and the USA, where he stayed for sometime in New Orleans, LA. Popper then moved to Cuba, at the time a Spanish colony, where he contributed to the urban planning of the city of Havana being the main responsible for its modern development. From Cuba Popper traveled to Mexico, where he started a journalistic career, then to Brazil, and finally in 1885 he arrived in Argentina following rumors of gold rush.

In Argentina he organized the "Popper Expedition" in 1886. Leading a team of eighteen people, Popper discovered gold dust on the beach of El Páramo, a Patagonian peninsula. He lead his team much as a private army and step by step, following the discovery of significant amounts of gold, his company Compania de Lavaderos de Oro del Sud succeeded in making large capital gains at the Argentine stock exchange. Popper started issuing his own coins and stamps and when the Argentinian currency lost its much of its value in the crash of 1890, his gold coins were widely accepted as trusted alternative currency.

Popper's activities in Tierra del Fuego have been quite controversial with accusations of involvement into the exploitation and even mass murder of the local native population. However, he received the support of the Argentinian government who was interested in the development of province of Tierra del Fuego, and Popper even started the preparations for an expedition to enforce the Argentine claim for parts of Antarctica.

Popper died in Buenos Aires in unclear circumstances: he was found dead in his room, some rumors suggested that he was assassinated, others that he committed suicide or died of a heart attack.

Mindru Katz

Mîndru Katz (born Mandy Katz) (1925-1978), pianist, born in Bucharest, Romania. While still a child, his talent was recognized by many leading musicians, among them by the Romanian composer George Enescu. He studied in Bucharest with the same teacher as Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) and Radu Lupu (1945-2022). He continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest graduating in 1947. He immediately started a successful career as pianist performing with Bucharest Symphonic Orchestra and other Romanian orchestras until his immigration to Israel in 1959. In Israel he developed a career of both a pianist and a music teacher.  Katz was one of the jury members of the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition held in Tel Aviv in 1974. During his career Katz performed in some 40 countries with the most prestigious orchestras, including Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Orchestra, and Symphony Orchestra in Cape Town. Katz died on stage while playing Beethoven’s Sonata 17 “The Tempest” in a recital in Istanbul, Turkey.

Iosif Iser

Iosif Iser (1881-1958), painter and graphic artist, born in Bucharest, Romania. He studied in Munich, Germany, and Paris, France. Iser, who harbored Socialist opinions, worked for the socialist publications Facla and Adevărul where he published numerous caricatures, of them many satirizing the Romanian monarchy.

His early style was strongly influenced by the expressionist movement, but he later created his own artistic language. His travels to Spain and then the discovery of the landscape and people of the south-eastern region of Dobruja (Dobrogea) were decisive for adopting exotic themes. Iser painted many portraits of the Tartar inhabitants of Dobruja; this series were followed by works that dealt with the life of harlequins and circus artists. Following the instauration of the Communist regime in Romania, Iser returned to his socialist inspired themes painting especially portraits of working people. Iser was elected a full member of the Romanian Academy in 1955.

Eugen Taru

Eugen Taru (born Eugeniu Starck) (1913-1991), graphic artist, best known for his cartoons, comics and book illustrations, born in Craiova, Romania. He studied at the Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, graduating in 1936. He began his artistic career in 1930 with drawings, caricatures, and portraits published in a number of periodicals. After the establishment of the Communist regime in Romania, he worked for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Scanteia, Romania libera, Scanteia tineretului, and particularly for the he satire and humor magazine Urzica, as well as for several children’s magazines. He participated in all annual Romanian state exhibitions, and after 1968 in the Humor Salons. In addition, his works were displayed at major international illustrated book fairs in Moscow, Leipzig, Bratislava, and Bologna as well as at numerous cartoon fairs in Bordighera, Tolentino, Gabrovo, Akșehir, Skopje, Moscow, Marostice, Montreal, and Athens. He was awarded the Gold Medal at Tolentino in 1969, 1971, and 1977, the Special Award of the magazine Krokodil of Moscow in 1973, and the First Prize in Tolentino in 1979. His important collection of art, known as Colectia Josefina and Eugen Taru, including paintings by leading Romanian artists (Ion Andreescu, Nicolae Tonitza, Theodor Pallady, Stefan Luchian, Iosef Iser, Alexandru Ciucurencu, Francisc Sirato, Dumitru Ghiata) as well as Chinese and Japanese porcelain and 18th century French furniture, was donated to the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest.

Gaster, Moses
Rabbi and scholar

Born in Bucharest, he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau and the University of Leipzig. From 1881 he was lecturer at the University of Bucharest until 1885 when he was expelled on account of his protests at the persecution of Jews. He then settled in England where he taught at Oxford University until 1887 when he was chosen as Haham (chief rabbi) of the London Sephardi community, serving until his retirement in 1917. An authority on Romanian philology, literature and folklore as well as in many branches of Jewish knowledge , he wrote numerous studies in all these fields. A leader of Hovevei Zion in his native Romania, he joined the political Zionist movement at its outset. In 1898 Gaster was one of the founders of the English Zionist Federation and during World War I took a leading role in talks with British statesmen that culminated in the Balfour Declaration.