Jewish Heritage

Târgu Cucului Neighbourhood

Five streets coming from different parts of the city, meet in Târgu Cucului: Cuza Vodă, Costache Negri, Elena Doamna, Cucu and Sărărie.

Until 1800 it was called “the Flour Market” and it was placed at the periphery of the city. Afterwards it was named “Cucului”, due to the cuckoo birds that were singing in the nearby forest, but also as a metaphor to say that it was a market where sellers could avoid paying fair taxes (customs). The first Jewish families settled here around 1650, but the immigration of an important Jewish community in the neighborhood took place after 1830.

Târgu Cucului united people through poverty and belief, and it wasn’t a place for rich people. It was a “city inside a city”, especially due to the fact that some Jews were good merchants, and people were always present on the neighborhood’s streets.

During the week, the Jewish merchants would always come out in front of their shop and tried to lure clients inside, in contrast to the other merchants who would wait inside for the clients to come in. Although they were determined not to spend anything, some passers-by couldn’t resist the offers. On Saturdays, when Jews ceased any activity, the atmosphere was stimulated by the Christian merchants, Romanian or Armenian. The food and tailor shops dominated the area. Books were also very well sold, especially during winter, when the cold winds and the snow sent everyone inside, around the fireplace. Afterwards, cafés came to life, fish shops enchanted the clients with delights from all around and the bars were transformed into ballrooms during the evenings. The cultural life was booming in the Jewish neighborhood. Conferences and Sunday night balls with jazz shows were frequent, and the impressive numbers of synagogues and schools made Târgu Cucului a true cultural center.

The Gheltzer cafeteria and cinema, with its Toynbee Hall, named after the cultural society, were across the street from the residence of the Jewish Community, at the intersection of the tram lines. The construction was built to help feed the needy children, but also functioned as a cinema, ballroom and office spaces for some associations. This place became the headquarters of the Yiddish culture in Romania, but sadly, it was demolished in the 1980s.

The renowned traditionalist Hasidic Jews, were distinctive through their typical outfit: mantle, hat and long side curls. The famous Romanian painter Octav Băncilă, born in Iaşi, immortalized the faces of the local Jewish people through a series of very expressive portraits.

Jewish or Christian holidays were moments of joy, especially for children, who tasted the traditional treats, typical to each culture. This cross-cultural bonding could have been noticed on the ”New Year of the Trees” (Tu Bishvat) as well, when Jewish children went to plant a tree in the yards of other locals, because back then, neighbourhood green spaces were very few. The building agglomeration, the narrow and winding streets and the tens of synagogues, arranged in simple houses, created a unique atmosphere.

But the Second World War changed the neighborhood’s spirit, first through the horrors during the Pogrom of 1941, then through the bombings which destroyed many dwellings and, finally, through the population’s exodus towards Israel, after its founding in 1948. The Jewish population dramatically decreased, and synagogues, schools, as well as some dwellings, true architectural jewels, were left behind in decay.

Afterwards, the communist regime began creating a new image for the neighborhood, by demolishing old houses, redesigning the streets and erecting collective blocks of flats in the spirit of the regime. The plans weren’t completed, thus we can still see wide green spaces or vacant land. In the last years, this area received a new look through the rearranging of green spaces and the construction of a new Palace of Justice. The Jewish buildings that still remain from the famous Târgu Cucului neighborhood are very few, but thankfully, the oldest synagogue in Romania is still standing.


Strada Cuza Vodă, Iași 700259
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