JEWS IN ROMANIA: “Take care of yourself, my brother!” Associate Professor Silviu Costachie Ph.D. in dialogue with Dr. Irina Airinei

Associate Professor Silviu Costachie Ph.D. (University of Bucharest) in dialogue with Dr. Irina Airinei Vasile (SNSPA) at NOUA TV
Bucharest, August 23, 2023

Irina Airinei: THE JEWS IN ROMANIA, a masterly thesis written by you under the direct guidance of the great academician Nicolae Cajal. What has this mentorship meant to you during your 7 years of research?

Silviu Costachie: Professor and academician Nicolae Cajal was an extraordinary personality and I owe to this great man a profound change in my way of thinking during the seven years I worked on my PhD thesis. It was not by chance that I had chosen the topic Jews in Romania, this as a continuation of my undergraduate research, under the guidance of Professor Melinda Cândea. After graduating as head of my class, I stayed on as a preparatory teacher for the specialization “Human Geography and Tourism” under the supervision of the head of the geography department, the great humanist geographer Vasile Cucu. I wanted to continue my research in this field. At that time, the great geographer Dumitru Oancea was working in the Institute of Geography of the Romanian Academy, his wife being the chief of staff of the President of the Romanian Academy, Mrs. Măriuca Oancea. Mr. Oancea sent me to the Romanian Academy to find a way to access the Academy Library for specific documentation. I went to the President of the Romanian Academy, Mr. Eugen Simion, an exceptional man who, upon learning that I wanted to do my thesis on Jews in Romania, dialed a number and said just that, on the phone: “Nicule, come to me!”. A few minutes later, Mr. Nicolae Cajal, an academic, walked through the door of the President’s office. It was then that I saw him for the first time, it was then that we had our first exchange of glances and I can say that it was then that I fell in love with this extraordinary man, with this special personality of Romanian Judaism.

I dedicated my thesis, when I published it in 2004, to Mr. Nicolae Cajal because I considered him as my spiritual father, although he was not a geographer, but a virologist, but he had the power to change my way of thinking, in the seven years I had this opportunity, to revolve like a satellite around a planet of knowledge, humanity and wisdom. One of the things I learned from him was that I had to be equidistant, balanced, not to be biased, to stay strictly in the scientific field because we have to build, through these works, bridges between the Romanian majority and all other ethnic groups, including the Jewish ethnic group.

The supervisor of the PhD thesis was Prof. Vasile Cucu. My thesis on JEWS IN ROMANIA was defended by

Prof. Michael Sofer from Israel,

Prof. Nicholas Dima from the USA,

academician Dan Bălteanu and Prof. Gheorghe Radu. I believe that my work has fulfilled this requirement of the great Professor Cajal. Unfortunately, at the time I defended it, academician Cajal was no longer alive. But his personality influenced me a lot, as well as the works written by him that I read and I remember well a work related to the ROLE OF JEWS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF ROMANIA, a work that made me understand that by overcoming this ethnic barrier, we can make a joint effort to develop this country, our country, of Romanians and Jews alike. The second part of the thesis includes several chapters on the economic and cultural specificities. In these chapters you will be able to see the role that Jews played in many historical moments in which their presence made a great contribution to this country.

I.A.: How have you defined, ethically and historically, the relationship between Romanians and Jews?

S.C.: In the field of ethnic minorities there are very clear policies that shape the majority-minority relationship. Two of these policies are related to the will of the minority: segregation and isolation. After 28 years of working in this field, I believe that the only policy that is beneficial for both the majority and the minority is integration, not assimilation. Integrating ethnic groups into the existential whole of the Romanian people is, more simply, like salt and pepper on a large piece of grilled meat: without salt and pepper, the meat has no taste. If we put too much salt or pepper, again, that steak doesn’t taste good. The third component of the ethnic concept is the psycho-behavioural one. The relationship between the Romanian majority and all the other 17 ethnicities officially recognised in Romania’s Constitution is also particularly important from a geopolitical point of view.
I.A.: In the historical part of your work you talk about the presence of Jews on the territory of present-day Romania…

S.C.: Yes, it goes back to the Antiquity, but it must be said that we are not talking about Jewish communities, but only about individuals who were part of the 13th Gemina Legion, which had reached an advanced position on the Dacian territory. They appear in the county of Bistrita Năsăud in the locality of Ilișua. The great archaeologist Silviu Sanie has written extensively on the subject…

