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Foundation in Romania

Foundation Chief Executive Michael Mail visited Făgăraș, Romania, to meet with activists involved in the preservation and adaptation of the former synagogue in the town. This is one of the priority projects the Foundation is supporting.

Joining Michael was Joe Elders, Head of Church Buildings Strategy for the Church of England, whom the Foundation had brought in to assist, especially with regards to a Jewish cemetery preservation project also underway in Făgăraș.

The visit was hosted by Stefan Cibian, Executive Director of the Făgăraș Research Institute, who is championing the synagogue project.

Făgăraș is situated in the Brasov County of Transylvania, Romania. A Jewish community was established in the town in 1827 becoming among southern Transylvania’s largest by the mid-century, at which point the synagogue that exists today was established. During the Second World War, the Jewish community was subject to anti-Jewish legislation as well as violence from the Iron Guard. Jewish property, both private and communal, was confiscated. A number of Jews were sent off to forced labour, while others were deported to Transnistria. A Jewish community was re-established after the War, but most in due course emigrated, with many settling in Israel. The synagogue ceased to function and, being empty and neglected, its condition significantly deteriorated.

The Municipality of Făgăraș entered into an agreement with the Bucharest-based Jewish communal umbrella body FEDROM, owners of the synagogue, taking on a long lease on the basis that it would turn the site into a community centre that would include presenting the life and contribution of the Jewish community.

During the visit, Michael visited the synagogue to see at first hand the condition of the building. A striking feature of the structure is the highly unusual bell tower! He also met with Municipality officials, and key civil society organisations, discussing progress with the project and future plans. Michael was able to present the work of the Foundation and the methodologies it had applied to similar projects elsewhere which could inform the approach in Făgăraș.

Michael also visited the local Jewish cemetery to witness the work of a special programme using volunteers to preserve and clean headstones. Joe provided advice on cemetery preservation as well as the use of digital technologies in cemetery mapping, which is his expertise.

Michael and Stefan also visited several synagogues in the area. Alba Iulia, Sibiu and Brașov all have small Jewish communities and they met with synagogue leaders. In Mediaș that no longer has a community, they visited a project working on preserving synagogue records, publications and artefacts, as well as the synagogue building itself. It is hoped that a forum can be developed facilitating dialogue among the synagogue sites of the region.

The visit was also featured in the Winter issue of Jewish Renaissance as part of wider focus on Jewish Romania, and can be read below:

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