Three centuries in three days
Three centuries in three days
The Jewish Community of Arad celebrated three centuries of existence through a series of social and cultural manifestations.
Generation after generation, the Jews lived and built in Arad, trying each one in its own way to create a better world not only for themselves and their families but also for the community, the city and the country they lived in. Whether they were simple peasants, craftsmen, doctors, engineers, architects, rabbis, teachers, or labourers, everybody did their job with love and dedication, as they were taught at home or in the synagogue.
“To be a head, not a tail!” To teach, to have a job, to work with passion, to make Tikkun Olam (to repair the world) being the marks by which the Jewish community managed to leave its print both in Arad’s society and its economy, culture and architecture for three hundred years.
To celebrate properly, the Arad Jewish Community, led by Ionel Schlesinger, organized cultural and social events and even promoted the city of Mures under the name of ARAD 300.
Through a difficult work, which lasted for more than a year, he managed to gather many of those who stood for decades on remote shores, to delight the inhabitants of Arad and the guests with a series of happenings dedicated to the event and to show everyone that Arad deserves to be visited.
The event has been long prepared to fully promote the cultural, economic and touristic values of Arad. Each participant received a map in which he had the three-day program, a book that talks about Aaron Chorin, the great reforming rabbi of our city, the Arad map and many popularizing materials of our county, such as the Green arrow – the first electric train in Romania – and the Road of the Wine.
In order to organize the event, the Community received financial support from the City Hall, County Council, JDC and FCER.
The opening of the events took place in the festive hall (“Ferdinand”) of the Arad City Hall. The presenter was the acclaimed actor Zoltan Lovas.
For participants who did not know the language of the country, simultaneous translation was provided, being interpreted by university professor Adriana Vizental.
The event took place in an atmosphere typical of the area where we live, with the participation of both representatives of the denominations and ethnic minorities of Arad.
Among those present, we remind the Archbishop Timothy Seviciu, archbishop of Arad, preachers, representatives of all religious denominations in Arad, His Excellency Tamar Samash, Ambassador of the State of Israel, Cătălin Bibarţ and Bognar Levente, Deputy Mayors of Arad, Iustin Cionca , President of the Arad County Council, Florentina Horgea, Prefect of Arad, Aurel Ardelean, President of “Vasile Goldiş” University of Arad, Codruţa Stoica, Vice-Rector of Aurel Vlaicu University, Israel Sabag, Director for Romania of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Aurel Vainer, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, along with other leading representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, presidents of communities in Slovakia, Hungary and the country, and last but not least, former residents of Arad from all the corners of the world. To all of them, Ionel Schlesinger, president of the Jewish Community of Arad, said special thanks.
In the “Argument” presented at the opening, the President of the Community recalled that the last meeting of the emigrants had taken place in Israel in 2001, when it was concluded that given the advanced age of the participants, other such meetings would no longer be organized. And yet, as one of the many miracles in the lives of the Jewish people, now, after 16 years, at our call, nearly 70 people came from those who then were already too old.
Speaking about emigrants, the president pointed out that most of them left only with a few things, without luggage, without saying goodbye. Some were still children; others fled the communist regime seeking freedom and a better life. Everyone has a story to tell. Some people remember their childhood, the beautiful times, when they were hanging out without the parents knowing, others by the hardships suffered during the Second World War or during the communist regime.
But one thing they have in common, one that binds them as a bridge over time and space. It is a longing for home, for their birthplace, the streets where they grew up, the buildings in which they hid, and the friends they had. It is the longing for a synagogue which received them overcrowded at every great feast and waited for them to forget, even for a fraction of time, about the tumult of life and enjoy the people around them, the community.
Stories intertwine, they complement.
“If after the war there were over 12,000 Jews in Arad, following the traumas suffered during the time of persecution and the failure to adapt to the rigors of the communist regime, with the creation of the state of Israel, the vast majority emigrated. It was not easy. I remember my friends when they left. Many have gone crying, “says Ionel Schlesinger, the community’s president and the soul of the event.
He also tells how, the artist Marta Indig-Leopold left crying, wearing a bag of Arad earth and reciting a poem by Eminescu. After many years, when she was a consecrated painter, many times awarded in Paris, she painted, among others, a painting of the great poet, exhibited at the Romanian Embassy in Paris. She also painted paintings with Arad, some from photographs, others from her memories.