The communities certainly appear much later in Moldavia, and later they cross the mountains, cross the Siret Valley and will appear in the other two historical Romanian provinces. These communities were located in certain areas and they noticed the Romanian way of life, what the Romanian peasants and even the townspeople in the fairs and small towns of Moldavia needed and they came precisely with this offer to complete the need for services and other activities. Thus they played a progressive role, they helped to advance in history, to develop some states, some commercial centres. Kogalniceanu said in 1863 that there were 83 such fairs and small fairs in which the Jewish ethnicity was decisive. The Jewish ethnic group is characterized by a high degree of intellectualization, embracing a series of trades and liberal professions that are highly intellectualized and appreciated by the Romanian majority. We have always recognized the value of such intellectuals. I remember that in my family my father and my mother were friends with a colleague of my uncle, Dr. Schutzer, who worked for over 30 years at the Vitan Polyclinic in Bucharest. I also knew him although I was quite young at the time, he was a great man. The Jews were great people who had absolutely nothing to separate them from the rest of the population. So the Romanian majority had a great relationship with that ethnic group. In fact, each of the 17 officially recognised ethnic groups on the territory of our country contributed to the definition of the Romanian way of life and to the enrichment of the culture of these lands, to the cultural and ethnographic variety of Romanian life throughout history.

I.A.: What do you think are the main lines that can be deduced from these age-old links?

S.C.: Surely our relationship is based on this common existence of over 1400 years and I think it is very important to know each other as people because we can understand each other better, we can rediscover our links, we can help each other. I believe that the Romanian people have a lot to learn from the Israeli people and I think that politicians should always be aware of this reality.

Because I will say this very clearly: the Romanian people has never been an anti-Semitic people, as academician Cajal said in a well-known film made by Eugenia Voda for Romanian Television. Because beyond certain regrettable ideas that represented the interests of some political groups, the relationship between the Romanian majority and the Jewish minority was never negative. Starting from this point of view we can always build a relationship at the human level, we can build a relationship at the political level from which we, on both sides, can be winners.

I.A.: I would say that this indestructible relationship between Romania and Israel is traditionally achieved by Jews of Romanian origin who have emigrated and made aliyah to Israel and who have brought with them their culture and love for their native land, returning whenever they have the opportunity to see their friends, the places where they were born and spent the most beautiful moments of their youth, the schools where they learned…

S.C.: Yes, it is a model of emotional bivalence and at the same time a lesson in patriotism that the Jews give us in relation to Romania and Israel, a bridge of the heart and soul between Romania and Israel. A few years ago, an Israeli citizen of Romanian ethnicity came to our department to apply for a doctorate with a subject related to the Jews of Ethiopia. The head of the department at the time, knowing my concerns, asked me to mentor, so to speak, Armand Weiss with whom, over time, I developed a very nice friendship. He defended his thesis with great success, he is a doctor in geography, he returned to Israel, he comes to Romania every year, I met his family, his wife, his two daughters, we keep in touch all the time. Recently, communicating on WhatsApp, he ended his message to me with a sentence that moved me. He said: “Take care of yourself, my brother!”. I asked him, “Do you realize what you wrote?” And he replied, “Yes. And I didn’t write out of inertia, but because I consider you my brother.”
Although I am a mature man, 59 years old, I was moved to tears because a Jewish citizen can consider another Romanian citizen his brother. I felt the deep emotional charge of this expression and the kind of relationship that can be born between two mature people, he being 72 years old, me 59, in such a way that two different ethnic groups, friends, can consider each other brothers. If we applied this way of relating at a macro level, I believe that both the Romanian and Israeli people would have a lot to gain. And just as Israel can help Romania, especially in the current context, Romania can also help Israel. I think we should think about this phrase “Take care of yourself, my brother!” because it is actually a motto that could define this kind of Romanian-Israeli relationship.

Adaugă un comentariu

Despre noi

Asociația Anima Fori - Sufletul Cetății s-a născut în anul 2012 din dorința unui mic grup de oameni de condei de a-și pune aptitudinile creatoare în slujba societății și a valorilor umaniste. Dorim să inițiem proiecte cu caracter științific, cultural și social, să sprijinim tineri performeri în evoluția lor și să ne implicăm în construirea unei societăți democratice, o societate bazată pe libertatea de conștiință și de exprimare a tuturor membrilor ei. Prezenta publicație este realizată în colaborare cu Gazeta Românească.

Despre noi

Asociația Anima Fori - Sufletul Cetății s-a născut în anul 2012 din dorința unui mic grup de oameni de condei de a-și pune aptitudinile creatoare în slujba societății și a valorilor umaniste. Dorim să inițiem proiecte cu caracter științific, cultural și social, să sprijinim tineri performeri în evoluția lor și să ne implicăm în construirea unei societăți democratice, o societate bazată pe libertatea de conștiință și de exprimare a tuturor membrilor ei. Prezenta publicație este realizată în colaborare cu Gazeta Românească.