Picture everything you could possibly want from a classic European country, add a certain quirkiness, and you have Serbia—where so many European cultures intersect and where Sephardic Jewish culture was centered. Our trip will begin in Belgrade, which offers great museums, two major rivers—the Danube and the Sava—a synagogue, a Jewish museum and community center, and colorful cafés and restaurants for fine dining. A little way up the Danube, we will visit Novi Sad, a charming baroque town and a former outpost of the Hapsburg Empire, featuring wineries, beekeeping operations, and a synagogue that has been transformed into a cultural hall.
Farther down the Danube, we will come to Bucharest, capital of Romania and once known as “Little Paris,” for its elegant architecture and boulevards and now home to a mixture of Communist utilitarianism and modernist glitz. Formerly home to a major Jewish community, Bucharest still has a number of active synagogues as well as a Jewish museum. From Bucharest, we will head north to explore Brasov—in the heart of beautiful Transylvania, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, with its magnificent synagogue and Gothic church—and then on to Sighisoara, birthplace of the fabled historical figure Count Vlad Dracula.
With a great variety of landscapes and cultural monuments, with reminiscences of a complex Jewish culture embodying Ashkenazic as well as Sephardic heritages, the traditionalist and the modern, with visits to two UNESCO World Heritage sites; with lectures on many aspects of history and culture—general and Jewish—by our accompanying scholar, along with good food, fellowship, and music, this trip will be a truly memorable experience.
In Belgrade, Serbia, check in to the Square Nine Hotel, known for its sophisticated design and elegant, modern atmosphere. Rest and relax from our journey.
Evening: Overview by our accompanying scholar, Professor Ray Scheindlin, followed by an orientation and an opportunity to get to know one another. Welcome dinner at our hotel (included).
Our tour will begin with a visit to the Sukkat Shalom Synagogue and Jewish community, as well as the Jewish History Museum of Belgrade. The museum’s building was designed in 1928 by architect Samuel Sumbul for the needs of the then-Sephardic community. At the museum, we will hear a presentation by Professor Scheindlin, “Serbia and Its Jewish Community,” after which we will visit the nearby Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Citadel. Situated near Belgrade’s most beautiful and largest park and overlooking the Danube, the fortress is a unique museum of Belgrade’s history. Other sites on our itinerary this morning include a visit to Ružica Church, a small chapel built into the side of the fortress.
Following lunch (included), we will enjoy a private guided tour of the Zepter Museum, famous for its collection of Serbia’s fascinating art scene in the second half of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries.
Evening: Festive Shabbat dinner (included).
Morning: Free time to relax or attend services at the Sukkat Shalom Synagogue, a short walk from our hotel.
Afternoon: Explore sites of interest on our own, and/or visit one of the nearby museums—including, among others, the Nikola Tesla Museum and the Applied Arts Museum—all within a short walking distance from our hotel.
Visit to historic and picturesque Novi Sad. En route, we will stop at Sremski Karlovci, a baroque town on the banks of the Danube that played an important role as a spiritual, cultural, and political center for the Habsburgs. Here, we will visit Jovan Živanović Apiculture Museum and Winery for a tour of its impressive 300-year-old wine cellar, sample its wines, and gain insights into the local tradition of apiculture (beekeeping)—still operated by descendants of the original founder. Following lunch, we will continue to Novi Sad for a tour of the town and a visit to its synagogue. Located on Jevrejska (Jewish) Street, the synagogue was added in 1991 to the Spatial Cultural-Historical Units of Great Importance list, though it is used today to host cultural concerts and events.
Today, we will travel south from Belgrade and visit Oplenac, the mausoleum of the former royal family and House of King Peter I. We will then return to Belgrade in time for lunch on our own, with the afternoon free to continue exploring Belgrade on our own and/or for last-minute shopping.
Late afternoon and early evening (optional): River cruise on the Danube.
Morning at leisure.
Afternoon flight to Bucharest—continuing to Brasov, where we will check into the Kronwell Hotel.
Evening: Before dinner at a local restaurant (included), Prof. Ray Scheindlin will address the topic “Romania and Its Jewish Community.”
Walking tour of Brasov, including its synagogue and community center. Brasov Synagogue is a liberal synagogue that has “risen from the ashes” twice, each time restored more magnificently than ever.
