The longest curtains I have ever seen drew in at 20 metres. Fitting drapes, I suppose, in a three thousand-room monolith, 12 storeys up and 5 down (or was it 12 down too – they never fully explained where the dungeons were), covering a mouth-watering 3.25 million square feet. All for a megalomaniac, who destroyed the homes of 40,000 people, plus the odd church and hospital, to house himself, his wife and a few retainers.
The only sad part of the story is that the poor chap died before he could move in – put out of his misery by firing squad on Christmas Day after 20 happy years of misrule. His building was called the People’s Palace. But until he died, the very last to get inside were the hapless, long-suffering people.
Amazing that Ceausescu got away with it for so long, duping his countrymen, taking their money, pursuing incredible schemes, ensuring it would all end badly.
I was in Bucharest as part of a conference to debate what it means to be a JCC. We hoped to tease out the essence of ‘JCC-ness’. We explored the power of community, the importance of shared values, tikkun olam, and daily struggles to make Jewishness live in a non-religious way. We admired the pride of those who are managing to bring something Jewish back to places from which it had almost completely disappeared.
Delegates from 27 countries showed extraordinary commitment
and dedication, energy and dynamism. The
object was dialogue and learning, breaking down barriers, seeing ‘community’ interpreted
in many different ways.
From France, for example, where JCCs are serious, traditional, and strongly cultural, places, often struggling to attract the young, we were introduced to Moadon. Here, the kids have taken over the asylum (as it were), designing programmes, managing the centre, taking the key decisions – and in doing so, drawing in friends, parents and grandparents too.
From Hungary, by contrast, where to be Jewish still means hesitancy and keeping your ethnicity to yourself, we heard about Siraly (the seagull), the Jewish equivalent of a squat: a derelict empty building turned into a hip and happening venue, open to all. Fashionable scruffy said one visitor, Jewish in thought but not dogmatic, cool; a bar, a café, a comedy club, a place of heated debate, a bookstore, a venue for music.
Meanwhile, in Bucharest, outside the just opened, warmly lit and welcoming JCC, was the teeming city. No yellow lines, no bicycles, no parking tickets. Music over loudspeakers in the streets, muddy pavements, stray dogs, dank courts, peeling stucco on grand houses divided into tenements, cigarettes and tobacco smoke everywhere. Our hotel, brand new, rising eerily out of a post-apocalyptic landscape – think Repo Man crossed with Metropolis – sat desolately in the no man’s land between the crumbling old streets and the unfeasibly wide, traffic-filled, agoraphobia-inducing boulevards, lined with the brutalist apartment blocks of the maniac dictator.
The latter part of the conference was overshadowed by news from the US. Delegates frantically checked blackberries to read about yet more key funders who were casualties of Madoff. Many charities are already suffering; the impact on the JCCs of Eastern Europe funded by US agencies will be severe.
Amazing that Madoff got away with it for so long, duping his countrymen, taking their money, pursuing incredible schemes, ensuring it would all end badly.