Sorry we haven't written for a few days - it's been very busy!
Celebrating Rosh Hashana in Bucharest was certainly a unique experience. After a 5 hour drive, we arrived at the Hotel International - a luxury compared to our accommodation in Keresztur! We settled in and made use of the English TV and bath, and were then met by Silviu, a senior member of the Jewish Community in Romania who walked us to the synagogue. Hidden away was the stunning synagogue. On the right side of the Mehitzah (!!!), we had special reserved seats at the front and sat back to watch the service. It was like no service we'd ever witnessed; no one seemed to notice when the service began and everyone kept chatting happily away. The first hour of the service seemed to be various speeches in Romanian, which we nodded and smiled at. To our surprise there was one speech in English by the Israeli ambassador to Romania, where he talked about his connection to the area and the importance of uniting the two countries. The service was an interesting mix of traditions, where Orthodox was adapted for the current community. The service was very difficult to follow, and only a few of the prayers were recognisable. Needless to say, no women partook in the service, and most female members of the congregation appeared not to even follow the service at all. Two and a half hours later, on our way out, we were given a gift of apple and honey, and spoke to many friendly members of the community, who were interested in our trip. We waited to meet a lady who was meant to take us to the dinner afterwards, but we started worrying when they were locking up the Synagogue and we realised she had gone without us! Luckily, we met a lovely old couple who offered to drive us. Upon arrival at the dinner, we were met by Magda who introduced us to some more people and showed us to our seats. There were many long tables with about 100 people dining there in total, with a lovely merry atmosphere. Despite being assured of a 'young people's party', we were definitely the youngest on our table by about 40 years, but nevertheless had interesting conversations with the people sat around us, finding out more about the Jewish community in Romania. The community is a fairly small one of 8,000 people, with Bucharest being the centre, having around 3,000 Jewish people. Most of the communities around Romania are very Orthodox, though things are slowly progressing. There's also a small Chabad community in Bucharest, which is extremely orthodox. The dinner itself was a twist on a traditional Jewish dinner. The first course was some kind of fish in jelly, apparently a Romanian delicacy, followed by beef soup, chicken with vegetables and finally honey cake. We then got a taxi back to our hotel (costing only 40p!) where we got some well needed rest after our long day.
The next day we were met again by Silvui, who filled us in on his role as the Vice President of the Jewish Federation in Romania. We were amazed someone so busy and official gave us so much of his time. He told us on the phone we would be treated like VIPs and we certainly were. He walked us to a bus stop where he bought us tickets for a 'hop on, hop off' bus around Bucharest, where we saw many of the sights including the Presidential palace, the second largest building in the world. Later, we decided to try out some of the Bucharest night life, which was extremely different to London. The atmosphere was the main difference, as we noticed many groups of older men rather than the younger crowd which we were expecting. It reiterated to us that even in the capital of Romania, women are still treated in such a way that they feel uncomfortable to go out alone, probably not helped by the fact a number of places were 'massage bars'. We had a fun evening but were relieved to get back to our lovely hotel, which we left early the next morning to come back to Keresztur. It was certainly a very eye opening experience!