Unidentified building on Str. Markain, Botosani

Synagogue near Cuza Voda Str. Botosani


...Arrive in Botosani by 0910. I find a taxi outside the station, but forget my rule of finding one that has more than a 50% chance of making it to my destination. We splutter about three metres and come to a halt. The driver dives out, `Ah, Benzine,í and fiddles around with his jerry can. But still we donít start. Up goes the bonnet.

Finally weíre underway, the car full of petrol fumes, and smoke belching out behind. Perhaps fearing that if we stop weíll never start again, we lurch from one intersection to another, tooting madly at pedestrians or any other intolerable obstacles that get in our way. And he charges me the exorbitant fare of 50000 lei!

He drops me off at Str. Markian, where Botosaniís 240 year old Grand Synagogue is reputed to be. I search the street for more than an hour, up and down it some half a dozen times, roaming round the back of apartment buildings in case itís hiding among them, but to no avail.

I find only one possible building, but it just doesnít feel like the right place. Itís at the end of the street, amid trees, attached to the hospital. It has a heavily decorated, ornate exterior with cherubs, pillars and classical features, a balcony with steps to each side at the back, and a covered porch at the front with a plaque in Russian. If I can translate that it might solve the mystery of what this building once was.

The interior has been transformed for its new use by the hospital and doesnít give any clues. The only tangible Jewish link is a Star of David formed almost accidentally by six circles within a circle, on the roof decoration. My guidebook says that the Great Synagogue was one of the oldest in Moldavia and that it is now surrounded by apartment blocks.

It says it is notable for its intricate chandeliers and original lofty, painted ceiling with exquisite naive representations of scenes of Jerusalem. There are also paintings of zodiac signs and symbols representing the Tribes of Israel. It has a central bimah, enclosed by a trellis, in front of an extremely ornate carved and brightly painted Aron ha Kodesh, overhanging into the sanctuary that is topped by a two-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian empire.

If my tentative building was the Great Synagogue, the grand interior no longer exists. I give up my search, and walking near Cuza Voda Str. I come across a new smaller schul, hemmed in by apartment blocks. Itís a plain concrete building, modern and austere, with only a large Star of David embossed on the side to identify it.

Jews are believed to have settled in this market town in the 1600s. In the coming two hundred years the population grew to be one of the largest Jewish communities in Moldavia. The pre-war population was about 11 000. According to my guidebook, elderly congregants can recall seventy two synagogues in the town. Thousands of Jewish refugees poured into Botosani during the war, swelling the Jewish population to as many as 20 000. Most of these people later emigrated to Israel, leaving only a couple hundred Jews remaining in the town in recent times.

Unfortunately I donít have time to try to locate the townís two Jewish cemeteries, as I also have to get to Dorohoi today...maybe another time.

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