Bucharest, Romania Jewish Community

January 24, 1862:  Bucharest was proclaimed capital of Romania. The Jewish population of Bucharest had grown from 127 families in 1820 to 5,934 persons in 1860. By the turn of the century, the Jewish population would exceed 40,000 people making them almost 15% of the city’s total population. (from “This Day … In Jewish History”, Mitch Levin)

When Charles von Hohenzollern succeeded Cuza in 1866 as Carol I of Romania, the first event that confronted him in the capital was a riot against the Jews. A draft of a constitution was then submitted by the government, Article 6 of which declared that “religion is no obstacle to citizenship “; but, “with regard to the Jews, a special law will have to be framed in order to regulate their admission to naturalization and also to civil rights “. On June 30, 1866, the Bucharest Synagogue was desecrated and demolished (it was rebuilt in the same year, then restored in 1932 and 1945). Many Jews were beaten, maimed, and robbed. As a result, Article 6 was withdrawn and Article 7 was added to the 1866 Constitution; it read that “only such aliens as are of the Christian faith may obtain citizenship”.

For the following decades, the issue of Jewish rights occupied the forefront of the Regat’s political scene. With few notable exceptions (including some of Junimea affiliates — Petre P. Carp, George Panu, and Ion Luca Caragiale), most Romanian intellectuals began professing antisemitism; its most virulent form was the one present with advocates of Liberalism (in contradiction to their 1848 political roots), especially Moldavians, who argued that Jewish immigration had prevented the rise of an ethnic Romanian middle class. The first examples of modern prejudice were the Moldavian Fractiunea libera si independenta (later blended into the National Liberal Party, PNL) and the Bucharest group formed around Cezar Bolliac. Their discourse saw Jews as non-assimilated and perpetually foreign – this claim was, however, challenged by some contemporary sources, and by the eventual acceptance of all immigrants other than Jews.

Antisemitism was carried into the PNL’s mainstream, and was officially enforced under the premierships of Ion Bratianu. During his first years in office, Brătianu reinforced and applied old discrimination laws, insisting that Jews were not allowed to settle in the countryside (and relocating those that had done so), while declaring many Jewish urban inhabitants to be vagrants and expelling them from the country. According to the 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia: “A number of such Jews who proved their Romanian birth were forced across the Danube, and when [the Ottoman Empire] refused to receive them, were thrown into the river and drowned. Almost every country in Europe was shocked at these barbarities. The Romanian government was warned by the powers; and Brătianu was subsequently dismissed from office”. Cabinets formed by the Conservative Party, although including Junimea’s leaders, did not do much to improve the Jews’ condition – mainly due to PNL opposition.

Nonetheless, during this same era, Romania was the cradle of Yiddish theatre. The Russian-born Abraham Goldfaden started the first professional Yiddish theatre company in Iași in 1876 and for several years, especially during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 Romania was the home of Yiddish theatre. While its center of gravity would move first to Russia, then London, then New York City, both Bucharest and Iași would continue to figure prominently in its history over the next century. (from Wikipedia)

Shown here is a joint Romania-Israel issue from 2009 which is a miniature sheet commemorating the first Yiddish Theatre in Iasi in 1876 and picturing Avram Goldfaden:




Also, shown here is a registered aerogramme posted from the Bucharest airport in 1959: