by Yakov AmitzurSteinhaus
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder
It seems there weren't many towns in Bessarabia that had as many public institutions as Brichany. It's obvious that the populace, especially the younger ones, were not always satisfied with the activities of these institutions; most of us were not happy with those who headed them and sharply criticized them, finding only shortcomings. However, in truth, if we take into account the political, material and social conditions of the residents of the towns during the rule of the Czar and the various limitations in the days of Romanian rule the way of life and public thought in those days we can only be amazed how the people of Brichany succeeded in establishing public institutions and maintaining them year after year. When we look back on these institutions we must admit they were not as bad as we then thought. It is important to note that we must appreciate the great devotion and the activities of those in charge who were volunteers who worked tirelessly to establish the institutions, maintain and expand them.
However, we cannot ignore the defects. The criticism that was leveled at the institutions at that time and their methods of administration were honest and often fair and reasonable. There were no private interests and all was based on differences in public policy and disparity of estimation of the needs of the public.
We will discuss each one of the institutions.
Very great importance was given to the Association for the Support of Needy Jews, which many called by the Russian word prevelnia (administration). The official name was not appropriate because its purpose was philanthropy in general, giving charity and support of the needy. In this instance the title was in name only and acted as camouflage for the Czarist authorities who limited Jewish activities and deprived the Jews the right to organize community life and establish societies for broad civic objectives. Actually the association dealt with many, different things beyond the narrow framework of providing charity. Its activities were widespread and encompassed almost all public life. It was in a way, therefore, sort of an alternative to an organized Jewish community, which we mentioned above could not have existed in the given circumstances.
The Association was active in almost all the institutions in town, some of them directly subject to its administration, for instance: the Jewish hospital, the matzo factory, the old Hebrew school. Others like the Home for the Aged and the library were supported by the Association.
What were the sources of income of the Association?
Membership dues, paid by the members each year, were certainly not sufficient because not many of the members actually paid. It did receive proceeds from donations or inheritances, etc. but the main proceeds came from the taksa (lease paid by the butcher).
The Czarist regime refused, as is known, to support the Jewish institutions and did not include in its budget any amount for the religious and cultural needs of the Jewish population. It only knew how to levy heavy taxes. The burden of financing these needs was carried by the Jews themselves. They had to use their own money to maintain the synagogue, the Hebrew school, the Rabbi and the shohet (ritual slaughter).
The infamous Taksa was created for this purpose; it imposed a special tax on kosher meat. In every town there were people who leased the Taksa from the government for three years and in return they were obliged to pay the Rabbi and shohet and support the religious institutions. Those interested in leasing the Taksa had to present their offers and conditions to the district authorities. This included:
A. How much they would pay to the government treasury. B. How much they promised to allocate for the public needs, with a detailed list of the salaries of each one of the workers in religious positions, and also the amount that would be given to every religious or philanthropic institution.
In order to determine these sums of money the law required that representatives of the public had to be summoned (one or two from each synagogue). The lessees wanted the approval of these representatives to prevent unwanted competition. The fear of competitors caused the lessees to agree somewhat to the demands for more money for public needs and thus to increase the amount allotted to the institutions.
For many years the brothers Nahman, Barish and NaftaliTzvi Trachtenbroit held the Taksa. The struggle between the public representatives and the holders of the Taksa was difficult and bitter. These wanted the tax on shehita (ritual slaughter of animals) to be as high as possible and the allotments for public needs as minimal as possible. In addition, even among the representatives there wasn't a complete unity of opinion. Each institution would enlist its sympathizers from among the representatives in order to receive a good allocation and it was difficult to find a compromise between the sides and reach an agreement. These disagreements usually were exploited by the lessees for their own benefit. They worked hard to inflame the differences and the discussions lasted late into the last night. Then it was necessary somehow and hastily to finish the matters at hand, and the things are known.
In the discussions, the administration was among the main participants and there was a general agreement that the Association would receive the largest allotment of the budget of the Taksa.
