The Spiro Ark from its inception has worked closely with Foreign Embassies and their Cultural Centres with the view of spreading the knowledge and a better understanding of the Jewish experience in their countries past, present and even examining prospects of the future.
The special benefits of these events, which frequently combine symposia, literature, drama, photography, art and music, are that diplomats from every corner of the world attend together with Jewish and non-Jewish members of public. One such memorable example was the appearance of the Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia, who openly supported Israel's need for security. Such events constantly offer not only a learning opportunity but also enable the guests of all backgrounds to speak and exchange of thoughts and appreciation of matters about which they knew previously very little or nothing or had little chance to engage in debate about them.
One such event, which took place last week and was organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute's energetic Director, Gabriela Massaci, and the Mihai Eminescu jointly with the Spiro Ark, presented a unique evening in the magnificent building of Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgravia.
In the wood panelled hall - a beautiful exhibition of coloured photographs of the amazing proposed restoration of the ornate synagogue of Medias was presented. It had fallen into a state of disrepair. (The project of restoration is generously supported by the Rothschild Foundation.)
The evening was opened by His Excellency the Ambassador of Romania to the United Kingdom, Dr Ion Jinga.
The photographic exhibition vividly described the prospect and progress of the project up to the final stages which will require additional substantial financial support. It will be eventually accompanied by an educational pack, of historical and explanatory material which will be produced by Anda Dumitru, a Jewish Romanian writer/educator. Once the restoration is completed this synagogue will become an active centre of housing experiential events and constant learning possibilities for adults and children alike.
Until 2nd half of the 19th century Jewish orthodox services in Transylvania were taking place at private homes only. Between 1850 and 1900 there was a boom in synagogue construction, many of which are still standing today and are in need of preservation.
Northern Transylvania and parts of the south had previously been annexed to Hungary. The Hungarians collaborated in transporting Jews from their area to Auschwitz but even before that Jews were subject to extreme anti-Semitism in the whole area.
After the war and with the establishment of the State of Israel, there was massive Jewish emigration which commenced in the early 50's and 60's.
Julie Dawson, who arrived in Romania about two years ago and who spoke to the large audience, described how she was struck by the lack of recognition of the Jewish heritage, by the fact that it was so difficult to access historical information, and by the absence of any organised attempts of preserving the traces of "not necessarily the Holocaust period, but of a once vibrant and important minority who lived in the country for centuries." 'I encountered some instances of shockingly blatant anti-Semitism and often witnessed age old prejudice and stereotyped beliefs, based on simple ignorance!' -- she said - 'There were also signs of hesitant curiosity amongst many to learn more about their neighbours, who have disappeared.'
Julie Dawson, who has seen positive attempts of restoration in Germany, is passionate to keep Jewish heritage in Romania alive, but she asks the crucial question: whose responsibility is it? Romania's? Israel's? European Jewish communities'? UNESCO?
World Jewry differs in their attitude to the current change of usage of these historical buildings, but all are of the opinion that if we do not wake up to the urgent need, the treasure of Jewish heritage will disappear.
Professor Andrei Oisteanu who is a researcher at the Institute for History of Religions in Bucharest and who came from Romania especially for this event gave an illustrated presentation based on his new book 'Inventing the Jew -- Anti-Semitic Stereotypes in Romania and Other Central-East European Cultures' (published by University of Nebraska Press). In this book he examines the image of Jews in Romanian legends, fairy tales, ballads, anecdotes, superstitions and iconography, and at the same time also the image of Jews in high culture -- literature, essays, socio-political literature showing how motifs specific to folkloric anti-semitism migrated to intellectual anti-semitism.
His presentation highlighted major Jewish personalities who were born in Romania, like Moses Gaster (1856-1939), who became the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Community in England and who was keenly active in early 20th century's Zionist politics, Tristan Tzara, the poet, essayist and performer who was one of the founders and central figures of the Dada movement or Marcel Iancu (who was also one of the creators of the Dadaist movement), painter and architect who helped to found the Dada museum in the artist colony in Ein Hod (Israel).
The trio Kosmos have lifted the spirits of the audience with a wonderful performance of Klezmer music plus offering special Romanian overtures.
The Spiro Ark was extremely happy to be involved in this collaboration not only because of its historical significance, but because we feel that the public should be aware of attempts of different countries who are now trying to commemorate rather than obliterate the story of thriving Jewish life in their countries where their existence was tragically terminated. There is a real threat by property developers to purchase the magnificent old synagogue buildings and creating commercial outfits erasing the memory of this thriving and creative community forever.
The restoration of the Medias Synagogue is to establish a model by carrying out a careful and sensitive work and through it, creating a centre of learning about all aspects of Jewish life. The permanent exhibition will guide the visitors including school children and their teachers through an interactive history of the Jewish people, from Biblical times to the present day -- as the ignorance is the root of all evil.
Throughout this initiative of introducing the project the dedicated people working on it, are looking for partners. If any of the readers feels moved by these attempts or know people who might be interested, please contact us - Spiro Ark and we will direct you to those who will be delighted to include you in whatever capacity in their foundation attempts. The Spiro Ark salutes these people who work tirelessly to make sure that our Jewish heritage will be preserved for generations to come.