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February 28, 2014

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 28, 2014 In Bucharest, a Jewish theater struggles to cheat death once more Wikimedia Commons Bucharest's Jewish State Theater served as a cultural refuge for Romanian Jews during the Holocaust. The Jewish State Theater of Bucharest The roof of Bucharest's Jewish State Theater collapsed under the weight of snow on Jan. 25, 2014. By Cnaan Liphshiz BUCHAREST, Romania (JTA)--When secret police opened fire on protesters near her home, Maia Morgenstern headed for the Jewish State Theater. It was 1989 and Morgen- stern, then 27, and a few of her friends took refuge in the theater as protesters outside clashed with forces loyal to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Hundreds died in two weeks of chaos that culminated with Ceausescu's execution and the end of de- cades of communist tyranny. For Morgenstern and her friends, the theater was a natural destination amid the chaos. Between the bunker- like walls of its 19th-century building, Romanian Jews have historically found a rare space in which they could come together as a community even during their country's bloodiest periods. "It was my second home," said Morgenstern, who be- came the institution's man- ager in 2012. "We went there because it offered us a sense of safety." Throughout Romania's tumultuous 20th-century history, the Jewish State Theater remained open and Jewish, providing the, capi- tal's Jewish community an island of sanity and a sense of continuity through dif- ficult times. More recently, the the- ater has become a cultural bridge, attracting large non- Jewish crowds to its Yiddish- language performances, an unlikely development made possible by simultaneous translation technologies and Morgenstern's star status. As an actress, Morgenstern has appeared in dozens of Romanian films and televi- sion Shows and, in 2004, came to the attention of English-speaking audiences when she portrayed Mary in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." But the institution's future was plunged into uncertainty last month after a snowstorm destroyed parts of its di- lapidated roof and interrupted performances for the first time in decades. The theater is now mounting a campaign to repair the structure and en- sure the institution's survival. Earlier this month, a cast of 20 performed the comedy "Mazl Tov and Justice for All" on the street in front of the theater to raise awareness about its plight. "This show is meant to be a warning to public opinion but also for the authorities," said a statement announcing the show. "Do not let a the- ater with a unique tradition and identity disappear from Europe's cultural landscape because of carelessness." The Bucharest city council has promised to repair the the- ater. Legally, it is required to do so, as the building is regis- tered as a national monument. But Morgenstern is skeptical. She says the council had made repeated promises to upgrade the building before the acci- dent, but nothing happened. Complicating matters is that the building was ne- glected for so long that merely repairing the roof won't suf- fice. Morgenstern points to deep cracks that crisscross the ceiling, pillars and beams. The cost of fixing it all is estimated at several million dollars. "The building is so run- down that a renovation won't do," Morgenstern said. "It needs restoration, not reno- vation." On Jan. 25, about 80 square yards of the theater's roof caved in under snow, pro- ducing a cascade of moisture that destroyed the building's old wood floor. The theater suspended shows, which had been running every other day. Before the roof collapse, the theater had a mostly non- Jewish cast who performed 70 percent of their shows in Yiddish before a predomi- nantly non-Jewish crowd. Attendance jumped over the past year from 50 audience members a week to roughly 500. Staff say this was made possible by Morgenstern's outreach to non-Jews and her celebrity status. Romanian leaders had long visited the theater on Jewish holidays as a gesture of closeness to the Jewish community. But Morgenstern wanted ordinary Romanians to come. She enlisted support from friends in the entertain- ment industry and launched a public relations campaign that helped raise the theater's profile among non-Jewish patrons. Morgenstern also drew non-Jewish acting students to the theater, helping them hone their craft at a private acting academy. Some stu- dents began performing at the theater and are now part of the rescue campaign, giv- ing interviews to local and international media. "I think it would be a trag- edy for all Romanians if this place is lost," said IrinaVarius, an 18-year-old, non-Jewish acting student who rehearses at the theater every day. During the Holocaust, the theater's importance grew for Bucharest's Jews because it was the only Jewish cultural institution left standing. It was also the only venue open to dozens of Jewish actors among them some of the greatest names in Romanian theater. Artists like play- wright Moni Ghelerter and director Alexanderu Finti had been barred from working elsewhere because of racist laws passed under Romanian leader Ion Antonescu. About halfa million Romanian Jews perished in the Holocaust, but Bucharest's 100,000Jewswere never deported or harmed. "Throughout the Holo- caust era, Jewish theater pro- fessionals continued to work at the Jewish theater, turning the theater into a pillar of civil society for Jews," according to Liviu Rotman, a Jewish histo- rian at the National University for Political Science. Celebration From page 1A rion University, how Israel is making the world a better place, living in Israel, and a UCF senior making aliyala to Israel. Some of the participants are Drs. Jeffrey Bornstein, Mark Klafter, and Dan Ly- ish; Karen Hagan, executive director of Red Cross of Central Florida, who just returned from a meeting with Magen David Adom in Israel; Shani and Nir Boneh from Ben Gurion University; The theater was originally established in the city of Iasi and is among Europe's earli- est Yiddish-language institu- tions, according to Rotman. The theater's current building in Bucharest served as a Jew- ish community center until 1941, when it became the home of the Jewish theater, later renamed the Jewish State Theater. For the moment, rehearsals for planned shows continue in rooms unaffected by the roof collapse. The result is a soundtrack that combines rejuvenation with decay as the sounds of wind and water gushing in through the roof mix with the young voices of actors trying to wrap their tongues aroundYiddish songs they barely understand and may never get to perform. Theater leaders hope the shows might still be staged at temporary venues. "Like the Jewish people, the theater must remain practic- ing -- even in exile," says An- drei Munteanu, the theater's Moldova-born director. Under Ceausescu, the building was condemned as part of his plan to modernize Bucharest. Shortly before his ouster, he sent bulldozers to destroy other monumental buildings around the theater, including a synagogue and an Orthodox church. Rotman believes Ceuasescu planned to demolish the theater but didn't get to it in" time. But to Morgenstern, the theater's survival 25 years ago means it can cheat death once more. "During the revolution, we came here amid heaps of earth and craters all around," she recalled. "The theater towered above the ruins like a sole sur- vivor of a bombardment. It's got one more narrow escape in it yet." Jewish National Fund update; Marilyn and Frank Schwartz who divide their time between homes in Israel and Orlando; and Ari Hoffman founder of Knights for Israel. The program is free and open to the public. For information about "You Are Israel,"contact Sandi Solo- mon at 407-575-9899 or email For reservations to see the film on Saturday night, con- tact Becca Ginns as beginns@ or 407-645-5933 x228. 3946 1 753 6289 572 567491 431826 98273.5 213569 849273 756148 81 964 537 823 759 146 478 615 392 8 ,2 14