A second source of income for the Association was the baking of matzo. Yosef (Yossi Pines) Zilber and his wife Sarah donated money to build a modern bakery that was given to the Association. These philanthropists also built with their wealth the public bathhouse and also gifted it to the Association. And if my memory serves me, they also donated
a plot of land for the building of the Jewish hospital. In view of all this it is difficult to understand why the Nosim society delayed the burial of R' Yosef Zilber and demanded a large sum of money from his heirs. The bakery supplied matzot for Pesach to all the Jews in town and those in the surrounding villages. The profit that remained was given to the Association. In addition the matter of maot hittim (money for wheat) was arranged. The Association appointed a committee that would collect the money while selling the matzot. Therefore, it was no longer necessary to court the wealthy to collect money for kimha depiskha (flour for Pesach) and everyone who could afford it had to participate as was decided by the abovementioned committee.
However, not a few of the public were dissatisfied with the activities of the Association and they tried to arouse public opinion to make many changes. These people thought that the Association should and could become a democratic public institution that represented all levels of the populace and cared for the public needs of people of all statuses. This change would strengthen the standing of the Association, increase its means, enable it to broaden its activities in many different areas, open new institutions, strengthen the older ones by enlarging and improving them, repair what needed repair in the right place and time. In short, it should be a central institution that organizes the life of the community in all its aspects.
These charges were real. Public participation was minimal. Entrance to the Association was open to a very few. They included only those who paid membership dues. The Association Committee was chosen at a meeting of only a handful of people. For many years there was no change whatsoever in the composition of the Committee and thus the Association became a type of monopoly of a few, as if only they could fulfill the high positions. These people merely maintained what already existed without any ambitions of broadening their scope, without any pretensions of changes and renewal. They saw the essence of their purpose to help the needy, that is, they observed the philanthropic character of the Association, and they alone determined what would be done.
Therefore, many years passed without any new institutions being established like the Home for the Aged, the new Talmud Torah, which were not founded by the Association but by the initiative of others. However, the older institutions remained the same as at the outset; for many years there was no development, neither in its form or scope. This situation was not acceptable to very many of the community. And it served as a cause (at least one of the important causes) for the founding of an organization of craftsmen Farein.
by Yakov AmitzurSteinhaus
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder
The number of craftsmen and artisans in our town was quite large. According to a very cautious estimate they numbered about one third of the Jewish residents. Actually the artisans occupied a significant place in the economic life of the town. Although they did not have an organizational framework, however, they
constituted a unified section of the populace, since most of them were concentrated on certain streets (the streets of the tailors, the shoemakers, the blacksmiths, the water carriers) and had their own synagogues. Nevertheless, their strength in the organized life of the town was very small. Not because they didn't want to be part of it; the opposite was true, they were aware of everything that happened in town. They spoke out at various assemblies, took a stand on problems from their viewpoint, protested about various discriminations and demanded the correction of what they viewed as injustices. More than once they attempted to claim their place and representation in the various organizations, and especially in the society Support of the Poor and its administration. But no one listened to them and nothing came of all their efforts. They were not admitted to any society other than the Loan and saving association. After a time they organized a group that was headed by DavidYosel Kizhner, Beryl Shneider (Beryl Simha's), Motti Kramer, Yosef Shneider (Yosel Haim's) and others, and established their own organization of craftsmen and artisans the Farein.
This society existed for a few years and influenced the communal life in Brichany. A group of devoted activists was formed and they demonstrated an impressive organizational capability. They were able to overcome the indifference of most of their members and to consolidate an active group. They showed initiative, and in addition to economic aid and medical help given to its members, they established economic and cultural institutions and were not intimidated by difficulties and obstacles. Initially the society was intended to care for the needs only of their organization, but they quickly diverged from this framework and their broad activities were enjoyed by parts of the general public until it became sort of a parallel society to the Support of the Poor.
Two important activities of the Farein will be noted here.
the school existed but was finally closed due to budget problems, and essentially because of the constant disagreements between the Farein and Zusia Lerner.
After years of constructive and broadranged activity the Farein began to decline and with the eruption of the First World War it ceased to exist.
by Yakov AmitzurSteinhaus
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder
The organization of community life in our town had always been the desire of the best of the public activists, and especially of the General Zionists and the Youth of Zion. Both viewed it as one of the important foundations of their Zionist activities, and one of the burning problems of communal life in Brichany. They strived to establish an organized democratic community committee. However, all their attempts did not bear fruit, because difficulties and obstacles stood in their path and thus the matter was postponed time after time.
