Global Jewish Reflections | This Elul, I’m Finding Inspiration in Jewish Romania

On a recent trip to Romania, rabbinical student Emma Dubin was moved by the the warmth and diversity of the country's Jewish community — qualities she connects to Elul's Psalm 27.

By Emma Dubin - JDC-Weitzman Fellow and HUC-JIR Rabbinical Student | August 24, 2022

In Bucharest, JDC-Weitzman Fellow Emma Dubin connected with Romania's unique and welcoming Jewish community.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

Just as my plane touched down in Bucharest this summer, I received a text: I had been invited to a wedding in the synagogue … starting in 90 minutes. I was traveling to Romania as part of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s JDC-Weitzman fellowship, along with two rabbinical classmates also in the fellowship. The three of us conferred briefly and then texted back: Of course we’ll come. Mazel tov! Who’s the happy couple?

We raced to the hotel, donned our least-rumpled outfits, and made our way to the synagogue. We learned on our way that the groom was Silviu Vexler, president of the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities; the bride, actress Geni Brenda. A few hours before their wedding, they had heard that a group from JDC would be in town, and so they invited us.

Once inside the stunning Choral Temple, I settled in amid beaming women, not understanding a word of the Romanian around me, not knowing anyone. I was thrilled to be there — what a joyful way for my trip to Bucharest to begin, and what graciousness of this couple, inviting total strangers to their wedding! — but unsure about how to connect with the people around me.

And then the groom and bride walked in, and the singing began.

Kol sason v’kol simcha; siman tov u’mazel tov. Songs I knew, melodies I knew, that Jews sing to celebrate marriages in Bucharest and Manhattan and everywhere in between. Geni and Silviu stood on the bima with their twin toddlers, who twirled in their party dresses and waved at their friends and family and clapped with gusto. I sang and clapped with my whole heart, too.

Emma Dubin, right, poses for a photo outside Bucharest’s Choral Temple with other JDC-Weitzman Fellows.

The wedding was officiated by the community rabbi with sheva brachot and other blessings from the Chabad rabbi, other visiting rabbis from across the country, and assorted Jewish community and Romanian political figures. It was a powerful testament to the strong relationships among clergy and a shared commitment to working together, across any ideological or personal differences, to maintain a thriving Jewish life in Romania.

Surrounded by ebullient celebration, I thought of the words of Psalm 27, traditionally read every day from the beginning of Elul through the end of Sukkot.

One thing I ask of the ETERNAL, only that do I seek:
To live in the House of the ETERNAL all the days of my life;
to gaze upon the beauty of the ETERNAL;
to frequent God’s Temple.

For most Jews, a visit to the Temple was not a solitary journey: It was a seasonal pilgrimage made in community with much song and rejoicing. To frequent God’s Temple was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews from all over.

To frequent God’s Temple was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews from all over.

Sitting in the vibrant Moorish Revival temple in Bucharest, I imagined my sanctuary in New York, and the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem thousands of years ago. I thought of all of the Jews praying in all of these places and of God dwelling in their — our — midst. I looked into joyful faces and imagined myself gazing upon sparkling fragments of the beauty of God.

Reading Psalm 27 daily for 52 days nudges us to consider our choices of the past year and our aspirations for the year to come. During a season of spiritual reflection, the psalm orients us toward rededication to be our better selves.

In 5783, let us be inspired by the model of the Romanian Jewish community to work across ideological and personal differences to create rich Jewish life. Let us follow the example of Silviu and Geni and welcome the traveling stranger into our simchas and communities. Let us gaze into the faces of Jews around the world and find the beauty of the Divine.

Emma Dubin

Emma Dubin is a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she is a Weitzman-JDC fellow. She is currently serving as the rabbinical intern for Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Emma previously taught religious school at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and served as a High Holy Day service leader at Rikers Island. Emma graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Gallatin School of New York University in 2017 with a concentration in Sociology of Religion. Before beginning her studies at HUC-JIR, she worked as an editorial assistant in children’s book publishing and in development for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform Movement’s rabbinical professional association. In her free time, Emma serves as a volunteer mikveh guide through ImmerseNYC, watches HGTV home renovation shows, and visits increasingly niche museums. Emma lives on the Upper West Side and is a member of Congregation Rodeph Sholom and the West Side Community Garden (come visit, especially during tulip season!).

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