Fabric Synagogue

The architect responded with creative imagination to the demands of a community that wanted, in a modern spirit, a bright and friendly house of prayer.

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2 Episcop Lonovici St.

Arch. Lipót Baumhorn; entrepreneur Josef Kremer senior

Inaugurated in 1899

In 1867, Jews became citizens with equal rights in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which allowed them to evolve without legal and political obstacles in all fields. Their political emancipation coincided with the religious one. At the Congress of Jewish Communities from Hungary and Transylvania in Pest (December 1868-February 1869), Ashkenazi Jewry split into two currents, the Orthodox and the Neolog, to which, from 1877, the status-quo-ante would be added. The Orthodox observed the religious rites rigorously; the Neologs introduced reforms that reduced the rigour of the liturgical rite and traditional customs and facilitate their social-cultural integration; the status-quo-ante opts for the situation before the split, a middle ground.

In the status-quo-ante community in the Fabric neighbourhood, the decision was made to build a temple commensurate with its size and position in the Fabric neighbourhood because the old synagogue, built in 1838 on Timocului Street, had become too small. In 1892, at the initiative of Bernát Deutsch, the president of the community, a committee of 30 members was set up to raise funds under the chairmanship of Miksa Steiner, lye manufacturer, limited partner and owner of some splendid buildings, which are still the pride of the city: Miksa Palace Steiner in the Fabric district and the Discount Bank in Unirii Square. The community purchased a piece of land on the banks of the Bega canal, on the edge of the Fabric neighbourhood, separated from Cetate by the esplanade, where construction was still prohibited at the end of the century.

The construction cost amounted to 81,450 forints. Interestingly, the town hall, i.e., the city population, contributed to the construction financing with 3,000 forints, a modest amount, but which was proof of goodwill and good understanding. Jewish associations and major and minor donors from community members contributed to the funds. A lottery permit was obtained to finance the synagogue building fund, and 25 nominally assigned cemetery plots were sold in the new house of worship. The building was called the “New Synagogue” to distinguish it from the old synagogue on Timocului Street.

For the architect Lipót Baumhorn, the design of the synagogue in Fabric was the “dress rehearsal”, as the author of the 2020 monograph on Baumhorn, Deákné Oszkó Ágnes Ivett says, for the synagogue in Szeged, considered a masterpiece. The architect harmonized the monumentality and the individual, slightly exotic character of the construction with the surrounding environment and responded with measure and creative imagination to the demands of a community that wanted, in a modern spirit, a bright and friendly house of prayer.

Spectacularly beautiful, the synagogue breathes balance and harmony through symmetries and orderly structure and a feeling of welcoming warmth through the play of curved and broken contours, of various materials and colours, through coloured stained-glass windows and rich ornamentation.

The style is eclectic historicist. We find Neo-Romanesque elements (engaged columns, built into the wall with which they form a common body, bigeminated windows), Neo-Gothic (rosettes with floral motifs, the pointed portal at the entrance), Neo-Renaissance (cupola, columns), Secession style (arched volumes, stained-glass windows with geometric or floral motifs), and Moorish elements (crenellated cornices, arabesques, polychrome decoration, laboriously crafted hardware). Around the central cupola are four smaller domes, on polygonal towers with decorative profiles and surrounded by balustrades. On the polychrome façade, the plaster alternates with the apparent red-yellow brick (Klinkersteine). Above the main entrance, on the triangular pediment, are the tablets of the law with the Ten Commandments. Access to the temple is through three monumental gates, with superbly crafted ironwork, separated by columns and ending in semicircular arches. On the two sides, through a smaller gate, one can access the stairs to the first floor, where the benches for women are placed.

The light penetrates through the eight rosettes with coloured stained-glass on the central dome, raised on an octagonal tambour, made of a painted wooden structure, where the blue colour suggests the brightness of the heavenly vault. The ark (the closet in which the Torah scrolls are kept) on the eastern wall is framed by colonnades, cornices, turrets, and ends with a miniature, lacy dome with gilded ornaments, behind which the pipework of the organ can be seen. Here the choir sang, which entered from the courtyard, on the side of the building. Although the architectural elements are borrowed from various styles and eras, they merge into a unitary whole with a Byzantine aspect.

The inauguration celebration was set on September 3, 1899, Monday evening, one day before the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), precisely as it had been done in 1865 at the inauguration of the Synagogue in Cetate and in 1895 at that of the Synagogue in Iosefin. Among others, Dr Jakab Singer, the successor of Rabbi Bertalan Kohlbach, and Mayor Carol (Károly) Telbisz, who led the City Hall of Timişoara for almost three decades, gave speeches.

Two rabbis officiated in this synagogue, Rabbi Dr Jakab Singer and, from 1941, Rabbi Dr Ernest Neumann. At first, status quo ante, the community joined the Union of Neolog Communities from Transylvania and Banat in 1920. Prominent cantors of a high artistic level brightened the religious service - Jakab Friedmann, Jenö Weisz, Otto Feller, Geza Klein, Ernest Kohn, Hugo Fischer and others -, accompanied on organ by Andor Friedmann, later by renowned pianist Leo Freund, and, in the last period when the synagogue was still functioning, by Gloria Petriți. The choir “Hazamir” was conducted by the talented Samuel Fischer.

Currently, the synagogue arouses both admiration and great concern due to its advanced state of decay. The synagogue was closed in 1986, and divine service was held in the neighbouring prayer house (the former community assembly hall). The damage continued; the roof was no longer watertight, and a floor collapsed. The temple was vandalized several times, and everything that could be dismantled - chandeliers, wrought iron ornaments - was stolen. In 2006, in a generous gesture of solidarity, the Metropolis of Banat financed the repair and insulation work on the roof.

In 2009, due to a lack of funds for restoration, the Community ceded the synagogue for a period of 35 years to the National Theatre in Timișoara, on the condition that it be renovated in the first seven years. Unfortunately, the theatre did not manage to collect the necessary funds. Currently, the synagogue is again under the administration of the Jewish Community, which is looking for solutions for the restoration of the monument. A perfect architectural work, a synagogue built to last hundreds of years is in danger of becoming a ruin.

Getta Neumann
Getta Neumann
Author & editor

Watch the testimony of Getta Neumann, author and editor, expert consultant of the project

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