The students of our Multilingualism and Multiculturalism MA program invite you to visit the cultural heritage of Oradea. In this project we present the Neolog Synagogue of Oradea.
The Synagogue is located in the center of Oradea, on the bank of the Crișul Repede River. The building itself seems simple from the outside, but it hides numerous motifs. We can notice the dominance of the color blue, which symbolizes wisdom, expertise and stability. This use of color can be linked to the Jewish customs present in the synagogues, specifically to the differences in the seating of men and women.
Walking within the imposing walls of the neolog synagogue, we can return to the roots of Jewish culture, and we can experience the depths of our history.
Entering the church, we can observe the spacious interior and the dome of the almost sky-high ceiling, which is illuminated by the rays of the sun.
In order to get a more comprehensive image of the significance of the Neolog Synagogue of Oradea, it is worth briefly reviewing the history of the Jews in Oradea.
Presumably, Jewish families have already lived in Oradea around 1100, after the decree of King Kálmán authorized the settlement of Israeli residents in the Episcopal Cities, but there is no preserved written document of this. The first sporadic data is from 1489, but a complete document which proves the presence of Jews in Oradea appears in 1722. At that time, four Israeli citizens were registered, but five years later ten Jewish families lived here. The population of the Jews living in Oradea grew, and the construction of the synagogues began. On the eve of World War I, 15.155 Jews lived in the city, however, the increase of the population lasted only until 1941; then the city had more than 21.000 Jewish inhabitants. During World War II, the Jews of Oradea were taken to ghettos and then deported to Auschwitz, and very few of them survived the death camp.
In Oradea, as in many other places, the Jews took an active part in the economic and cultural life of the city. Among other things, they opened schools, high schools, a printing house, and they operated a free kitchen for the poor of the city.
Around the turn of the century, as it can be seen from contemporary descriptions, the wealthy Jewish merchants of Oradea often visited the big cities of the Monarchy and Europe, and perhaps this is also due to the fact that the Art Nouveau style, typical of the period, became so widespread in the city. In addition to the leading Jewish intellectuals from Oradea (Lajos Bíró, Gyula Juhász, Ákos Dutka, Tamás Emőd, Béla Balázs), there were other educated, wealthy people with a good taste – designers, architects, doctors, journalists (etc.) – who managed to win local architects, as well as architects from Budapest and Wien for their church and city-building plans. They are the founders of the Art Nouveau styled Oradea. Thus, the synagogue called the Temple of Zion, is one of the most well-known monuments of the downtown today.
As a result of the growth and the division of the Jewish community in Oradea at the end of the 19th century, two synagogues were built in the city, the Neolog and the Orthodox Synagogues. The Neolog (or congressional) community broke away from Orthodox Jewry in 1870 and soon after that began building a synagogue.
The design competition was announced by the church building committee of the Zion Society in June 1876, and was won by David Busch, chief engineer of the city, who designed the synagogue making use of historicizing, Eastern Moorish elements. The famous architect of the city, Kálmán Rimanóczy was commissioned with the construction; the frescoes were painted by the painter Mór Horovitz from Košice, and the organ on the gallery was made by István Jónás from Oradea.
Construction proceeded at a rapid pace, beginning in April 1877, and by May 1878 the dome of the synagogue was completed, and on July 5, the Star of David was also placed on it. The building was inaugurated on September 24, 1878.
Regarding the architectural aspects of the synagogue, we would briefly note that the orientation of the interior of a thousand seats is determined by the direction of Jerusalem, as a result of which most European synagogues is north-east south-west-oriented. Men could enter the synagogue through the small foyer, while the galleries were reserved for women. Recessed in the main wall, also called the Eastern wall (Hebrew: mizrah), one could find the storage place for the Torah scroll, that is, the Torah cabinet. On the double stone tablet above the temple cabinet one could find the opening words of the Ten Commandments. The Torah reading scaffold (Hebrew: bima) is, according to the neolog rite, positioned at the Eastern wall, in front of the covenant cabinet, in contrast to the Orthodox synagogues where the bima is in the center. One can find a table for reading the Torah in the center of the bima, which is surrounded by a railing.
The building was used by the Jewish community until the early 1990s, after which it stood neglected for a long time, and was falling into disrepair. To restore the monument building, the local authorities, in association with the Jewish community of Debrecen, won the support of the European Union. Renovation work began in 2008 and the beautifully restored building was inaugurated on 27 November, 2015.
Felix Koppelman, president of the Jewish community in Oradea, told MTI before the inauguration ceremony that the renovation had fulfilled the old desire of the Jewish community in Oradea. He added that the city’s 700-members enthusiastic Jewish community had put the synagogue into use for the municipality, and the contract had been extended for 15 years. It was also mentioned that with the support received, the synagogue will also be given a cultural, tourist and community purpose, so in addition to the festive worship services, it will open its doors to everyone, regardless of religious denomination. To close the inauguration ceremony, the time capsule found in the floor of the synagogue during the renovation, which was also placed during a renovation in 1896, was opened. Such a time capsule represents the eternal connection between the past and the present. The synagogue contains a great number of hidden symbols which we find quite interesting, and propose to be the subject of further analysis.
Multilingualism and multiculturalism MA program, PCU
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