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[Page 108]

E. Aspects of the Spiritual Life
of the Jews in Roman and Surroundings

The spoken language of the Roman Jews was Yiddish, yet they also spoke the Romanian language, some – the Russian and German languages, all a function of the country from which they have emigrated and came to Moldova, and particularly, to the old county of Roman.

In various documents, they carry Romanian names or names adapted from Yiddish in the Romanian language from early on. Thus, we encounter names such as: Cercu [circle], Lupu [wolf], Ariton, but in the documents they nevertheless signed with the Hebrew name.

Certain names derive, as I've already shown, from the occupations of their predecessors: Stoleru [carpenter], Sticlaru [glazier], Tejetaru. We encounter many names, Hebrew or Yiddish in origin, which have been “Romanianized” through the addition of suffixes used in Romanian.

Aron, Aroneanu, Aronovici or Aronescu. Abram, Abramovici, Avramescu. In fact, a name like Aroneanu or Aronovici is actually Ben Aharon [son of Aharon], the same in many other cases. Some names are encountered in various forms, sometimes difficult to identify. Baruch is also called Burăh, Baroh or Benedict. Certain Germanic names are similarly used in numerous forms: Schwartz can also be Şvart. Edelstein can be also called:

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Adelstain. The same name can be written in different forms or spellings, preserving either the German form: ‘Sch’ or transforming it into (the Romanian) ‘Ş’; names with (the German) ‘W’ are often used with ‘V’; instead of ‘K’, ‘C’ has taken over. Maier can become: Mayr, Meir, Meer or Mayer, etc.

The German ‘ei’ diphthong becomes ‘ai’ (Beinglas becomes Bainglas). Names, such as: Cofler become Coflea and Gr├╝nberg transforms into Grinberg or Grimberg. A certain document mentions a Jewish soldier fallen in WWI, whose name was Ţifui – a specifically Romanian name. It is possible that this soldier's predecessors were called Ţvi.

In documents, a curious–enough compound of Hebrew and Romanian is used at the end of the 19th century (see the notations in the Roman Pinkas [register] from that period).

But the Hebrew language was used not only by the Rabbis in the synagogue. In the Heider and Talmud–Tora and later, in the Hebrew–Romanian schools, which have appeared particularly after the restrictive law of 1897, the Hebrew language has occupied a frontal place; remarkable “Hebraists,” such as: Zalman Schachter, Berl Brucar or Ghidale Marcovici have come out of Roman's Jewish/Hebrew schools.[1]

There existed also journalists and writers who expressed themselves perfectly in the Romanian language; Jews have always considered speaking the language of one's native or adoptive country a necessity.

The conduct of the Moldovan (Moldavian) Jews was, according to Kaufman, the Romanian–Oriental conduct at the beginning of the 19th century. Girls used to wear their hair plaited and were letting it hang over their heads, like the Moldavian girls. The women used to cut their hair and tie their heads, the old women

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used to wear a doublet with silver threads on their chest. A document from the end of the 18th century, mentions ornamental objects: “a Jew of Roman pawned pearls and ornaments that the Jewesses put on their heads”. The dressing style used by Jews was according to their country of origin: “the Galician” style, or the “Iashian” (from the city of Iaşi) style, which was worn particularly by Hassidim. At the beginning of the 19th century, the “German” dressing style was characteristic of those who had come from Western or Central Europe and which, toward the end of that century, became general. A specifically Jewish habit was wearing hats and, in general, covering the head in any environment, particularly in the synagogue.[2]

A great deal can be said about the rules in the area of food matters. We shall only mention some of the specific dishes: humentaş (Purim cake), ghefilte fiş (stuffed fish), kugel etc.

Something about the Jewish folklore: for Purim, children used to sing and dance the “Purimşpil” [Purim Play], using a rattler. Here is an excerpt from such a play, selected by Yulian Shvarts:

A good Purim, a good Purim, my dear
You don't know what Purim means?
Purim means giving money to the poor
I come in hopping with my little bare feet
I'd begin singing to you but my need is too great
Let my soul be blessed, pay me my dues
Do not let me stay here. I'm going, falling
My beard is big, my wife is sick…

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Text: [Romanian translation of the above] – collected in Roman.[3]

Haralamb Zincă remembers the beautiful Jewish legends told by the talented professor Iosif Feldstein.[4]

Interesting is also the way the Jew was regarded in the local Romanian folklore. At the beginning of the 20th century, the play: “Gypsy Wedding” was running in Roman; the play was grotesque at times, sometimes too folkloristic in its language. The dressing was ordinary, but sometimes grotesque, even vulgar… Using this play as a model, the play: “Jewish Wedding”, was composed in the twenties in Roman. It was the same in style, language and spirit as its predecessor.[5]

