People of the Jewish faith have lived in Bucharest since the 1500s – longer than anywhere else in Romania. Sephardic Jews were the first to make the city their home, and in the early 1600s, when the Cossacks revolted, this was the catalyst for Ashkenazi Jews to migrate from Ukraine and Poland. In the early 18th century a sacred brotherhood, poor box and synagogue were enlisted with the authorities. As more prayer houses were established throughout the 1700s and 1800s (ten by 1832), ritual baths called mikve were installed. By the end of the 19th century, the vast majority of the 70 temples and synagogues had their own Rabbi and as the 1900s dawned there were about 40,000 Jews in Bucharest.
Just before World War II 100,000 Jews lived in Bucharest, served by 80 prayer houses. However, as fascism and communism reared their ugly heads, the vast majority of prayer houses were destroyed. Today, two synagogues serve Bucharest’s 4000 faithful – the most significant population of Jews in Romania. Together they run a Jewish theatre, school and museum. In 2009 a Holocaust Memorial was established. With this gesture much progress was made towards Romania making peace with its past.
The Doctor Moses Rosen Museum of the History of the Jewish Community (Muzeul de Istorie al Evreilor din Romania), located on Str. Mamulari 3 in the Great Synagogue, is open on weekdays and charges no admission fee. The building, which dates back to 1850, is located in the Jewish Quarter of Bucharest and has been exceptionally well maintained over the years despite its age. In this museum you can read about the history of Romania’s Jews over the centuries through the collections of Jewish-written books, paintings by Jewish artists and mementoes from Jewish theatres, such as the State Jewish Theatre. You can also take a look at the extensive selection of Jewish ritual objects gathered by Rabbi Moses Rosen, after whom the museum is named.
The Choral Temple (Templul Coral) on Str. Sfanta Vineri 9 dates from 1857 and was completely renovated in 1933. It is the bigger and busier of the two synagogues still serving Jews in Bucharest. There is a monument in front of the synagogue honouring the Romanian Jews who died during the Holocaust. Visitors to this very attractive red brick building can admire the beautiful Moorish turrets, choir loft and organ. Services are held daily at 8am and 7pm (8:30am and 7pm) on Saturdays.
The Yeshoah Tova Synagogue, on Str. Tache Ionescu 9, is a Lubavitch Synagogue built in 1827 and refurbished in 2007. It is located in a busy side street that links Piata Amzei and Magheru Bulevard. This and the Choral Temple are the last remaining synagogues to still hold services. There is much to see here; it is built in the Moorish style and has an extravagant Aron ha-Kodesh, or Holy Ark, on show. Services take place at Sabbath hour on Friday and Saturday evenings. It marks Sabbath hour on Friday and Saturday evenings.