The Choral Temple

9, Sfânta Vineri Street, Bucharest

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The Choral Temple in Bucharest was built in 1866, on an area of 448 sqm., in neo-Moorish architectural style. It is an exact copy of the splendid synagogue Leopoldstädter Tempel built in 1858 in Vienna, destroyed by the Nazis.
The Choral Temple has over 150 years of history, but the oldest mention in the official court documents about the Jews in Bucharest dates back to the 16th century. The Jews are secretaries of the Lord, servants, merchants. The first area of Jewish residence is the Saint Old Gheorghe suburb, where the main exchange areas were and where numerous merchants and craftsmen who practiced their occupations near the Royal Court lived.

In the 17th century, around the church of St. Apostles, the suburb of Târnov, later called the suburb of the Archimandrite, is formed. After 1700, it is renamed Dudeşti suburb, because the Dudeşti boyars had large fields here, given by Brâncoveanu. Calea Văcăreşti was still “the road to Sârbi”, which passed through the houses of the boyars Herescu Năsturel, the suburb of the Popeşti boyars, then Dobroteasa, Sârbi and Cioplea Dudescu. Gradually, the Israelite population became predominant in this area, especially after the great fire of 1847.

The Jews settle on streets like Bradului, Vulturi, Nerva Traian, Colonel Orero, Pitagora, Udricani, Mămulari, Sfântul Ioan Nou, Jignița, Olteni, Mircea Vodă, Haiducul Bujor, Labirint and a significant part of Călăraşilor avenue and specific names appear: Israelită Street, Halfon Street, Sinagogii Street, Spaniolă Street, Rabin Dr. Beck Street, Goldfaden Street, Jacques Elias Street, Dr. Iacob Felix Street, Palestină Street.

Initially, there was a great closeness between merchants and craftsmen, as most of them sold their own products. For example, the tailors, who in 1847 had their own guild, were very powerful. In 1837, they build a wooden prayer house, then between 1848-1850 a tailor’s temple, “Holy Union” from 3 Mămulari Street (now the Museum of the History of the Romanian Jews).

The Jews practice all the manual occupations in the city, in the last half of the 20th century and evolve into intellectual professions that are required due to the schooling system developed at all levels. They easily adapt to market demand and are professionally reoriented. It goes from simple tailoring to luxury tailoring, from tin plating to nickel plating, from commercial travelers to “market prospecting agents”, from exchangers to bankers and so on.

It is also required in a series of new trades: tin plating (in 1884 there were 41 Jewish tinsmiths and 80 companies), brass making, blacksmithing (the 19th century suffers from the “fashion” of iron and cast iron used to make balconies, fences, marquises, shutters etc.). On the urban level, the general replacement, in houses and churches, of the shingle roofs with the metallic ones, made out of iron and zinc sheet is noticed. This heavy and risky operation was also carried out by Jewish craftsmen.

Dudeşti-Văcăreşti is not, as is often confused, the only Jewish neighborhood. We can talk about Jewish neighborhoods also in Calea Rahovei, Calea Moşilor (the quintessential shopping district, where most Israeli factories and shops were located) and a less compact dwelling in Calea Griviţei.

Between 21st and 23rd January 1941, the legionary rebellion in Bucharest takes place. From 999 cases investigated in Bucharest by the Federation of Jewish Unions (F.U.C.E.), it results that 120 Jews were murdered and that 25 temples and synagogues, 616 shops and 547 homes were set on fire, demolished and robbed, involving 3.769 souls.

The dramas of war, communism, expropriations, emigration to Israel will decay the specificity of the Jewish areas in Bucharest. Very few photos keep the memory of this space, and the streets often hold only their name.