Recently, Andrei Oisteanu reminded us of Lazăr Şaineanu's opinion, but especially that of Moses Schwartzfeld's, with regard to this problem: “It (the study) brings out the Jew with the qualities and flaws that the Romanian sees in him, but at the same time he will unveil, at least in part, the power of observation, the prejudices and the weaknesses of the Romanian people (…); the Romanian will depict the Jew as he sees, believes and understands him,

[Page 112]

but not as he was or is in reality”. Much sharper, regarding this problem, are certain scholars who have psychoanalyzed the collective unconscious of the Christians: “The characteristics attributed to the Jew in the anti–Semitic folklore have nothing to do with the real Jew but with the Christians who have initiated those attributes. If the folklore is an autobiographic ethnography then, the anti–Semitic folklore says a great deal about Christians and hardly anything about Jews”.[6]

Writing about popular Jewish art, Iţic Kara mentions the ornaments of the Aron Kodeş [Holy Ark] in the Central Synagogue in Roman, as well as the Pinkasim [Registers]. Unfortunately, with the old cemetery destroyed in 1872, it is impossible anymore to admire the art of the Jewish stone carvers.[7]

Moise Lax mentions the visit of Velvl Zbarjer, the miraculous troubadour of those times (the beginning of the 20th century), in Roman. In the city, Iacob Psantir had nephews who were musicians. The figures of Ignatz Polypody, who had come from Kiev, and the cantor M. Kivilevici, who lived a certain period of time here, are also worth mentioning. In the first decade of the 20th century, the great Yiddish–language writer Şalom Aleichem visited the city.[8]


Books, magazines, newspapers and other official Jewish publications of Roman authors published in Roman
  1. A.V. Nerson – Romanian Jews in the 20th century – Reflections over the matter of Jews in Romania, Roman 1910
[Page 113]
  1. Suchard Rivenson – The Jewish school in Roman, printed at Beram Sr. (the father) Press, 1933
  2. Rabbi Isaia, Avraham Ben–Israel – Chehilas Israel [Jewish community], Hebrew
  3. Hatope, Roman 1980 Hebrew
  4. Hai Israel [The Jewish people is alive], Roman, 1904 Hebrew
  5. Haor [The light], Roman 1904
  6. A.S. Rapaport, Soşan Iacov Hebrew
  7. A.S. Rapaport Ester Hamalca [Queen Esther] Hebrew
  8. “Der folks Dolmetscher” [The folk translator, interpreter], Roman 1891, Yiddish
  9. Humăntaş [Purim cake], Roman 1900 Yiddish
  10. Der Griner Culsman Yiddish
  11. Der Gragăr [the Purim rattle] Yiddish
  12. Der Parăh [nasty, offensive, fellow] Yiddish
  13. “Şcoala nouă” [The new school], Roman, 1900 Yiddish
  14. “Gazeta Balului” [newspaper of the ball], 1933
  15. “Emigranţii Romanului” [the emigrants in Roman], 1900
  16. Strigăt de disperare [a cry of despair], Roman 1900
  17. “Apelui femeilor evreice din Roman” [appeal of the Jewish women in Roman], Roman, 1900
  18. Statutele Comunităţii Israelite din Roman [Statutes of the Jewish community], Roman 1905
  19. Idem, Roman, 1926, Beram Sr. (the father) Press
  20. Idem, Roman, 1936
  21. “Statutele Societăţii meseriaşilor” [Statutes of the Craftsmen's Society], “Cneses Israel [Jewish Community]” Roman, “Viitorul” Press – Leon Grunberg, 1927
  22. Statutul sinagogii “Bais Iancov” (the shoe makers synagogue)
  23. Macabi”, Roman, 1938
[Page 114]
  1. “Buletinul comisiei centrale sioniste din Roman”, Roman, 1920 weekly, 2 pages
  2. “Ierusalim” – Buletinul comisiei centrale sioniste din Roman [Jerusalem – The Bulletin of the Central Zionist Committee of Roman]
The publications appearing in 1900 were intended as assistance for immigrants. They have appeared in a single copy. “Der folks Dolmetscher” has been subtitled: a publication for families, commerce and all the Jewish problems.

In his micro–monograph, Sami Wecsler asserts that he has published two brochures with respect to the history of the Jews.

At the end of the 19th century, Iancu Gross of Roman is collaborating, with articles and correspondence, in “Egalitatea”; in the local newspaper “Romanu”, some of his translations from the German language appear: “Ioan Halgado si moartea” [Ioan Halgado and Death], “Oarba si fiica ei” [The blind woman and her daughter] etc. Professor Suchard Rivenzon collaborates in the “Curierul Israelit. “The publicist H. St. Streitman collaborates in the magazine “Şcoala nouă” appearing in Roman.

