Before World War II, more than 60 synagogues illustrated Chernivtsi’s vibrant Jewish life. Reform-oriented Jews met in the biggest synagogue, the so-called Temple, whereas Orthodox Jews frequented the their main synagogue, the Groise Shil. But there were also various smaller synagogues and praying houses.
Iosif Bursuk, born in 1931, shared his memories in his Centropa interview:
There was a small synagogue near our house on Gonta Street. My father had a seat of his own there and we went to the synagogue on Friday evening and Saturday and on all holidays. Respectable people were called to read from the Torah in front of the audience. They often called my father and sometimes they called me to read from the Torah. I could already read in Hebrew and the rabbi showed me which text I should read. (…) When I turned 13 I had my bar mitzvah. I had a big celebration. (…)
My parents didn’t dress us like Orthodox Jews or have us grow long hair-locks. We wore ordinary clothes and didn’t wear any kippa or hat at home or outside, but we were raised as Jews. We said a prayer before meals, and we spoke Yiddish in the family. We observed all traditions and celebrated all religious holidays.
Food played an important role in Jewish family´s religious lives, as Carol Margulies, born in 1921, tells us:
On Friday evenings we would eat various traditional dishes. I remember one of them. It was called pitze: it was made with eggs and was very spicy. But the dish that we ate most frequently was fish. In Czernowitz, the church’s estate had a large fish market; in addition, there were 15-20 places where one could buy fish. Every other house had its own pool with live carp inside. Everyone ate fish on Friday evenings and Saturdays. At Passover, the town didn’t have any bread. Most of the bakers were Jewish, and they wouldn’t bake bread on Pesach. So everyone ate matzah.
Iosif Bursuk also shared with us how his family cooked traditional Jewish dishes during Sabbath:
On Friday evening my mother always cooked a festive dinner. We always had good food, but it was particularly special on Friday evenings. At Sabbath there was stuffed fish, stuffed chicken neck and carrot tsimes. My mother always baked challah herself. She covered the challot with a napkin with some quotations from the Torah embroidered on it. My mother lit two candles and I recall her enlightened face when she moved her hand three times over the burning candles. It wasn’t allowed to turn on the light or heat up food on Saturday. I remember that our neighbor came to do that and we had steel boxes with kerosene lamps burning inside keeping the pots with food warm all the time. My father blessed the kids, we sang during and after the meals. My parents always went to the synagogue on Saturday. When my older brother and I were old enough they began to take us with them.
Today, only two small synagogues provide space for Jewish religious life in Chernivtsi: The Beit Tfilah Benyamin Synagogue and the Main Synagogue of the Bukovina, which opened in 2011. The latter also has a kosher restaurant.
Those synagogues which once used to be the largest in Chernivtsi, are now being used for other purposes: the former Temple in the town center has long ago been turned into a cinema, and the now privately owned Groise Shil is being used by small companies.
You can find out more about the synagogues when you listen to the chapters for each of these sites.