On the one hand, they encountered both the open and concealed resistance of the Romanian authorities despite the law that allowed it. Not only did they not encourage it but did everything to prevent every public initiative in this matter. On the other hand and that is the main thing the Jewish residents did not show enough awareness and interest in organized public activity, some due to indifference and habit and others from their unwillingness to pay for new initiatives and the burden of additional taxes.
Some groups sharply opposed the establishment of a united community council and undermined such attempts and sabotaged as much as they were able. These people were mainly from among the activists in public works, heads of the institutions and charitable societies. Some were truly worried about the fate of their institution or society, that they might be harmed by the establishment of an organized Jewish community (Kehila). Others feared for their own status, that they might be removed from the public welfare. They feared they would lose their positions and thus their personal esteem would be diminished. It seems that there also were some who feared, not baselessly, that their benefits and income would decrease, such as the Taksa lessees, the butchers, etc. These opponents were joined by the leftists who unleashed propaganda against the Zionists saying they were planning to take control of the public and its institutions, and that the Community committee would be exploited by them to levy new taxes.
However, with the decline of the economic situation the distress of the people grew worse and reached a point that a large section of the populace became impoverished. Not only were there problems with maintaining the institutions and societies, but also from year to year the needs of the residents increased and it became very important to found new charitable societies. These institutions and societies had to aid in social welfare such as the society Just Lodging to provide medical aid to the needy in medications, healthier food, etc., and a Jewish Hospital. The society Clothing the Poor
supplied clothes and shoes to the poor, and especially to the children; a cafeteria for the poor children which was established by the initiative of the American society, Relief (see the article by Kessler). These new societies and the veteran ones were under pressure of increasing shortages, and the requests for help and more support forced them to broaden their activities. And where would the money come from? Respected women would go around the houses in pairs to collect donations usually as monthly payments. The Jews were asked to give and they did so and then openly complained about the numerous requests.
The situation was that the jealousy of the communal workers did not bring peace. Naturally, every such worker considered his institution to be the most important, and the others institutions less so, therefore competition prevailed. While they praised their own institutions to the residents who contributed, they also denigrated the others and criticized those who headed them. Matters sometimes reached very unpleasant exchanges and mutual insults.
Apparently, this brought about a renewal of interest among the many communal workers, who energetically tried to organize the community, and this time they succeeded. The opposition of the objectors was weak and their propaganda against the community (Kehila) no longer found much support. Also, this time, the authorities did not impose difficulties. It's possible that to a certain extent the opponents were right when they ascribed the success to the fact that Dr. Trachtenbroit supported this initiative they also hinted that by virtue of his support he was named chairman of the Community committee (Kehila). By one way or another, in 1934 the first Community committee was finally chosen.
The first Community Committee (Kehila) numbered 17 persons chosen from among all Jewish communal groups and was comprised of 5 General Zionists, 4 Zionist Youth, 2 Mizrahi, and 6 others. No representative was chosen from among the opponents. These are the names of the representatives: Dr. Trachtenbroit, Chairman of the community; Eizik Berg and M. Tilipman, vice chairmen; Rabbi Efrati, Yeshayahu Apelboim, Zalman Broide, Benyamin Bichutz, Noah Dezktzer, Sarah Vertikovski, Zusia Zilber, Moshe Likerman, Feivel Malachson, Moshe Nisenboim, Fischel Frankel, Shalom Cherkis, Avraham and Joseph Leib Shiller.
The poor children after having just eaten
The second time 25 members were chosen for the Community Committee:
In this Community Committee there was almost no change in the public composition and also not in the third Committee, except for an enlarged representation of the craftsmen and artisans.
The third Community Committee comprised 27 members:
Dr.Trachtenbroit, Chairman; Eisik Berg and Dr. Fleiger, vice chairmen; Rabbi Efrati, Haim Anoutzki, Yeshayu Apelboim, M. Brandes, Yakov (son of Pinhas) Bershtein, Yosef Dorfman, Noah Dezktzer, Zusia Zilber, M. Tilipman, Moshe Likerman, Zalman Lerner, Feivel Malachzon, Zusia Nisenboim, Meir Snitibeker, Haim Forman, Fishel Frankl, Shalom Cherkis, Baruch Fuchs, Yosef Roitbard, Avraham Roiteer, Haim Shvartz, Haim Leib Shneider, and Pesach Shneider.
Also in this Committee there were no changes in the public representation.
