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October, 2005: Meetings in Romania

Concerning the Proposed Jewish Museum

and Learning Center in Oradea


Bucharest -- Oct. 17-18, 2005
(N. Lempert and B. Roberts attended)

       Virgil Nitulescu - Sec'y of State, Ministry of Culture & Religious Affairs
  Mr. Nitulescu was extremely positive about the project, having reviewed our proposal in detail. He explained that we're working on a "private museum" and that this will be eligible for funding support by the Ministry. He agreed to serve on our Board of Directors, and suggested we meet with Atilla Marko, Secretary of State, Ministry of Interethnic Relations, and scheduled this meeting for us.

       Elie Wiesel Institute for Study of the Holocaust in Romania
  Participants: General Mihai Ionescu, President of Institute; Alexandru Florian, Executive Director of Institute; Oliver Lustig, historian and educator; Lye Benjamin, historian and educator; Felicia Waldman, Director of Jewish Studies Program at Bucharest U.

The group understood the concept and expressed generally positive views about it; certain questions were raised about the name, mission and pace of development. The group discussed other somewhat similar efforts in Craiova, Iasi, Bucharest and Cluj and stressed the need to work on establishing the themes and contents of the institution and the need to assemble the academic steering committee in the very near future.

In individual conversations, General Ionescu agreed to serve on our Board of Directors and Alexandru Florian and Lya Benjamin agreed to serve on our Academic Steering Committee; Felicia Waldman will coordinate.

       FEDROM: President Aurel Vainer and Mr. Benedek, Manager of Jewish
       Properties in Romania

  Mr. Vainer and Mr. Benedek were positive about the prospects, but stressed the need for the revenue generated by the business currently occupying the synagogue. The amount of the rent currently being collected was discussed as well as the proposed rent after we would be given access to the building. Mr. Benedek stated that there are not significant structural problems with the building. There was agreement to move forward with support if the question of revenue/rent is solved, with FEDROM as one of our main partners. Mr. Vainer agreed to serve on our board of directors.

       Atilla Marko - Sec'y of State, Ministry of Interethnic Relations
  Mr. Marko was extremely positive toward concept, stating that our new foundation will be eligible to apply for grants. He explained the procedure for applying and the kinds of grants that the Ministry considers (these typically include educational programs and materials, communications vehicles, roundtables, etc.). Provided us with the application form and guidelines.


Cluj -- Oct. 18-19, 2005
(N. Lempert and B. Roberts attended)

       Lisa Heilbronn - U.S. Embassy, Information Office in Cluj
  Ms. Heilbronn supports the project and suggested various specific sources of potential funding. Will help with communications and contacts.

       Zoltan Tibori Szabo - Journalist
  Mr. Szabo is very much in line with the vision and methods of the project and agreed to help behind the scenes to communicate certain messages concerning, for example, "the big silence" surrounding the fate of the Jews of Romania and the notion that "it's not a matter of nationality but of humanity."

       Ladislau Gyemant - Director of Moshe Carmilly Institute, Dean of European
       Studies, Babes Bolyai University

  Professor Gyemant was enthusiastic about the project and suggested many ways he, the University and the Institute could provide practical help with establishing, managing, and staffing the new museum and learning center over the long term. He arranged for a tour of the Carmilly Institute, and agreed to serve on our Academic Steering Committee.

       Michael Shafir - Professor of Political Science, Babes Bolyai University
  A member of the Elie Wiesel Commission, Professor Shafir expressed support for our project and offered suggestions for various themes the new museum might choose to communicate, in connection with Holocaust denial, race struggles, etc. He also agreed to serve on our Academic Steering Committee.

       Miklos Kallos - Professor (Ret.), Babes Bolyai University
  Expressed support and enthusiasm for the project and practical advice on dealing with rent requirements, etc. Agreed to serve on our Academic Steering Committee.


Oradea -- Oct. 20-22, 2005
(N. Lempert, B. Roberts, P. Lorincz attended)

       Felix Koppelman - President of the Jewish Community, Oradea - 1st mtg.
  Having previously agreed to serve on our board of directors, Mr. Koppelman expressed support for the project, but explained that it is not the top priority for the Jewish Community of Oradea (other priorities include funding the completion of the renovation of the Grand Synagogue, funding to retain a Rabbi to serve the community, etc.).

Mr. Koppelman stressed the need for the building to continue to generate revenue. To terminate the contract with the current tenant, the tenant will have to be reimbursed for improvements made to it. He said that the tenant could not be removed for at least 6 months, but also stated that they could vacate within days if a deposit were put down at this time. Rental agreements can be for a 1 year period only.

In addition, Mr. Koppelman said that strict restrictions on the use of the building, its contents and activities in it will apply. The specific restrictions will be determined by the authorities in Bucharest.

