My wife and I spent Yom Kippur in Romania. We went to services in the Choral Temple, near Piata Unirii. The scene is worth noting:
There are only two synagogues left in Bucharest, and only one is known to still be operating (the one near Piata Amzei may hold some services, but we’re not sure). The Choral Temple is a large synagogue, a huge hall with ornate and colorful paintings, old-time pews, some beautiful stained glass. It exudes a sense of history.
Services started at 6. We got there around 6:30. Surrounding the entrance to the gate into the Choral Temple inner garden (the main entrance) are big burly men with military uniforms and machine guns. Vans and other vehicles from the Romanian Anti-Terrorist police park on the sidewalks. An ambulance is parked across the street. Men and women and children with yamulkes stream into the gate. You form a single line through the metal detector at the front gate. I felt nervous, of course. From visiting the Choral Temple in March, I knew that there are usually anti-terrorist police surrounding the gate at all hours of the day. I’m glad the Romanian government provides this kind of security, but I wonder how effective it is.
Inside is loud. The place is packed. Old men, young men, children… some people where baseball caps (as long as the head is covered!), carrying ancient siddurs. It is an orthodox synagogue, so my wife entered another door and sat upstairs. It’s like a theatre, with the women staring down from the balcony. The rabbis dressed in white sing Hebrew the whole time, no stopping. Nothing in English or Romanian, just Hebrew. The pews are dark colored wood, the floor tile, and a red carpet runs to the altar. The altar is colorful, with silver candelabras and a gold colored (real gold?) housing for the torahs. I sat in the back. It seemed most of the people talked the whole time, meeting friends and acquaintences. It was distracting. Irina said the women did the same, gossiping and not paying much attention to the activities below. Occasionally I heard some English. The services ended at 8. I waited for Irina in the narrow courtyard separating the temple from the outside world.
On Saturday at 6, the place was half full. People still talked. One of the many rabbis at the altar smacked his hand down on his own wooden pew to get people to shut up. At the end, the shofar sounded, the rabbis danced, singing “ya-rushaliim.” Yom Kippur was over, time to get something to drink and eat.