The love of books of the Roman Jews is emphasized, as well as the “prenumerants,” who support the appearance of certain works, as Divrei haiamim learţot derumenie [History of Romania] by I. Psantir (from Demieneşti, Alter Mendelsohn from Roman, Nisen Schwartz, Bernat Schwartz and David Gross) or the Noua carte a predicilor [The new book of the preachers] appearing in 1937 in Iaşi by Rabbi Sam Şvemer (with the contribution of Iehuda Leib ben Iţhok Grinberg – the president of the community, his brother Abraham ben Iţhok Grinberg, B. Brucăr, Iosef Neuman and Şlomo Beriş).

[Page 115]

Iacob Iosif Romaner, originating, as its name suggests, from the city, published in Ploieşti the play: Estera or the assimilated and Zionists.[9]

“Illustrated post cards” publishing houses were known in the city: the publishing and printing shop “Viitorul”, Leon Grunberg, 1909–1916; “Cooperative bookshop”, Rotenberg, 1904; the publishing house “The Schools' Bookshop”, I. Beram; “The Publishing house, bookshop and stationery”, Roman, Michel Schimsensohn, 1929–1941; the publishing house “Cooperative Bookshop”, brothers Rottenberg, 1899–1914.[10]

Iţik Kara mentions that Jewish print shops existed in the city in the 19th century. In the next century, besides the above–mentioned printers, there were those who belonged to Leon Friedman, Isidor Grunberg, Herş M. Abramovici and Rivensohn Calman.

The following owned bookshops: Ozias Beram, Brizel Solomon in Roman and Weisman Abel in Băceşti. The following journalists lived and published in the city: Moscovici Bercu and Somer Nathan, A.V. Nerson and others.

The writer Max Belcher, who died in 1938, lived in Roman for a while. Also connected to the town are the names of Aharon Blumenfeld (Ronetti–Roman), Haralamb Zinca (Hary–Zilberman) of “The King of reporting”, Filip Brunea–Fox, the writer Solo Har–Herescu, etc.

In the years 1918–1922, the following libraries operated in town: “Ronetti–Roman” and “Or Zion”. The library of the “Maccabi” Society functioned between 1920 and 1935, while the A.C.F.E. library started operating in 1925, and was

[Page 116]

later transformed into the community library. The Rozenberg library, which carried Jewish and didactic books, was founded in 1920. The following synagogues also contained Jewish libraries: “Rabi Leivi” (300 volumes), “The Central Synagogue”, “Zalmino”, “The Leipzigher synagogue”, etc. The library “Iosif Neulicht” was opened in 1937 at the Hebrew School, in memory of the former school principal.

Libraries were owned also by the cultural societies “Ierusalim”, “Amiciţia” and “Steuerman–Rodion.” In 1926, the Jewish youth from the Băceşti community founded a cultural circle and a library. The cultural circle was led by the young women Simon, Benes, Abramovici and Almer and the young men Weserman, Smertzler, Rabinovici and Istric.[11] The library of the Hebrew School (Iosif Neulicht) contained 1288 volumes. In 1940, the foundation of the Jewish High School library in the city started from the donations: Rosenberg (51 Hebrew books and 2 in Yiddish), I. Neulicht (elementary school), Iosef Stein (150 volumes, literature books), Iancu Ghelberg (200 volumes of didactic and scientific literature). In 1942, the library consisted of 688 volumes: 561 in Romanian, 2 in Yiddish, 61 in Hebrew, 118 in German, 26 in French, 8 in Latin and 6 in Greek. One book had the autograph of Max Blecher. Of the rare books, we shall mention: Solomon Gessner – Der Todt Abels [Abel's Death], 1795; Albrecht von Geller – Versuch Schweitzerische gedichte [Swiss Poems], 1753 and Neuman Die Ziegel Fabrikation [the brick production, 1874.[12]

There was always a particular preoccupation with the study of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages, as well as the history of the Jews. In 1903, a circle of

[Page 117]

Hebrew language and literature study was established. Among the circle members were: A. Sucher, M. Handman, A. S. Rapaport, S. Ghelber and others. In June 1922, the Yiddish celebration of Hebrew poetry took place, with the participation of the following people of letters: Gala Galaction, Eliezer Steinberg and Iacob Botoshanski. In 1926, an evening course of religion, Jewish history and Hebrew language was started for students of state–schools.[13]

In 1943, there had been a demand for the creation of a seminary course of Judaism, following which, students between the ages of 12 and17, graduated of a few secondary classes, were recruited; both the language and history of the Romanians was taught.