The president also mentioned the participation of non-Arad personalities such as renowned researcher John McGregor, who only at an advanced age learned he was a Jew with his mother originally from Arad and when visiting Arad to seek his roots he felt in love with our city. Or, the famous conductor Robert Max. Although our celebration took place during the George Enescu Festival in Bucharest, where he was invited to lead, he also attended the event in Arad. Similar feelings are shown by both Peter Fritz, the descendant of one of the first two Jews who settled in Arad, and Charles de Végvár, the successor of Baron Neuman, who were also in the hall.
After the presentation of this “Argument”, the projection of “The Jews of Arad, 300 years” documentary film followed in an absolute premiere – a film then distributed to the participants in DVD format.
At the end of this first part of the program, the President spoke about the current work of the Community in a projection-based presentation. He talked about the life of worship, social assistance, the elderly home, the cultural and educational activities, the economic activities, the exceptional relations with the other religious cults in the city and with the administrative bodies, the universities, the school system, the cultural institutions. Recognizing that there is a possibility that in a not too distant future some Jewish communities in Romania may cease to exist, the president ended in an optimistic note stating that the existence of the state of Israel shows that the people of Israel live and live.
This was followed by a dinner offered by the Jewish Community at the Continental Hotel, where those present have renewed old friendships with people they have not seen for decades.
The Road of the Wine
On the second day, the program started with a thematic tour. An impressive convoy of two buses, a minibus and four cars headed for Arad’s vineyard on a route called “The Road of the Wine “.
The first stop was in Șiria commune, at the Jewish cemetery, cared for by the Town Hall of the commune. The visitors were welcomed by the officials from this locality, represented by Valentin Bot, the commune’s mayor and Professor Marcel Priescu, counsellor.
After speeches that came from the heart, praising the contribution of the former Jewish community to the development of the commune, the participants enjoyed the mini-concert of Jewish and Romanian music held by the town’s fanfare band, after which they lifted up prayers for the rest of those who left this life from that cemetery, saying Kadish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.
Given that there are no Jews in Șiria commune, the commitment of Șiria’s inhabitants to clean and maintain the Jewish cemetery deserves all respect. Kol ha kavod!
All the participants wanted to visit the cemetery maintained with so much dedication by the inhabitants of Siria and to talk to them, to find stories about the Jews who once were the prominent people of the locality who brought wealth to the locality, created jobs and have actively participated in its life. Both Valentin Bot and Marcel Priescu gladly answered all the questions, conversations making the buses to wait. The two have repeatedly expressed the regret that the locality no longer has Jews because, in their opinion, Jews are very enterprising and bring social and material progress to the community they live in. At the same time, they launched an invitation for those who want to return to the country, to establish themselves and invest in Șiria.
The road continued towards Căsoaia touristic resort, where visitors were greeted with bread and salt, courtesy of a group of children dressed in popular costumes. Florin Farcașiu, the mayor of Târnova commune, presented the entire tourist area, making an imaginary tour of the commune and an ad hoc one of the touristic complex, which the former inhabitants of Arad remembered since their youth. Very well prepared, besides telling about the community and answering the questions, the mayor of the commune distributed a series of leaflets to promote the area he manages.
A particularly interesting stop was in Ghioroc, at the Museum of the first electric train in the country “Green Arrow”, where tourists enjoyed going up in the famous reconditioned wagons. Here they learned about their history, itinerary and their refurbishment.
The trip included two of the famous wineries of the established viticulturist Eng. Balla Geza from Păuliş, where a presentation of the wine production process took place, followed by a well-deserved meal and an intense wine tasting.
In concert with Maia Morgenstern
After a day of travel, both tourists and many people from Arad participated in a Klezmer music concert at the “Ioan Slavici” Classical Theatre in Arad. The novelty consisted of a combination of music and acting, dancing and playing, of making jokes in which the whole hall actually took part.
It is not surprising that Bucharest Klezmer Band, meaning Bogdan Lifşin (piano, accordion), Rodica Doija (violin), Sergiu Marin (violoncello), Sorin Dobrota (clarinet), Cristian Dragomir (percussion), Carmen Iovitu (vocal) and Arabela Neazi (vocal) along with Maia Morgenstern raised the viewers. The evening’s surprise was “Ionel Ionelule”, dedicated the Jewish Community’s president Ionel Schlesinger who, together with Silvian Horn the band’s manager, was invited on stage to sing.
