Romanian Jewish community says it has filed a criminal complaint over the removal of the ark in Siret .
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (Fedrom) says it learned only last week that the aron kodesh from Siret’s Great Temple was listed for auction at the Moreshet Auction House in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, on Wednesday.
But David Mena, the lawyer representing the auction house, told the JC that they have documentation proving the aron kodesh was brought into Israel legally in 2016.
After making an emergency inspection, Fedrom said it discovered the aron kodesh currently in place in Siret, supposedly restored in 2016, was not in fact the original but a replica.
Photographs published by Jewish Heritage Europe, which broke the story, showed sloppy woodwork and crude, simplified lettering above the doors of the ark revealed it was not an original.
This was confirmed by a conservators’ report commissioned by Fedrom.
Last Friday, the federation filed a criminal compliant with local police in Siret “in order to avoid the sale of a valuable piece belonging both to the Jewish and Romanian national heritage,” its president Aurel Vainer said.
Neither Mr Mena nor the auction house he represents responded to written requests to share the relevant paperwork with the JC.
In a telephone interview, Mr Mena disputed Fedrom’s charge that they were robbed or defrauded, claiming the aron kodesh was found in a damaged condition “at the court near the synagogue” in Siret, he said. He declined to name the Judaica specialist who made the discovery.
The description of the aron kodesh provided by the auction house states, mysteriously: “A few years ago, during a visit to…Siret, it became clear that the ancient Holy Ark was meant for some reason to be dismantled. …In a complex operation and after great efforts, the ark was brought to Israel.”
Romania’s Jewish community today numbers only 8,000. Based in the capital Bucharest, Fedrom is tasked with maintaining 83 synagogues across the country.
Siret, a town in the historic Bukovina region on Romania’s northern border with Ukraine 12 hours from Bucharest, no longer has a resident Jewish community, the last member having died in 2002. A caretaker maintains Siret’s synagogue.
In an earlier statement, Fedrom indicated they had found “no visible signs of forced entry or robbery” at the Great Temple.
The federation said they intended to notify the relevant authorities in Israel, were the auction to go ahead on Wednesday.
Moreshet does not plan to delay the auction but will halt the transfer of ownership to the winning bidder until the dispute with Fedrom is resolved.
Mr Mena added he believes the restored aron kodesh will be installed in a synagogue and that a bidder from London is already interested in the piece.
Note about the Aron Kodesh of the Great Synagogue of Siret in Romania:
A large holy ark made from wood and fenced in metal, with wonderful decorations, some of which are gilded in the classical Eastern European style. Built probably in the beginning of the 19th century, it stood in all its glory in the city of Siret in the Bokovina district of Romania, at the Great Synagogue “Die Grosse Shul”—the only synagogue that remained in the city after World War II. The *city Siret* is currently a border town and crossing into Ukraine and had a Jewish community for hundreds of years, including many chassidim and Jewish sages. Includes the Admor (1st) of Siret Vizhnitz, Rabbi Baruch Hager (the “Makor Baruch”) who served as rabbi of the city and established a yeshiva there. The Admorim of Nadvorna, including Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Rosenbaum, author of the Divrei Chaim and his son, the Admor Yaakov Issachar Ber Rosenboim, HaBar Yaakov, was born in the city, Rabbi Yosef Naftali Stern, who later became the head of the Pressburg Yeshiva in Jerusalem and a member of the Council of Torah Sages, etc. Zionist youth movements were also active in the city, the most prominent of which were Hanoar Hazioni and Beitar. * The synagogue * According to the testimony of a native of the city, former MK Yitzhak Artzi (the father of the singer Shlomo Artzi and the writer Nava Semel), seven synagogues were in the city: "As the Sabbath began, the seven synagogues in the town were worshiped, Vizhnitz, where Grandpa and I prayed, the Sadiger Kloiz of the Sadigura Hasidim, the Beit Midrash, the tailors' synagogue of the "Shneidreishe Shul", the "Nadvorner Shul", the "Boyaner Schul" and the "The Great Synagogue.” It was the center of life in the town, the religious gatherings were held there, and even the Hasidim who used to pray in the various synagogues would enter from time to time to pray in a place that was also a prominent Torah site. During the Second World War, the Jews of the city were deported to the plains of Transnistria and the Jewish community was exterminated, with few Jews returning to the city after the war and those who guarded the synagogue with devotion. * The Ark * The Holy Ark in the Central Synagogue was decorated with wooden beams with a Star of David with a caption bearing the inscription "And you made an offering of pure gold", and above it the Tablets of the Ten Commandments with large wooden reliefs vases and flowers. The entire cabinet is decorated with wooden decorations, some of which are golden. In front of the ark is a hand-made metal railing. The curtain is a bright floral pattern, with the symbols of the Star of David on it embroidered: "This is evidence of the generosity of Mr. Manali Satungar and his son for the soul of his wife and their mother M. Yantu [Yenta] Rachel B. Elijah [daughter of Elijah] Pinhas Nef [died]  in Mogilov (Mohilev-Podilsky-Ukraine) [Many of the Bukovina Jews died in this city during the Second World War]. "According to expert estimates, the Holy Ark was built in the synagogue at the beginning of the 19th century