(JHE) — The small but active Jewish community in Caransebeș, in western Romania, has embarked on an ambitious project to build a modern Jewish museum in the yard behind the elegant, 19th century neo-Gothic synagogue. Once complete, the museum and synagogue will form a multi-faceted hub of Jewish culture, heritage, commemoration, and worship serving educational as well as religious purposes.
To be called the Museum of the History & Culture of the Jews of Highland Banat, the 300 square meter facility is envisaged to display exhibits based on photos, documents, and other archival material as well as objects and other items aimed at telling the story of Jews in the region and the Jewish communities that not longer exist there.
Plans are for it to have interactive exhibits and also a multifunctional space for events and educational programs.
Leading the project is a member of the Jewish community, Carmen Neumann, who works at a local district museum.
“The synagogue was always, through our events, a place for both religious and cultural events,” Jewish community president Florin Damian Schwartz told JHE.
Now, after we will build the museum, together we will create a religious, cultural & historical multifunctional place. All this complex will be an important education site for the future generations. The museum will serve as a bridge between the past, the story of the people who are no longer alive, and with the new generation – in this way their story will not be forgotten.
The planned museum, designed by architects Ramona Izvernari & Dinu Răzvan, is a low building with stark, minimalist lines, in contrast to the synagogue, which has two slim side towers and an ornate interior.
The total estimated cost of the project is around €110,000, and the Jewish community has set up a limited time crowdfunder for €50,000, ending April 21, to start work.
The project to build the museum and create a multifunctional Jewish hub in the town is a reflection of the remarkable revival of the Jewish community in Caransebeș that has taken place since 2014.
According to a time-line history prepared by the community, the first Jews settled in Caransebeș in 1750, and the ornate synagogue was dedicated in September 1894, when the community numbered around 250 members. An organ was installed in 1896.
Jews in the Banat region survived the Holocaust, and the community continued to function after the war. But its numbers dwindled sharply; after the fall of communism its Torah scrolls were sent to Bucharest, and in 2011 as “there was no more Jewish community life,” the synagogue was turned over the local authorities for conversion into a concert hall.
Change came through the efforts of Jewish activist Ery Pervulescu, who in 2014, at the age of 16, organized at the synagogue the town’s first Holocaust commemoration. This proved successful, leading Pervulescu to launch outreach and other events and initiatives.
With the support of Ivan Bloch (the president of the Jewish Community in nearby Lugoj, under which the Caransebeș community functioned) and the Federation of Jewish Communities, the Caransebeș community took back administration of the synagogue.
Pervulescu became administrator of the synagogue, which hosted cultural events as well as services, and then, in 2016, he became the community’s president — at the age of 18. Among his priorities was raising funds to restore the facade of the synagogue and also the town’s two Jewish cemeteries. Pervulescu moved to Bucharest in 2017 and is now on the board of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania.
“The idea [for the museum] appeared during the time when Ery was President of the community, when together with him, we thought that this is something necessary for the area and we thought about a way to keep alive the memory of the Jewish communities which no longer exists,” current community president Schwartz told JHE.
[It was] only this year [that] we managed to start with this project, as before [there were] a lot of other things like the renovation of the facade of the synagogue, cleaning the cemetery, renovation of the chapel of the cemetery etc.
In this video from 2020, Pervulescu describes the extraordinary revival of Jewish life in Caransebeș and takes viewers on a tour of the synagogue.