(JHE) — The Great Synagogue in Sibiu, Romania, has a newly restored main gate, thanks to the financial support of the German Foreign Ministry, which had also financed earlier maintenance and renovation work there. Work was carried out by itinerant artisans who come annually to Sibiu.
“With the financial support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the active involvement of ‘traveling journeymen,’ the main gate [of the synagogue] could be saved and is now shining in new glory,” the German Consulate in Sibiu stated in a press release delivered to local media in December. The repair work was completed just before Hanukkah, and consul Hans Tischler handed over a 30-cm key to the Jewish community.
In summer 2019 the Ministry (through the Consulate in Sibiu), had sponsored other maintenance work at the Great Synagogue, also carried out by traveling artisans, including the cleaning of the attic and the repair of the synagogue’s doors. A ceremony in September 2019, just before Rosh Hashanah, celebrated the completion of this work and the 120th anniversary of the synagogue’s construction.
In statements issued on the occasion of both restoration projects, the Consulate said it welcomed “the religious diversity as it is lived in Transylvania and continues to advocate peaceful coexistence and lively exchange between the various religious and ethnic groups in town and country, and actively supports this coexistence through actions like these. ”
Sibiu is located in central Romania, in the historic region of Transylvania, and was the most important of the “Siebenburgen,” the seven fortress towns in Transylvania settled by ethnic German Saxons in the 12th century. It was the capital of Transylvania for parts of the 18th and 19th centuries. The town is known as Nagyszeben in Hungarian and Hermannstadt in German.
The Great Synagogue, listed as a historical monument, was designed for the orthodox community in an eclectic, neo-romanesque style by the architect Ferenc Szalay and built in 1899. It has a red-brick and concrete facade, topped by the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The sanctuary, surrounded by arcaded women’s galleries on the three sides, is richly decorated with elegant arches, a coffered ceiling, and intricate carving and inlay. The bimah stands in the center of the hall; the stately Ark is situated in a recess in the blue-painted eastern wall.
A formal Jewish community was established in Sibiu after emancipation in the mid-19th century. The city’s Jews survived the Holocaust, but after the war, most emigrated to Israel and elsewhere. Today, the Great Synagogue is kept as such for its tiny Jewish community, which numbers around 25 member and uses a small prayer room. There is also a so-called “Small Synagogue,” probably built in the 1920s, which belonged to the Hasidic community and now is used as a workshop. Sibiu has two Jewish cemeteries, both located in the city’s outskirts.
In November 2019, we published an insightful Have Your Say personal essay by Jewish educator Anda Reuben entitled, “Jewish Sibiu: An Almost Forgotten Story,” in which Anda reported on developing a Jewish heritage tour to put the story of the city’s rich Jewish past back on the map, and back into the public’s consciousness.