Our bloodlines in Romania, Romania! … and Serbia | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Our bloodlines in Romania, Romania! … and Serbia


Dedicated to my grandparents.

If you are of a certain age, you likely know some of the words, here in English translation, to one of the most famous Yiddish songs, written in New York in 1925:

Oh Romania, Romania, Romania . . .

Once there was a kind, sweet and lovely . . .

What your heart desires you can get,

A mamalige, a pastrami, a Kamatzl

And a glass of wine, ah . . . !

Not to reduce any pleasure in hearing this song, but the words don’t make realistic sense, do they? Was Romania ever such a wonderful place for Jews? Did the Jewish people ever exclaim: Next year in Romania, Romania!?

Well, my wife and I did exclaim that when we signed up last year for a Jewish Heritage Travel Program to go to Serbia and Romania. Quite appropriately, as it turned out, the tour leader was a well-known and wonderful Jungian psychologist. Jungian psychology is based on the work of Carl Jung, who was not Jewish but an early collaborator of Freud. Jungian psychology has a basic concept of our “shadow self,” known as the dark side of ourselves, well before the Star Wars movies popularized that.


We started in Belgrade, Serbia, subject to the destructive forces of the “dark side” so many times in history, being at the crossroads of great warring empires. We thought that going to Serbia was just somewhere we had to go through for a few days to get to our goal of reaching Romania. I mean, in contrast to Romania, having met many Milwaukeeans right before the trip who trace their roots to Romania, have you known any Jews who lived in Serbia in the past or currently? We didn’t, yet there was a thriving Jewish community there until the Nazis overtook the country, though not without Serbian opposition.

Now, there is still a Jewish community of over 3,000, with an active Sephardic-oriented synagogue where we were hosted for Shabbat. It must have been beshert, as we were seated next a local Jewish leader whose mother had a rather miraculous survival during the war, with the help of a stolen identity and false marriage to a righteous gentile, on to a loving marriage to a non-Jew after the war. Our host was her only child to embrace Judaism, but, oh, did he embrace it! As a lawyer, he worked to get the Serbian government to finally agree to make reparations.

As we were saying our goodbyes, he admired my Magen David tie, given to me by my rabbi son after he started rabbinic school. With just a momentary hesitancy, what could I do but take it off and give it to him? Almost embarrassed, he insisted on giving me his law school key chain, linking it in my mind to my sister and late father, who were also attorneys. As most of us have experienced, wherever Jews meet, we find kinship, often of the most unexpected and rewarding kind.

In Serbia, we were connected to Romania by meeting the former ambassador to Serbia from Romania, arranged by my most thoughtful Jewish high school classmate. We quickly became Romanian “brother” and “sister.”


The Choral Temple is in Bucharest, Romania. Submitted photo.

The Choral Temple is in Bucharest, Romania. Submitted photo.

To come to Romania was a most thoughtful idea of my wife, in order to honor my paternal grandfather, who we thought came from there to the United States in 1898. All I knew is that he said he was from Romania, loved the Romanian foods my mother cooked for him and my father, but his Ellis Island certificate stated that he came from Russia. How could that be?

Our expert lecturer in Romanian Jewish history said that indeed it could make sense. If, like many others, he lived in a Romanian community in modern day Moldova, which at the time he left that was under Russian rule, perhaps he left at the age of 18 to avoid the army.

Not only that, but my maternal grandparents had the family name of Citron, and we thought they came from Austria. Yet, she presented the prominence of many Citrons in the Austrian-Hungarian empire part of Romania of the time. So, I could be from Romania on both sides, one side or neither side. No matter, though, for I concluded that whether they really came from “Romania” or not, Romania was only one stop of the paths of our ancestors’ courageous journeys.

After we entered Romania, I had blood orange juice for breakfast. Then we went to Dracula’s castle. Count Dracula, famous for the fictional accounts of vampires and bloodsucking, was based on a real life warlord who specialized in the sadistic impaling of enemies. Many other “Draculas” have emerged since, some of whom I was to hear about in the treatment of refugee patients from the Holocaust and Serbia.

During World War II, Romania was at first an ally of the Nazis and cooperated with the deportation of Jews in the northern areas where Eli Wiesel was from. Eventually, we found out that no country was responsible for the deaths of more Jews outside of Germany. Opportunistically, they switched sides to Russia when their leader thought that Germany was losing the war. Though subject to harsh measures, that ultimately saved multitudes of Jews in other parts of Romania, who were later bought and brought to Israel. After a brutal communist regime, Romania has belatedly addressed its responsibility for its role in the Holocaust. It does have a small memorial, but could really benefit from one by our own local sculptor Richard Edelman.

Our last stop was the main city of Bucharest, where 6-7,000 Jews remain. Entering our hotel, aptly named the Radisson Blu, there was a mezuzah on the door. Why not – so many of the weekend guests were from Israel!

Past, Present and Future

The next to last day of the tour was Sunday, Sept. 11. After a minute of silence, I recalled that on the same day in Milwaukee, we were celebrating the opening of the renovated Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center fitness center. We, and of course the state of Israel, have become cognizant of the importance of physical strength, in all its dimensions, to supplement our moral and mental strengths.

The last day we visited the very active and very beautiful Coral Synagogue. On the large menorah in the courtyard, the plaque reads:

“And the Lord Said (onto Cain)

What Hast Thou Done?

The Voice of Thy Brothers Blood

Crieth Onto Me From the Ground.”

– Genesis 4:10

Such spilled blood should cry out to all families: mine, yours and theirs. I couldn’t count the times I cried during this tour at what was lost. Fortunately, if we don’t lose too much blood, our bodies can recover, as can cities and cultures, even after concentration camps and caustic communist regimes.

Sometimes, psychiatrists like me have been called Jewish doctors who are afraid of blood. More positively, perhaps we are sensitive to the loss of blood, and in psychotherapy process the blood lust of our dark sides so that we can master our “evil inclination.” “Next year in Jerusalem” finally came true, so perhaps there is even hope that the words of the Romania song will someday become true.

Steven Moffic, M.D., is an award-winning psychiatrist as a clinician, administrator, writer and artist, including receiving the one-time designation as a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association. He is now retired from seeing patients. He and his wife Rusti are co-chairs of Tapestry, the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center’s arts and ideas programs.