On a neglected stretch of road not far from the compound housing the bulk of Oradea’s Jewish infrastructure lies a dull brick building. Above the entrance is a small sign in stereotypical “Jewish” typeface. “Kosher,” it reads meekly, and below that, “Wine. Coffee. Jazz.”
With its graffiti-covered facade, the place hardly resembles a jazz club — but neither does it look like an old Vizhnitz synagogue. And though it’s still labelled as such on Google Maps, the building hasn’t been prayed in for over 80 years.
The city of Oradea, with a Jewish population hovering somewhere around 400, might not have the numbers to necessitate a kosher jazz bar, or to keep one afloat, but Jews don’t seem to be its niche audience: The handful of grungy-looking hipsters lounging in the courtyard are likely not familiar with the ancient dietary laws.
The bar’s owner, Andris Sella, says that the property which he now rents from the Jewish community has a troubling history, and has changed hands more times than the city itself.
“This was originally a synagogue built by the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect in 1933,” he says, “though they only used it for three years before fleeing due to the rising antisemitism prior to the Second World War.”
Sella says that when Oradea was taken over by the Nazis, the fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross militia used the building to torture the city’s Jews in an attempt to root out any hidden valuables. Shortly thereafter, it was converted into a hospital for the remainder of the war.