Right at the beginning of its term the Community Committee (Kehila) started introducing order and rule in public life. For this purpose, various committees and departments were formed each one headed by a member of the council, for instance: a department of finance and juridical matters, a department for social aid, for the meat tax, for matters of education and health culture, oldage home, burial society, religious needs and a review committee. In order to achieve efficiency in the services and to prevent duplication of missions, the Committee tried to concentrate under its authority all the public institutions and charitable societies.
This goal was only partially achieved. The Society to Support the Poor was disbanded and its institutions (the hospital, Matzo bakery, bathhouse) were transferred with no opposition
to the authority of the Community as soon as it was established. So were the New Talmud Torah and the canteen for providing free meals to poor children. However, the committees of the independent institutions and societies refused to transfer their administration to the Community Committee. They felt that the Community must allocate large sums from its budget to these institutions and to guarantee their maintenance; however without the right of the Committee to interfere with their work and without attempting to influence the areas of their activity or their scope. The institutions that especially insisted on these conditions were the administrations of the Bikur Holim society, the Home for the Aged and the old Talmud Torah. This Talmud Torah was considered under the administration of the Society for Support of the Poor, but Haim Shvartz, who had headed it for many years and managed it as he saw fit, sharply and zealously opposed this claim and refused to give up the Talmud Torah, which was dismal and neglected and managed in the year 1934, as in the years before and after, to operate on about $300.
The financial situation of the Community also was not good, and it was difficult to respond to all the needs. In 1936 its budget was 1,129,000 lira, from which only 200,000 lira came from direct taxes, 67,000 from a grant from the government, and the remainder of the income derived from the meat tax 540,000 lira, from the matzo bakery 90,000 lira and others.
From the left: 5. The Home for the Aged, 6. The Bikur Holim Society. 26121937
On the other hand the needs were very many, and they grew larger from year to year. The number of those in need of aid increased and each institution demanded an increase in its budget. The activities of Clothing the Poor and of the Cantina were enlarged. It became necessary to open new institutions to provide help to the needy. The evil command of the Romanian authorities to renew the citizenship of the Jews of Bessarabia was liable to leave hundreds of families with no citizenship. The Community was forced to undertake also this burden and provided juridical assistance to all the residents and financial help to those lacking assets, since the procedure entailed not a few expenses. Of course, the Community had great difficulty dealing with so many large and numerous requests.
The technical administrator, Yosef Groisberg stands at the entrance
The Relief organization in America sent aid to the Community Committee (Kehila) from time to time and through it also to the other independent institutions. This greatly eased matters for the Community and helped it through the hard times, however it caused an exacerbation in the struggle of these institutions for their independent status, since they now had a place to apply for their complaints and appeals.
The three independent institutions Home for the Aged, Bikur Holim and the old Talmud Torah began sending letters to tens and hundreds containing many complaints against the Community and serious accusations. They complained of discrimination and allegations of unsuccessful and arbitrary administration in all areas. And if that wasn't enough, they resorted to personal suspicions and slander. The Community Committee was drawn into this foul stream, partially against its will, because it was impossible
to remain silent to these allegations and not to refute them thus remaining the accused, and also partly due to its public weakness.
Therefore, the Relief organization in America wrote to both sides that it was not willing to get involved in these disputes or act as judge, as it was impractical to clarify these issues from afar and they wished not to become entangled in this imbroglio. Also as a matter of principle it did not view itself entitled to give an opinion merely because of the financial aid it sent. However, the parties involved did not relent and continued to demand that the Relief organization should decide. In order to find a solution to the problem the Relief utilized the visit of a resident of Brichany, Shmuel Horesh, and authorized him to become involved in the issues and try to mediate between the sides and reach a compromise. When he returned from America, Horesh called for a meeting of all the parties and succeeded in persuading two of the institutions The Home for the Aged and Bikur Holim to accept the authority of the Community. Only the old Talmud Torah refused to accept it and thus continued to be a separate entity.
Meanwhile, the situation worsened also politically. The fascist government of GogaKoza released many new decrees against the Jews in Romania and intended to uproot everything. This caused the Jewish settlement in Bessarabia many difficult and drastic problems that endangered their future fate. The fear of what would bring the morrow was felt between the lines of the letters that the Community Committee sent to the Relief in whom they saw support in whatever the future might bring.
Indeed, the heart foresaw dangers that turned out to be justified.
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