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photo: Renardo la vulpo, Wikipedia
photo: Renardo la vulpo, Wikipedia

The Jewish Community from Alba Iulia was originally Sephardi and benefited from the patronage of the princes of Transylvania. In the 17th century, prince Bethlen Gabriel invited the jews to settle here and offered them several rights and commercial privileges. These privileges were endorsed by the National Assembly in 1627. Prince Apaffi Mihaly Ist also reaffirmed the jewish privileges in 1673.

Data in a census of 1735 show that at the time, the Ashkenazi element became increasingly prevalent. Alba Iulia was regarded for decades as the jewish “capital” of Transylvania and between 1754 and 1868 the Rabbi of the congregation held the title “Rabbi of Karlsburg and Chief Rabbi of the state.”

The first synagogue of the city was mentioned in 1656 by the Swedish traveler Hildebrandt and it was made of wood. The construction of the synagogue in the lower part of the city began in 1822, during the time of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Josef, with the permission of Ignatius Negyes, the Catholic Bishop of Transylvania. The construction of the Mareh Yezekiel Synagogue was finished in 1840, being the first masonry synagogue in Transylvania. It is composed of a grand sanctuary (Heikal), a podium (Bimah) lying in the middle and used by the preacher to read from the Torah, a vestibule (Ulam) above which we find the seating area reserved to women and an altar (Aron Kodes) located to the East or the Tabernacle with the Thora scrolls. The synagogue still preserves the rooms once used as a prison, a result of exerting its judge attributions.

In the 17th century there were about 100 jews living in Alba Iulia and in 1930 their number increased to 1,558 (out of 12,282). As the area became a breeding ground for the anti-semitic Iron Guard, the living conditions for the jews became difficult. In 1938 a bomb exploded in one of the synagogues and all the property of the community was confiscated in 1941.

The jewish population of Alba Iulia increased during World War II, however, as jews were sent there from the surrounding areas by the authorities. heavy fighting in 1944 caused an additional influx. The maximum figure was 2,070 in 1947 and this was considerably diminished by emigration in the 1960s.

Nowadays the synagogue is often empty, but not abandoned. Its threshold is passed not only by the members of the community who come here for holidays, but also by tourists or young people studying Jewish history or architecture.

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