(9.5) Continuing the heritage: rabbi Neumann.
The organized framework for Jewish education, religious and secular, was officially abolished, but those who wanted it to survive found ways. Sometimes very risky ones, but often also taking advantage of the new system's loopholes. The old art of Jewish survival developed new forms or, perhaps, new styles. And a master of the art was rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann. His presence, participation and achievements require an introduction. Of course, while writing this chronicle, the learned leaders of the community have always been mentioned in relation to some of their achievements, though a complete account could hardly have been offered in this text. But in the particular case mentioned, there are two aspects to prevail which are different. First come the personal memories of this writer who grew up in the city during the early days of rabbi Neumann's career. Such memories often take precedence over conventional documentary history writing. I already made an apology concerning this while writing the previous chapter. But then, there is also a much sadder aspect one cannot avoid: Dr. Ernest Neumann was leading the community while it was shrinking to just a few hundred members. Shrinking in the city yet not disappearing! Indeed, surviving in a way even in a new diaspora. And his is part of the merit. Just a few details should explain all this.
Rabbi Neumann first came to the city, early in the war, sometime in 1940, as a young graduate of the Budapest rabbinic seminary. Though not a native of Timisoara but of a small town in Transylvania, he was well acquainted with the local ways, just as with the local problems. And his understanding of both, ways and problems, was made easier by the fact that he was the first rabbi in this community who had a perfect command of the Romanian language. He was an excellent speaker in the land's official language, as well as a writer whose abilities were to prove later to be most helpful in throwing bridges. Originally he was only a teacher of religion in the Jewish Lyceum where he introduced, informally, a number of innovations in the curriculum. This was quite significant for many of the students. While general history of the Jews was part of the regular curriculum, Ernö, as we called him, introduced a lot more of it. In fact he lectured, often beyond regular teaching hours, on Jewish history thus offering the students a more complete access to the past of their people. Also the recommended literature became part of the reading of some who then discussed it with him. Just as football! - of which he was very knowledgeable. But then the older rabbis of the community passed away, and the younger rabbi gradually took up their duties. Now the former students of his became his congregants. And even though, given the life under the new regime's strictures, some moved from the city or even avoided the synagogue - they did not avoid him. His home became a meeting place for many of the former students. It was a first step in continuing a heritage. It continued for a long time after, when many an emigrant, returning to see and care for relatives and friends living in the new hardship, regularly visited him and his wife. Visiting "Ernö" was an almost mandatory exercise. An exercise in continuity. In a way it continues also in this humble exertion, since some of the information, indeed some of the relevant books or titles of books used, originate with him. He passed away in 2004, the last rabbi familiar to the area and its Jews. As earlier said, most locals - not only Jews! - remember him for his ability to navigate in troubled waters and keep alive heritage and hope. Many locals, Jews and non-Jews remember him as Unsereiner.
Capitol din manuscrisul "The Jews of Timisoara" de Tibor Schatteles, care urmeaza sa apara in 2009 la editura Hasefer.