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The Roma – Jewish Relationship

more than just mutual suffering

By Chuck Todaro
August 2012




The uncanny Gypsy – Jewish relationship first caught my eye while a guest of a Gypsy wedding in the Moldavian capital of Chisinau when a pale faced gentleman wearing a yarmulke sauntered into the hall. “Oh my, he’s certainly in the wrong room,” were my initial thoughts until suddenly he was surrounded and embraced by the family like one of their own. A moment later he was out on the parquet dancing the Gypsy style.

I turned to Nicolae Raiu, leader of the band who had been my ticket into the soirée. “How would you describe the Gypsy - Jewish relationship?”

“Very good,” he answered unflinchingly, “we understand one another.”

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.... Another barrier came in the secretive nature of both groups, particularly the Roma, as noted in Walter O. Weyrauch’s book Romani Legal Traditions and Culture.  “It is the protective nature of Jewish and most clearly Gypsy that keeps outsiders from knowing about their own affairs that makes it difficult for the outside world to comprehend the Roma ways… It is commonly reported that a Gypsy; when granting an interview to a non-Gypsy; uses the occasion to disseminate wrong information about Gypsy culture. Gypsy names and rituals lose their magical effectiveness if uttered to non-Gypsies. There are, in fact, prohibitions against members of the Roma informing outsiders about their laws.” 







Conjoining Forces


The very different origins between the Hindu-Indian Roma and Semitic Jews that would normally deter parallels had a surprising opposite effect. The non-Christian essences of their cultures would keep both minorities “at arm’s length” of the Europeans and it was from these perimeters of society that the Roma and Jew formed a lasting parallel. Other Asian invaders like the Huns, Bulgars, Cumans, Alans, once having let down their guard by accepting Christianity were assimilating into the European melting pot and today little remains of their origin; they are Europeans. Even the Semitic aligned Armenian diaspora found themselves easily accepted through mutual Christian beliefs and thus blended into European society.....






Self-hating Jew


For some Jews who let down their guard and allowed new ways to creep into the community leading to gradual changes amongst the behavior found themselves engrossed with a new sense of shame and embarrassment brought on by the negative opinions of others. They called this new phenomena “self-hating Jew”. This same ethnic self-hatred has had an even greater effect on the Gypsies, particularly those affected by higher education or improved social status, a rank often acquired through music, a subject which Speranta Radulescu’s raises in her book “Chat’s about Gypsy music.”








Former Stetl Stefanesti

Following my disappointing research with the Jewish leaders in Iasi, I headed north, to the Roma living in the former stetl Stefanesti where a small community of Ashkezani settlers had transformed the agrarian economy of peasants into a bustling center of commerce that had become known as “the Moldavian beehive”. The time was the 18th century; Romania was in the process of breaking away from Ottoman domination towards the West and competitive European markets. It was the time of the enlightenment where these lands of ruling princes and subjugated peasants craved industrialization. A newly forming democracy began enticing Jewish settlers from the east with benefits to bring their knowledge and forge a new start in Moldova