The audience listened and sang along with the artists to the well-known pieces of Jewish folklore as well as songs almost forgotten but carefully picked, repeated and preserved by those in the Bucharest Klezmer Band.
“There are many songs in Idish language, in Ivrit language. There are many songs that if we do not teach and study them, and we won’t sing them better or worse and perfect them and we will not know them to convey to the coming generation and we will not know how to teach them to our children and those who come, and to our neighbours, if we do not know how to teach them to love these songs, to understand them, to enjoy them, and to sing and send them in their turn we risk to lose them. „says visibly excited Maia Morgenstern. This is why, says the artist, the Bucharest Klezmer Band learns a song every day.
The third day started with an itinerary through our beautiful city, to admire Arad’s wonderful buildings, but also to discover the changes made in the small Vienna on the Mureş. Thus, the participants saw the industrial and commercial development of the city. From shopping centres, industrial sites, and the Reconciliation Park, visitors found that the old Arad did not stand still.
The old Jewish, neolog rite, cemetery, was a special point on the route map, being the first and the most important stop.
Besides the beauty of the funerary monuments, the visitors admired how well maintained this place is.
But things have not always been so. As I mentioned, World War II and the Communist period have determined many Jews to emigrate in the search for freedom and a better living. As a result, the Jewish community has diminished so much that today it is just a shadow of what it once was.
It is understandable that such a small community, with the majority of the members in their old age, has made colossal efforts, over the years, to care for the old cemetery.
Recently, a substantial help came from some old families from Arad, who emigrated all over the world. These are the descendants of Isaac Elias, the first Jew who was allowed to settle in Arad, and especially by Peter Fritz, who lives in Australia. But there is still a lot of work and any help is welcome.
As the memory of the missing and the history of the family are landmarks in the life of every Jew, each participant started looking for an aunt, grandparent, or mother buried in the cemetery. According to the Jewish tradition, stones (because they last) were deposited on the graves visited, and from place to place you could hear a murmur of prayer or a sigh.
Another stop was made at Arad Central Station, or Big Station, where, besides the imposing building built after the plans of Arad’s architect Lajos Szantay, the visitors could also admire the modernization made without affecting the original building.
Then, we crossed the Vlaicu district, walked out of Arad’s road belt (in highway mode), stopped at the Reconciliation Square, crossed the area of the old Jewish district, then, passing through the Ceala forest, the sunny day gave the perfect opportunity for a lunch on the shores of Mureș, on the terrace of the beautiful “Zori de Zi” restaurant.
Return to the Neolog Synagogue
Festively, the Jewish gathering place, Beit Knesset – for the Arad community, the Neolog Synagogue – was full of lovers of synagogue music, including distinguished officials of Arad, high church faces, writers, journalists, physicians, artists.
The historic building hosted an extraordinary concert of the Viennese synagogue’s first cantor, Shmuel Barzilai, accompanied by the student choir of the Sabin Drăgoi high school.
After a long period, the synagogue was full again.
Hebrews, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Germans, enjoyed together the feast of a small but significant community for the city on the Mureș.
A community that during three centuries, has enriched the spiritual, cultural and economic life of Arad, wanted to enjoy this moment together with the city to which it belongs.
The Canto Shmuel Barzilai, as on other occasions (being already the fifth time in Arad), delighted the audience with a great program, his performance being accompanied and followed by rounds of applause.
At some songs he engaged the whole hall to sing next to him, forming even a chain of “dancers” with whom, in the applause of the hall, he made the tour of the synagogue. This last event of the three full-day programs ended in an atmosphere of hot communion of all those present.
The farewell to both the friends and the beautiful city of Mureș took place during a festive dinner at Continental Hotel.
The participants thanked the President of the Jewish Community of Arad and the team that helped to prepare and conduct the Arad 300 event, among which we mention Dana Kalman, Teodora Jurcă, Viorica Rusanda, Anca Ahălani, Virgil Olah, Nicoleta Iosub, Timea Kovacs, Adriana Vizental, Raoul Vizental and Margareta Szegö.
The former Arad inhabitants made hundreds of photos, wanting to remember, show and tell about Arad 300.
Together with many people from Arad, we too hope that this community, which has so greatly boosted the development of the city, will continue to exist and remain active as it did in these three centuries.