A long essay this month in the Ziaristii news site laments that the abandoned synagogue was indeed sold and has been turned into a modern restaurant specializing in Romanian cuisine — erasing the physical testimony of Jewish history in the town.
In 2013, the synagogue was described as being in an advanced state of decay and steadily deteriorating, with the Jewish community unable to afford to maintain or repair it. All the interior fittings had been removed and taken to Bucharest.
According to the Center for Jewish Art, the synagogue was built in 1847. Known as the Cojocarilor (Furriers’) or Great Synagogue, it was a simple stone structure with a fanciful cupola topped by a Star of David.
The conversion stripped the building of virtually all traces of its original function, though it appeared to retain the women’s gallery. Now called Restaurant Iris, the establishment has a Facebook page with photos, videos, and menu. (You can also view photos of the exterior on google maps.)
“The menu of the day, and the jaws of a fat chef are […] the first things I see,” wrote Paul Palencsar, who grew up in the town, in his deeply personal essay, which is illustrated by photos of the synagogue in its dilapidated state and the restaurant conversion.
“The tower, with the Star of David, is gone, but the building is still there,” he wrote. “Part of my childhood was evaporated and with it the history of two hundred years of the city.” (A version of the essay, with fewer illustrations, was first published in November 2018).
He quoted the owner of the building as saying he had originally wanted to tear the synagogue down and build a garage to vulcanize tires, but decided to create the restaurant there instead.
The restaurant’s Facebook page shows photos and videos of the interior.
The menu features typical Romanian cuisine, and the videos show patrons dancing to Romanian folk-style pop music.
In his essay, Palencsar recalled the story of Jewish presence in the town and lamented bitterly that the synagogue should have been saved and turned into a museum telling the history of Saveni’s Jews, and that a tourist trail could have been developed to include it and the historic Jewish cemetery.
About 400,000 Romanian Jews survived the Holocaust, but almost all emigrated to Israel over the course of the next decades, leaving many synagogues that had survived the Shoah (and which had active communities into the 1970s or 1980s) without congregations.
The challenges of dealing with Romania’s Jewish heritage were presented by FEDROM’s Lucia Apostol at the conference on Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage in Krakow in April. We have posted the video and full power point of her talk.
The Bratislava Statement, which offers best practice guidelines for preserving Jewish heritage, recognizes that “proper care of these properties; often involving substantial costs, difficult planning and use issues, and demanding historical and architectural preservation concerns, have preoccupied many Jewish communities for years. In many cases, and especially for smaller Communities, the needs of these properties continue to stretch professional and financial resources. Everyday community needs often delay or prevent the attention that properties require.”
Regarding synagogues, it notes that “Synagogue and former synagogues should retain a Jewish identity and or use whenever possible, though each one does not necessarily need to be restored or fully renovated. Former synagogues, no matter what their present ownership or use, should be sensitively marked to identify their past history.”
We had hoped that whoever purchased the Săveni would have marked it with a plaque or other indication of his original identity — but, according to the pictures we have seen, this does not seem to have been the case.