Afternoon tour of Old Town. We will begin by visiting the historic town hall square, full of colorfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. The tour also includes the “Black Church, ” the largest Gothic church in Romania, which houses one of the largest organs in Eastern Europe, as well as the richest collection of Anatolian carpets in all of Europe.
We will begin the morning with a visit to the thirteenth-century Church of Prejmer, an exquisite jewel among the Transylvanian fortified churches, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site, enclosed by a massive wall 14 feet thick and 42 feet high, with more than 250 storerooms inside its walls. Afterward, a visit to Sighisoara, a perfectly intact sixteenth-century gem with nine towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses, and ornate churches. Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), ruler of the province of Walachia, 1456-62, who inspired Bram Stoker’s fictional creation Count Dracula.
Following a break for lunch on our own in Sighisoara’s Old Town, we will visit the Sighisoara Synagogue. This synagogue, unusually decorated with paintings of palm trees and a ceiling decorated to resemble a starry night, served the now-extinct Jewish community for more than a century.
Depart for Bucharest with a stop at Bran Castle, first mentioned in an edict issued by Louis I of Hungary in 1377. In 1920, the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania and the favorite home and retreat of Queen Marie. Inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana, it was seized by the Communist regime in 1948 but ultimately returned to Dominic von Habsburg, son and heir of Princess Ileana.
Following a break for lunch (included), visit to Peles Castle before arriving in Bucharest.
Check in to our hotel with time to relax before enjoying a festive Shabbat dinner (included).
Morning: Free time or (optional) attend services at Yeshua Tova Synagogue, Bucharest’s oldest synagogue.
Afternoon: Private guided tour of the Art Collections Museum, with special focus on collections donated by Jewish patrons and artists.
Evening: Presentation by Prof. Scheindlin: “The Synagogues of Bucharest,” followed by dinner on our own.
Morning: Tour Bucharest, once known as “Little Paris,” including its outdoor ethnographic Village Museum. One of the first and most recognized museums of its kind in the world, it was founded in 1936 by the sociologist Dimitrie Gusti. Following a break for lunch on our own, a private guided tour—with a special focus on Romanian Jewish artists—at the National Museum. Following our tour, for those interested, time to continue and experience some of the other excellent art collections of the museum.
Evening: Presentation by Prof. Scheindlin: “The Holocaust in Serbia and Romania.”
Today, we will visit two of Bucharest’s synagogues—the Great Synagogue, now a museum; and the Choral Temple, a re-creation of Vienna’s Great Synagogue—before continuing to the Jewish History Museum, which provides a broad coverage of the history of the Jews in Romania. The museum’s displays include a collection of books written, published, illustrated, or translated by Romanian Jews; a serious archive of the history of Romanian Jewry; a collection of paintings of and by Romanian Jews that, while relatively small, is of a caliber worthy of a major art museum (many of the same artists’ works hang in the National Museum of Art); and memorabilia from Jewish theaters, including the State Jewish Theater and a display devoted to Zionism.
Afternoon: Free to continue exploring Bucharest on our own and/or last-minute shopping; optional tour of the Royal Residence.
Evening: Closing meeting, followed by a musical performance by Janice Meyerson and dinner (included).
Depart for U.S.
The luxurious Square Nine Hotel is in the heart of Belgrade, just steps from the Kneza Mihailova pedestrian and shopping district and the Kalemegdan Fortress. Belgrade’s first world-class, luxury, five-star hotel blends international lifestyle and local hospitality with sophisticated design and an elegant, modern atmosphere. The Sisley Spa Center offers modern furnished rooms and free Wi-Fi access throughout the property.
A four-star luxury hotel, Kronwell is the most luxurious in Brasov. The hotel has stylish accommodations equipped with state-of-the art facilities, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. The new Belaqva Spa and Wellness Center offers beauty therapies, a fitness studio, an exercise area, and a sauna. Guests can also enjoy the indoor pool.
Just steps from the former Royal Palace, museums, and Music Hall, the deluxe, five-star Radisson Blu Hotel provides well-outfitted rooms in the heart of Romania’s capital. Accommodations include access to the business-class lounge and free Wi-Fi. The hotel’s spa offers indoor and outdoor pools and the exotic Bali Spa, which re-creates the atmosphere and spirit of Asia, with state-of-the-art facilities and a wide range of treatments.