Lugoj Neolog Synagogue

Instead of the monumentality observed in certain synagogues of the period, the atmosphere here resembles more that of a welcoming salon.

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8 Cuza Vodă St.

The history of the Lugoj community spans almost three centuries. In 1733, the city already had 46 Jewish residents. Their numbers reached 550 in 1851 and 1,622 in 1900.

The first synagogue in Lugoj was built in 1793, in a courtyard on the current Cuza Vodă Street, as mentioned in Tobias Schwager’s book “The Jews of Lugoj”. It seems that this house of worship also burned down in the great fire of 1842, which destroyed part of the city's central area. The first rabbi we have information about was Levi Zwi Hirsch Oppenheimer (1794–1859), the son of the famous Chief Rabbi of Timisoara. The last rabbi in Lugoj, until he emigrated to Israel in 1920, was Dr Avraham Itzhak Nebel.

According to the source cited above, the new synagogue in the current location was inaugurated in May 1843. The engineer and visual artist Gheorghe Reisz mentions in an article published in the Lugojul newspaper (No. 25/1992) that reconstruction works on the edifice took place between 1904 and 1905 and, due to the transition of the synagogue from the Orthodox to the Neolog rite, its interior underwent changes. The bimah was moved from the central area of ​​the space to the Aron HaKodesh (the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept), women’s balconies were built, and a Wegenstein organ was added. 

The synagogue is located on a narrow lot between two single-story buildings. Its façade is decorated with four columns, and the pediment on the first floor has two small towers at the edges. Three windows are on this façade; the middle one is a rosette with mosaics, an element inspired by medieval European architecture. On the tympanum of the façade, one can see the two tablets of the law, as in many other synagogues in Central Europe. Access is through two separate entrances: for the ground floor and the balcony, located on the backside of the building.

The side windows are decorated with coloured stained-glass whose dominant shades are red, yellow, and purple. The composition of the windows also comprises the symbol of the six-pointed star, Magen David (lit.“Shield of David”). The straight ceiling is an embroidery of colourful flowers that impresses with the variety and harmony of its colours and shapes. The whole composition resembles a large, magnificent Persian carpet. It is, in fact, the only genuinely oriental element in the entire building, which stands out for the presence of elements significantly varied in style and origin. It was something common during the period of eclecticism, which allowed the use of decorative elements from various historical periods. 

The women’s balconies stand out on the first floor, supported by metal pillars with Ionic capitals. The chandelier, quite simply shaped, is elegant and fits into the overall atmosphere of the place. A decorative clock is between the two entrance doors on the back wall of the building. The solid wood benches are plainly ornamented. Besides the coloured ceiling that is the central decorative element of the interior composition, the visitor’s eye is drawn to the Aron HaKodesh, designed in an eclectic style but showing influences of the neo-baroque style, characteristic of the Catholic churches of the time. The solar motif with golden rays of neo-baroque inspiration can also be seen around the tablets. 

The organ, with its small Ionic columns on the left and right, each supporting a canopy, is decorated in the same eclectic style. The instrument, which is still functional and used at various concerts, was built in 1903. 

The “Hazamir” choir was active in the synagogue. Tobias Schwager writes that, apart from Jews, people from outside the community also sang in this choir, including the famous opera tenor Traian Grozăvescu. Over time, the synagogue hosted numerous concerts, and this tradition has been resumed in recent years. 

Two lamps with brass legs are placed in front of the Aron HaKodesh; both have six arms in the upper part and date from 1905. On one wall is a decorative majolica sink (kior in Hebrew) for washing hands, donated by the Baruchs Rezső and Róza in 1903. A curtain, or parochet, is in front of the ark door. There are several such velvet curtains, embroidered with gold, with a border, on which the names of the donors are written. The curtains were changed according to the celebrations that occurred at that time of the year. 

This building was commissioned and financed by a relatively small, not very wealthy, but lively community. The aim of the beneficiaries over a hundred years ago seems not to have been a particular luxury, but to create a pleasant, somewhat intimate space where members of the community could meet as a family. Instead of the monumentality observed in certain synagogues of the period, the atmosphere here resembles more that of a welcoming salon. The stylistic borrowings from the repertoire of other cult buildings of the period indicate the desire to integrate the community members into the existing urban society at that time.

Gabriel Szekély
Gabriel Szekély

Watch the interview with Ivan E. Bloch, the president of the Lugoj Jewish Community

Stories of the Jewish community

Read the stories of three generations of Jews and uncover the ever-changing destiny of this community

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