The Neolog Synagogue from Arad Turned 180
The last days of April 2014 will remain strongly embedded in the memory of not only the Jewish community of Arad, but of their friends, in the country or abroad, Jews and non-Jews alike. They all responded gladly to the invitation for attending at an event that marks, through its significance, an important moment of the city’s history. The 180 years of existence of the Neolog Synagogue shows that despite the vicissitudes experienced by the Jewish community here and in other parts, their endeavors were not in vain, them being recognized as a component of the multiethnic population of the city and acting as the engine of development of Arad in all areas. There is a “spirit of Arad”, manifested through numerous joint actions of Jews and Romanians and other ethnic groups living here, as well as friendship and cooperation with other confessions.
Pages from Arad’s history
On April the 29th, the dining room of Ritual Restaurant hosted two beautiful and interesting moments. After the president of the community, Eng. Ionel Schlesinger, highlighted the importance of the celebration for the local community, historian Dan Demşea presented his work “The contribution of Jewish population to the multilateral development of Arad”. The Jews who settled in Arad since the late eighteenth century, he pointed out, have become the driving engine of the city’s modernization, stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit, the competition in a positive way, developing the local industry, trading professions, modern agriculture, introducing new financial forms, and after obtaining their full emancipation in 1867, they’ve established the Chamber of Commerce, and later on the stock market, they were also architects, sculptors, booksellers, they’ve established the Theater, they’ve developed media and have raised remarkable buildings. Anyone who walks today the streets of Arad comes across the traces and memories of this history.
A touching moment of the first day of the events was the homage of Eeva Elisheva and Adalbert Huber-Huber, great friends of the Jewish community of Arad and other communities in the country, in Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union. Their humanitarian organization “Help and Hope” has raised donations for needy Jews, deepening the spiritual bonds with them, in such a way that Eeva, who was a Christian Protestant, has converted to Judaism. Their tragic death occurred while bringing aid to Romania. The Hubers also made efforts to present the Western world the history and culture of the Jew community of our country, the necessity of preserving their values despite the yearly decrease in the number of our community.
The documentary movie of the two “They, the synagogues must remain”, was presented after the homage presented by Ms. Noemi Reckerth. The Huber family’s children attended at this event along ten members of the Foundation based in Vienna.
The Synagogue sang in unison
The Neolog Synagogue has proven to be to small for all the people who wanted to attend the second day of the manifestations of homage. The place of worship has presented itself in all its original magnificence, without showing any signs of its age. Among the guests were E.S. David Ben Eliezer, Ambassador of Israel in Romania, E.S. Raymundo Santos Rocha Magno, Ambassador of Brazil in Romania, Rabbi Avraham Ehrenfeld, IPS Timotei, Orthodox Archbishop of Arad, Dr. Aurel Vainer, deputy, president of FCER, Cosmin Pribac, Prefect of Arad, Nicolae Petru Ioţcu, President of Arad county council, Dr. Aurel Ardelean, President of “Vasile Goldiş” Western University of Arad, Prof. George Lengmann from Brazil, representatives of all regions, cultural personalities of Arad, presidents of Jewish communities of Braşov and Lugoj, members and friends of the Jewish community of Arad, guests from Israel and representatives of local and central mass-media. Special guests of the ceremonies were Shmuel Barzilai, first cantor of the Great Synagogue of Vienna and the Jewish Community choir of Timişoara.
The ceremonies were opened by Eng. Ionel Schlesinger who emphasized the importance of the event and the significance of the Synagogue in Jewish life. He invited Rabbi Ehrenfeld to bless the gathering and then he gave the floor to E.S. Dan Ben Eliezer. The ambassador of Israel expressed his satisfaction for being able to participate at the event and he drove attention to the importance of the synagogue in Jewish life. The Neolog Synagogue, he said, symbolizes the continuity of Jewish existence in this part of the country, despite the challenges and hardships it had to pass. In his speech, Dr. Aurel Vainer, President of FCER, welcomed the initiative of President Schlesinger to celebrate the anniversary of the Neolog Synagogue, which is not the only one in the Federation, here being enrolled the ones from Iaşi and Galaţi. Afterwards, the President of the Federation spoke about the the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Northern Transylvania to be held in 12 municipalities and he invited those present to participate in this commemoration.
Further, Eng. Ionel Schlesinger presented a brief history of the Neolog Synagogue, the difficulties experienced by the Jew community in raising this edifice, met with hostility by the citizens of Arad and emphasized the merit of Rabbi Aaron Chorin in this project. In this context it was presented by Prof. Peter Puskel the lecture “Aron Chorin, the reformed rabbi”. The speaker described the personality of Chorin who led the community of Arad for over 40 years, his innovative ideas, about modernizing the ritual, the attempts to adapt them to the requirements of his time, the hostile actions taken against him because of those ideas that eventually forced the rabbi to give them up. Unfortunately, said Prof. Puskel, his ideas did not have a profound echo among the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe.
Taking the floor again, Eng. Ionel Schlesinger spoke briefly about the situation of the Jewish community of Arad nowadays, he stressed the loyalty of the Jews to the land where they live and to Israel and that there isn’t any contradiction between the two concepts. He pointed out the need to a correct information about Israel and gave the floor to the Ambassador of Israel. In a broader lecture, he spoke about, on the one hand, the causes of failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the attitude of the Palestinian Authority which does not want to recognize that Israel is a Jew State, on the other hand, Israel as one of the first countries in the world regarding innovation and inventions, a fact determined by economic and strategic needs of the country.
“Icing on the cake”: concert of first cantor of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Smuel Barzilai.
It’s very hard to describe in words this last part of the anniversary event. For an hour the synagogue resounded all known Israeli songs, Yiddish, the secular and religious music. They were interpreted by the exceptional soloist Shmuel Barzilai, his deep voice filling the synagogue, alongside the Choir of the Jewish Community of Timişoara. But they were joined by other soloists. The real showman, the cantor invited to sing Ionel Schlesinger, Dan Ben Eliezer, Tiberiu Roth, president of the Jewish Community of Braşov, rabbi Avraham Ehrenfeld. The entire hall was singing, including the high clergy who were familiar with Israeli music and accompanied songs with clapping. But amateur artists on the stage not only sang but danced a hora, inviting also the spectators. It was cheerfulness, a general joy, in accordance of this anniversary, in the true spirit of the synagogue where people go not only to share their sorrows but their joy.