Iosefin Synagogue

For all the great holidays of the last thirty years, members of the Jewish community of Timișoara have been gathering here.

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The synagogue and the city

Read about the history and the architecture of the synagogue

55 Iuliu Maniu Street 

At the inauguration in 1895, the mayor, Carol (Károly) Telbisz, was given a golden key to the place. At the end of the ceremony, the guests and hosts sang the national anthem of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The edifice was built by the architect Karl Hart, a Catholic of German origin born in the Serbian Banat, who had a construction company at the time.

The synagogue was built in an eclectic style, with predominantly Moorish elements on the main façade but also some neo-Romanesque ones, especially the rosette in the middle of the composition.

On the sides, one can observe a pair of narrow and high windows with a horseshoe-shaped termination of Moorish influence. The rosette is in the centre, and the tablets of the law are flanked above by two small tin cupolas. On the corners of the building are two tiny octagonal towers with Moorish tin cupolas. The entire façade facing the street is decorated with brick. At the top, the composition of the façade ends with dentils, also of Moorish inspiration.

The synagogue was rebuilt, and its capacity was increased at the beginning of the 20th century. Vintage photos show the original design with a central spire decorated in the Moorish style, and two spires appeared after the reconstruction. Being an Orthodox synagogue, it could not be about an opulent exterior, but after the intervention, the edifice lost much of its original beauty.

The relatively small edifice is part of a set of buildings necessary for the life of the local community. The courtyard has several ground-floor buildings: a prayer room and modest dwellings. A heder (kindergarten), a mikveh (ritual bath), and a building used at that time as a ritual slaughterhouse were still functioning. In the interwar period, a primary school was also built. From the marble plaque in the synagogue's hall, we can learn that in 1928, two well-known Jewish architects in Timișoara, Arnold Merbl and Jakob (Jacques) Klein, collaborated on the design of the school building. The project initiators, First Rabbi Bernát Schück and the president of the community, Iacob Rothbart, are also mentioned on the plaque.

The synagogue of Iosefin was the only functioning synagogue among the three large synagogues in Timișoara, from 1985 until the inauguration of the Cetate Synagogue in June 2022, after rehabilitation works. In 2005, a heating system was introduced through the donation of Ioan Holender, originally from Timișoara and the longest-serving director of the Vienna Opera.

The interior of the synagogue is unique in Timișoara in its atmosphere: the painting on the walls is inspired by Moorish art; the geometric shapes form complex compositions, some of which look like oriental carpets, and the ribs of the vaults are greatly emphasized by the rich beige and brown decoration, and the fields among the decorated bands that divide the vault are blue.

On the wall next to the Aron HaKodesh (the place where the Torah scrolls are kept), one can see, on the left and right, in the centre of the decoration, two stylized, slightly elongated Magen David ("Shield of David"). The space shows features of modernity and simplicity specific to the Art Deco style.

Notably, the building structure is partly metallic. In the synagogue, the arches that support the ceiling start at the top of four slender cast-iron pillars. Thanks to the slim and elegant metal elements, the whole interior has a refined air. The existence of a metal structure in this building is of great interest because, before the First World War, there were not many such technical solutions in Timișoara.

The Aron HaKodesh is a simple but harmonious element. It is white, made of wood, and with few decorations.

As in the Orthodox Synagogue in Arad, the interior space results from modern ideas combined with oriental-type decorations specific to these buildings of worship in Central Europe since the 19th century.

The reconstruction carried out a century ago proved effective. The building, which can receive up to 150 people, is the only synagogue in Timișoara that has successfully withstood the times without major repairs and is still in perfect working order today.

The members of the Orthodox community emigrated very soon after 1945, most in the 1950s. The restrictions of the communist period, intolerance towards those who had a different perspective on the world and life, as well as the obligation to work and go to school on Saturday - all those were things that made the life of traditionalist Jews impossible. As it was generally not about engineers, doctors, or teachers, the state granted the Orthodox Jews the right to leave more easily. The vast majority of the emigrating families from Timișoara settled in Israel, but some of their descendants live today in the United States or other countries. Since many children are usually born into religious families, we can appreciate that the descendants of those who once attended the Iosefin Synagogue are numerous today.

The entire community's religious life once took place in the courtyard of the building. Community members came to pray, buy kosher meat, bathe, learn, or just meet. The Chief Rabbi, Bernát Schück, was followed by his son, Andrei Schück, who emigrated after World War II. Starting in the 1960s, the rabbi of the synagogue was Rabbi Ernest Neumann. He also cared for the smooth functioning of the religious life in this synagogue until his death.

For the past thirty years, on the occasion of big celebrations, members of the Jewish community from all over Timișoara have gathered here. From 2022, the Cetate Synagogue Cetate became the heart of the religious life. 

Note: Part of the information in this article was taken from the book “In the footsteps of Jewish Timișoara” by Getta Neumann.

“Pe urmele Timișoarei evreiești”

Gabriel Szekély
Gabriel Szekély

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