       Dan Maier - General Manager, Alpha Bank; and the bank's legal advisor
  Mr. Maier has been very helpful as a volunteer to the project since May, guiding us with financial and legal questions concerning the formation of our new Foundation. He initiated the process and provided the certificate officially granting us use of the proposed name for the foundation (Memorial Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Northwestern Transylvania -- Fundatia pentru comemorarea istoriei comunitatii evreiesti din Transilvania de nord-vest). He and the legal advisor provided input on various technical requirements, legal distinctions between private and public foundations, etc.

       Students from Oradea University -- Internship
  Student participants were Raul Derecichei, Andra Oros, Hommonai Edith and Virag Andreea. Professor Ioan Horga, Director of European Studies at the University, has organized a group of seven students to serve as interns for the project. Each student must spend 400 hours over the course of the semester, with time sheets to be signed by our board.

The needs as seen by the students were discussed and it was stressed that there is a great need for very basic information, e.g. "What is a Jew?" Many creative ideas were discussed about how these needs could be met and specific projects to be undertaken were described. These were to be summarized by one of the students.

The first projects, to be launched immediately, include: creating a poster to advertise events of the Kristallnacht commemoration; a survey to be implemented during the celebration; an essay and art contest; upgrades and enhancements to the OradeaJC.com web site, etc.

       Aurel Chiriac - Director of Oradea's State Cultural Museum
  Mr. Chiriac expressed approval for the project, but asserted that the Museum portion of the new institution will have to be under state's control, while the Learning Center will be under ours. He explained that together with Terez Mozes he had submitted papers concerning the use of the building more than ten years ago, and that this attempt produced no results; the business operating in the building proved to be the principal obstacle. Papers were then submitted for the Cion synagogue, but this also went nowhere because the University's rector wanted the building to serve as a concert hall. With this rector no longer active, Mr. Chiriac is submitting papers again for the Cion, and is certain that they will be approved. He wanted to know what role our Foundation would play if the Museum were established in the Cion.

Mr. Chiriac did agree that it is possible for us to build a private museum (the suggestion made by Mr. Nitulescu), and that he and the museum would support this, but to a lesser degree.

       Felix Koppelman - 2nd meeting - P. Lorincz only
  Mr. Koppelman explained that he is very much in favor of the project and will do everything he can to help. Stated that FEDROM, the owner of the building will be the partner, but that he can help with creative ideas. Repeated that FEDROM will need revenues and that there will be stringent restrictions on the use of the building. Suggested that we could build our own building if we are unable to come to terms with FEDROM.

       Alex Sivan - General Director FEDROM (P. Lorincz, telephone)
  Mr. Sivan questioned the need for a new Museum in Oradea, but said he is open to being convinced. He explained that there is no precedent in Romania for creating a Museum in an old synagogue and that he would have to draft a contract, which will be forwarded to us within a week or so.

       Legal Advisor and Translator
  Details concerning establishing the new Foundation were discussed and we decided to retain the team of Claudia Timar and Ioan Selyem to initiate the process. Before final documents are submitted to authorities, we will retain a high level lawyer to review everything and certify that the materials are correct.

       Students from Oradea University (2nd meeting)
  A draft of the poster was submitted and approved. Specifics concerning the first set of projects were discussed, in particular the survey, how it will be finalized, implemented and how the data will be analyzed.

       Rozalia Biro - Vice Mayor of Oradea
  Expressed great enthusiasm for the project as something that Oradea needs and can greatly benefit from. We reviewed the results of the meetings above and discussed certain obstacles that could be overcome with the support and participation of the City. Vice Mayor Biro suggested that the City could issue a letter of support. She also suggested that we could present the project to an appropriate group to establish a consensus among all factions that the project should go forward. Possible date for this presentation is 1/19/06.

       Felix Koppelman - 3rd meeting
  Mr Koppelman stated that he supports the project, will help in any way he can, and will make suggestions for how to approach the question of rent with Bucharest leadership. A new suggestion was that we might be able to purchase the building from FEDROM, for 10% less than what had been discussed with Reverend Tokes (who has been trying to acquire the building for several years).


Bucharest - Oct. 23, 2005
(P. Lorincz attended)

       Alex Sivan - General Director FEDROM
  Peter explained that we find unacceptable the idea of paying rent on a building we will be investing heavily in and that the restrictions on the use of the building, as described to us by Mr. Koppelman, are also unacceptable. In addition, only a long term contract, perhaps 30-50 years, would make possible the kind of fund raising and investment required for the project.

Mr. Sivan said he now understood that this project is not similar to others being developed in Romania. He remained skeptical as to its prospects for success but agreed that it is the most important project, and said he would support it. He will be part of the team receiving the delegation from the Stamford UJF next week. He will provide a draft of a contract by early November.

Posted: November 10, 2005

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