One of my goals with the Chag Notebook series is to tell stories from our global female Jewish community.
This year, I have a personal goal to feature Jewish women who live outside of the largest Jewish communities (i.e. United States and Israel). To help me reach this goal, I contacted the Joint Distribution Committee, which works to help build Jewish life and leadership all over the world. They connected me with Luciana Carmela Friedmann, a Jewess from Timisoara, Romania. Luciana is a journalist by profession, and since 2010, the leader of the Jewish community she grew up in.
Let’s get to know Luciana and learn from her.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in the city of Timisoara and grew up during the Romanian Revolution. By profession, I am a journalist and have worked for several newspapers and magazines, including the European Jewish Press, and the Minimum Romanian Magazine in Israel for over 15 years, covering the “Jewish Reality” beat in Bucharest.
In 2010, when I was 32, I became the youngest female president in the history of the Jewish Community of Timisoara. I am happy and proud that throughout the years, we have implemented a multitude of important projects to boost Jewish community life in the region.
In the last two years, my free time has been mainly dedicated to my son Avner, who my husband and I call “Avi,” and who has completely changed our lives for the better. In addition, I have a strong passion for writing.
How do you connect to Judaism?
Since I was a child, I followed the Hebrew courses of the renowned Rabbi Ernest Neumann (z”l), the Rabbi of Timisoara for over six decades, and an extraordinary personality. He died in 2004 and we deeply value his memory. He was part of the more liberal branch of Judaism called Neolog, which began in Hungary, and he also promoted cooperation between all religious groups.
I have also maintained close relationships with my study group, with many of us making aliyah to Israel or emigrating to the United States, Canada, and Germany. Some of us have stayed here and are very involved in our Jewish community.
How do you prepare to host people for a holiday meal or celebration?
Most of our holidays are celebrated by everyone in the community joining together. For celebrations like Passover seders and Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, I am in charge of preparing a meal for approximately 150 people. Now I know what you may be thinking, but no, I am not cooking for all those people. That would be too stressful for me even if I really liked to cook.
Instead, we have a very nice team at our kosher restaurant, coordinated by Ana Adrian, who prepares a delicious meal each year. On a personal level, I inherited the tradition of lighting the Shabbat candles from my mother and grandmother. Also, I have been teaching my son Avi about our meaningful and beautiful Jewish traditions from a very young age.
How does the ideal holiday celebration look and feel to you?
To me, the ideal holiday is when I see many people coming together as a community. Seeing dozens of children playing with their parents and grandparents is my greatest joy. In addition, I like that my family – my husband, children, and other relatives – play a part in this communal celebration.
Leading up to, during, and after the holidays, how do you reconnect with yourself?
Memories of my childhood help me reconnect with myself in each and every holiday celebration.
What is one of your most memorable holiday experiences?
Although it is not a religious celebration, being in Israel on the 50th anniversary of Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day the State of Israel became independent in 1948, was an extremely memorable event. I remember being with a large group of young people on a boat, embracing the beauty and the miracle of the existence of the Israel along with all Jews living in the contemporary world.
In addition, since I was a child, the traditions around the Passover seder have remained the same. Because of the holiday’s festive and elegant atmosphere, it is a time to be together with family and friends. In our community, we celebrate Seders on two different nights.
Two years ago, we had a really impressive Seder, led by a very special friend to our community, Israel Sabag, the director of JDC’s work in Romania and the former Yugoslavia. Over the years, Israel has made a significant contribution to helping our community thrive.
What’s your absolute favorite holiday dish?
My favorite holiday dish is cholent, a traditional Jewish stew that I love. My father (z”l), used to make the absolute best recipe—it’s impossible to repeat.
Do you have any nontraditional holiday rituals or habits?
For me, who grew up in a traditional Jewish family, all of my holiday habits look traditional but they might not appear so to an outsider.
What was something that your mother (or another influential figure) shared with you about the holidays that has stuck with you?
My childhood years were during the Communist era in Romania, so that created a very different atmosphere to celebrate Jewish holidays, with the Communist regime falling when I was only 12. I remember my parents having a very hard time, without access to basic necessities and the loss of freedoms, like the freedom of speech. Yet, the Jewish community came together even during the hardest times, continuing to hold Talmud Torah sessions, or the study of Jewish law, and a choir group.
Even under very close supervision by Communist authorities, we led a Jewish life in the community. And yet, celebrating the Jewish holidays was a very intimate, personal act due to Communist oppression. Both my parents came from traditional Jewish families, and the most important value that my parents – who have since passed away and I miss very much every day – shared with me is the unity of family in every single moment. Family is always a good reason to celebrate. Another value that I inherited from my parents is not to be prejudiced against anybody and instead, look at the essence of every human being.
What’s your number one tip or trick you’ve discovered that makes the holidays smoother, more positive and meaningful for you?
I learned to trust those around me as they are putting their heart and soul into creating a beautiful and memorable celebration.
Your turn: What was your most memorable holiday experience?