Jewish Heritage

Merarilor Synagogue

The Jewish places of worship were organized on professional criteria, each synagogue taking the name of a guild. The same was for the “Merarilor” Synagogue on Elena Doamna Street in Târgu Cucului, where apple sellers and gatherers came to pray.

In the context of a fast growing Jewish population in the city, many more places of prayer were needed, thus simple houses were transformed in synagogues. The “Merarilor” Synagogue, hosted in a house with one floor, was inaugurated in 1869, on a small street called ”Labirint” (the Maze), hidden behind other buildings. It has an imposing shape, and the exterior has some stylized Doric pillars. During the communist period it escaped the demolition, but it was used as a storehouse, being masked by a row of white cedar trees, in order not to be seen from the street.

The synagogue was re-inaugurated on the 13th of December 2015 after a long restoration process. On the building’s façade, a commemorative plaque was placed. The Rabbi Rafael Shaffer, the religious leader of the Hebrew community in Romania, placed the mezuzah (a little box put on the door frame, with a small fragment of the Torah), blessed the new house of prayer and read the traditional prayers from a holy Torah scroll, recently restored and donated to the “Merarilor” Synagogue. The modern look of the interior and the light coming in through the large windows create a pleasant and opened space for religious ceremonies or various meetings.

Between the moment of the closing of the Grand Synagogue for restoration in 2008 and the inauguration of the “Merarilor” Synagogue in 2015, a praying place was settled in a room of the headquarters of the Jewish Community, with religious objects from the Grand Synagogue, Merari Synagogue and Schor Synagogue (in Podu Roș, recently demolished), as well as from the Synagogue of Vaslui. An Aron Kodesh with seven Torah scrolls and a pulpit were placed here.

Visiting hours:
09:00-14:00 (Request at the Jewish Community Center)

The writer Benjamin Fondane

Benjamin Wechsler (later on Fondane/Fundoianu) was a poet, essayist and a film and theater director, proud member of the Romanian vanguard from the first half of the 20th century. Born in Iași in 1898 to an intellectual Jewish family, he makes his debut by translating text from Yiddish to Romanian under the name B. Fundoianu, after the name of his father’s birthplace, the village of Fundoaia. The only book published in Iași was “Tăgăduința lui Petru” (Peter’s Denial) in 1918. At only 16 years of age, he published texts in Ovid Densușianu’s Symbolist Magazine „Vieața Nouă” (the New Life) and he establishes, alongside Armand Pascal, the vanguard theatre „Insula” (the Island) in Bucharest.

In 1923 he immigrated to France, where he started using the name Fondane. He began translating to french the poems of the most famous Romanian writers of the time – Tudor Arghezi, George Bacovia and Ion Minulescu. His own poems spoke about sad themes like roaming without purpose, exile, the lost paradise (l’Exode, Ulysse), sometimes evoking his childhood spent in Iași, in Târgu Cucului. Benjamin was also the screen writer for the movie Rapt (1934). In spring 1944 he was arrested in Paris by the Gestapo, after someone reported his Jewish origin, and was incarcerated in the Drancy transit camp alongside his sister, Lina. Some of his most influential friends, amongst which were the Romanian writers Emil Cioran and Stefan Lupaşcu, managed to get a pass for him, as he was a French citizen, with a Christian wife, but it is said that he could not accept to leave his sister alone. Both of them were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they suffered tragic deaths. There is no record found for Lina, but Benjamin was sent to the gas chamber on the night of the 2nd of October 1944. In his memory, the street that goes between the Jewish Community Center and the Merarilor Synagogue bears his name.

Strada Elena Doamna 13, Iași 700398
Photo by iasi.travel

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