In the Jewish disciplines, the following have been invited to teach: Rabbi Mendel Frenkel, I. Neuman, S. Dimant, H. Leivandman and Zalman Schachter. The curriculum was the following: Hebrew language and literature; The Bible and Talmud, with commentaries; ancient and modern history of the Jews; Introduction to the Talmud through the Mishna; Synagogue music; Our legislation; Religious ethics and morals.[14]

The preoccupation with the Hebrew language was still pointed out in 1948, when the Roman professors Isacsohn Debora and Iţic participated in the professors' course on Judaic studies, being held in Piatra Neamţ.[15]

Various Jewish associations, clubs and societies have also had cultural programs, organizing celebrations, social events and conferences.

Thus, in 1903, L. Weisbuch held a conference on a Biblical subject, dwelling on the role that culture and solidarity must play among Jews.[16]

[Page 118]

Here are a few of the conferences of cultural character:

  1. A. Sucher – “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” (1903)
  2. Dr. Leon Henic – “About the Vitality of the Jewish People”
  3. A. Sucher – “The Ancient and Modern Maccabees
  4. S.S Cheiz – “The Importance of the Holiday and Celebration of Hanukah
  5. A.S. Rapaport – “National Movements, Ancient and Modern”
  6. Gottfried Margulies – “The French Revolution”
  7. Dr. L. Henic – “The Blood Circulation”
  8. Charlotte Is. Schiffer – “The Role of the Jewish Women in the Movement of the native Jews” (1913 – U.E.P.)
  9. D. Hershcovici (Iaşi) – “Yehudah Ha'Levi”
  10. Bercu Iosif – Der Declamator (The Reciter)
  11. Dr. M. Singer – “The Jews in the Works of Anatole France”
  12. Att. Arn. Cramer – “The Jewish Genius in Religion and Philosophy” (1925)
  13. Barbu Lazareanu – “From the Series of Barbu Lazareanu” (1926)
  14. Richard Stein – “Jewish Music”
  15. Suchard Rivenzon – “The Jews in the French Literature” (Edmond Fleg) 1928
  16. Att. S. Marcovici – “The Legislation of the Jews”
  17. Prof. Weisberg – “Heroism of the Jews” (1928)
  18. Prof. I. Konig – “Nathan the Wise”
  19. Prof, Abr. Hollinger – “Baruch Spinoza”[18]
[Page 119]

The most appreciated cultural events were the theatrical performances. In 1888, a group of youths have performed the play Corban Bairam (The Bairam) by Moshe Horowitz. In the same year, there have been more theater shows such as: “Marfăgiu [merchant] or the Emigration of Jews to America” (adapted from “The Emigrants” by Şaikevici–Sumer, “The Charmer” [The Sorceress] by Avram Goldfaden.[19]

In 1903, the “Leiblich” drama group performed the play “Hadassa” by Moşe Horowitz, and in the following year, the Jigniţa Theater operetta troupe performed the operettas: “Blimale” or “Pearl of Warsaw” by Iosif Lateiner and “Ecoul Armatei” [Echo of the Army] by Zigmund Feinmann.[20]

Because of the lack of theater halls, Roman was very rarely visited by the troupes on tour. In the summer of 1922, the “Schwartz” Garden, renovated by the new entrepreneur, Isac Herşcovici, re–opened. Led by the actor Nottara, the Bucharest National Theater group of artists performed a show.[21]

In 1928, a group of young people performed “Oilom Hatoi” and the Haşomer Haţair presented a program with a few plays directed by Ghedale Marcu.[22]

In the 30s of the 20th century, the Herman Yablokoff American troupe visited the city and a group of amateurs performed the play: “Orfelina”. In 1933, the “Gan” children preformed at the Modern Theater the plays: “Shilgiyah” [Snow–White] and “The Flower Hora”.[23]

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Roman's Jews have given birth to some remarkable musical personalities: here were born Gina Şaraga Solomon and Richard Stein (born in 1909).

Richard Stein first taught music at the Israelite–Romanian school, and from 1940, at the local Jewish high–school.

In 1942, the artist organized and conducted a concert of Jewish music. The following year his father died, and he and his sister Rita addressed the Governor the following request:

”Our Father died in Bârlad and we are called telegraphically to assist with the burial and with the ritual procedures. We are the only children of the deceased. We're asking you to approve.”

The author of the hit “Sanie cu Zurgălăi” [A Sleigh with Horses] died in 1992.[24]

Plastic arts were represented by the artist A. Gropeanu and the architect Marcel Locar.


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