BERLIN – A group of Romanian high school students is set to arrive in Israel on
Monday as part of broader exchange programs that have helped crystallize strong
relations between the two countries in the fields of education and Holocaust
“It is very important to forge a friendship on a personal
level between Romania and Israel,” said Dr. Alex Hecht, a New York dentist and
son of Holocaust survivors who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote
increased bonds between the two countries.
He added that it is good for
Israel to have friends in Europe.
Hecht, who grew up in northern
Transylvania, said the group of Romanian students from Simleu Silvaniei will
arrive in Israel for a six day visit. He spoke to The Jerusalem Post last week
in a telephone interview during his visit to the small city of a little over
16,000. Simleu Silvaniei is joined with Petah Tikva, with a population of over
200,000, for a city partnership.
Hecht has spearheaded a series of
Romanian-Israeli student exchanges and the revival of Jewish life and education
in Simleu. He first became involved in the small Transylvania town of over a
decade ago when he launched an effort to create a Holocaust museum and rebuild
the old synagogue.
Daniel Stejeran, the director of the Holocaust museum
that opened in 2005, told the Post by phone that the high school program has had
three exchanges since it began three years ago. He said he believes the program
is very important because it manages to get young people from Israel to connect
to the Romanian culture and tradition.
“Our Holocaust museum is not just
museum, it is a learning and educational center,” Stejeran said and added that
visitors from the United States, Poland and Hungary have viewed the museum.
Israeli ambassadors to Romania have visited the museum four times, Stejeran said
and the current ambassador, Dan Ben- Eliezer attended three times since he began
his tenure in Bucharest in 2010.
In an interview with Romanian TV in
January, Ben-Eliezer said it was very important to have connections between
Romania and Israel and “to focus on strengthening ties between the young
Speaking on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance day in
Simleu, the ambassador commented on the partnership of Petah Tikva with the
“This kind of cooperation should be duplicated to other
parts of Romania and in Israel so more bridges will be built between the young
generations,” he said.
On the TV program, one Israeli student said that
she felt love and support in Simleu and it in turn made her proud of
Stejeran said that prior to the Holocaust, there were between
2,000 and 3,000 Jews in Simleu Silvaniei and the neighboring area and that less
than 10 percent survived after the Shoa.
Israeli Rabbi Zvika Kfir, who
was in Simleu last week, told the Post that within the exchange, the Romanian
students visit the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and are exposed to Judaism and
Christianity. The 51-year old Kfir, who was born in Haifa, has played a critical
role in solidifying ties between Simleu and Israel since 2008.
is a very supportive country of Israel,” Kfir said, who works with Romanians
across the country with respect to Jewish affairs. He said the experiences in
Romania create a sense that “Israel is part of you,” despite being outside
Israel. “[Israel] is there. You feel more safe and secure.”
that other cities in Romania are aiming to replicate the Israeli- Romanian
partnership that has developed from Simleu, including Sighetu Marmatiei, the
birthplace of Noble Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel.