by Shmuel Horesh
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder
As in other places also in Brichany there were people who in old age were alone and lacking the minimal means of existence, whether because they had no family at all or their sons and daughters did not fulfill the commandment to honor your father and your mother. They had to beg for money and to find a place to sleep on one of the benches in the synagogue or in the bathhouse. No person or institution took responsibility for these poor old people. Its obvious how difficult was their situation and especially so during an illness.
This sad situation aroused Henia Bershtein zl, the wife of Yakov Bershtein, to call a meeting in her home, in 1917, of several people of the community and among them: Yosef Koifman, YosefLeib Shiller, Gitl and Shmuel Zolotoski, Moshe Gevalder, Moshe Nulman, Angl, Feibesh Shneider and others. After a short discussion it was decided to establish a Home for the Aged, and right away each one donated a sum of money, and a temporary committee was elected headed by Henia Bershtein.
The preparations proceeded slowly and lasted for a year, mainly due to the difficulty
On the steps stands Moshe Tzam
Among the founders of the Home for the Aged and its Chairman for many years and one of its active members
in finding an appropriate building. In 1918 the doctor, Dr. Shvartz, died and left no children. His only heir was his old father. Since he was old and alone he gave the home to be used as the Home for the Aged. Then the preparations increased. The house was renovated and remodeled according to its new purpose, the furniture was cleaned, bed linens and other essentials were collected. New activists appeared who devoted their time and efforts for the Home, such as: Zusia Zilber, Yitzhak Shuster, Yitzhak Rotbard, Moshe Tzam, Moshe Kornblum, HaimLeib Shneider, Zelig Komber, Elkana Hirshberg and my father, Henikh Horesh zl. Fairly quickly the opening of the institution was celebrated with a large crowd of invitees from all levels of society. The first person accepted to the Home for the Aged was R' Yisrael Proskorover, who taught children all his life. Shortly thereafter about thirty elderly men and women entered the Home and finally found a safe shelter. The administration of the institution supplied all their needs, saw to the quality of the food and the proper level of both the general and personal conditions.
It was a pity that Henia Bershtein, the righteous woman who initiated the establishment of the Home, did not live to serve long as the Chairman because she died after about two years. However, her name was always mentioned with appreciation and may her memory be a blessing.
After her death my father Henikh Horesh zl was chosen to be the Chairman of the administration. He was totally devoted, heart and soul, to the Home. In order to ensure its existence he wrote to the former residents of Brichany who now lived in America, Argentina, Chile and Guatemala. Many of them willingly responded and supported the Home for the Aged. Most importantly was the support of the Brichany Relief organization in New York, headed by H. Yosef Kessler (the son of Itzi the shokhet) and Harry Verten (son of Yitzhak Vertikovski) who worked together with Kessler.
The administration was always concerned with the order and regulation of the institution and the welfare of
Standing: 1. , 2. Roitbard, 3. Feitman M., 4. Tilipman M., 5. Leib, 6. Rabinovitz M.
the elderly. And indeed, each time I visited Brichany I would visit the Home for the Aged and I was always amazed and pleased with the arrangements there.
After a number of years a dispute broke out between the administration of the Home and the Community Committee. When the Community had been founded a number of young members were elected to the Committee whose ambition was to concentrate in their hands all the public institutions including the Home for the Aged. The active members of the previous generation who had worked so hard for the Home were not willing to transfer their institution because they worried that the Committee would not give it the attention it deserved. Therefore, the Community froze its yearly grant to the Home. There were also certain people who wrote to the Relief in America personally slandering some of the activists in order to prevent the support of the Relief to the Home for the Aged.
In 1937, when I was in America, I participated in a meeting of the Relief committee. The disputes in Brichany were discussed with great bitterness and concern for the future of the institutions. Although in the treasury of the Relief there were several thousand dollars, the administration planned to cease its support of all the institutions, unless I would agree to be their representative in Brichany and even to distribute the funds as I saw fit and especially to do all I could to
Standing in the second row: Morgenstern Michael, Kambor
settle the disputes and to mediate between the rivals. I agreed to this, and since Pesach was coming, I immediately asked for and received one thousand dollars for the institutions. I notified my wife Fania zl by telegraph and she personally transferred the money to Brichany.
When I returned to Romania I went immediately to Brichany (I was living then in Tchernovitz) and called for a joint meeting of the Community Committee together with representatives of all the institutions. I was chosen to be the chairman of the meeting. The arguments were very stormy, but to my joy and the satisfaction of all the participants, everything went well, and a real peace was achieved between the rivals.
The last time I saw the Home for the Aged was on 16 Adar 1940, the day my father died. His casket was brought to the Home. All the elderly men and women encircled the casket and paid their last respects to the deceased.
by Yakov AmitzurSteinhaus
Translated by Esther Mann Snyder
What was the social structure of the Jews of Brichany ?
Since we are lacking any exact statistics we must rely only on estimates and conjecture. It seems that we will not be far from reality if we say that 40% of the Jews in Brichany dealt in commerce, about more than one third worked as craftsmen. The remainder about 25% was composed of various types of agents or middlemen, religious ministrants (rabbis, shohets, teachers, cantors, beadles, trustees, etc.), those in the professions, Jews without an occupation and no regular livelihood, and Jews without any livelihood who sought public welfare or the help of families.
It was assumed that Brichany was a city where there were many opportunities for work. However, this was an exaggeration, and had a thorough examination been done, it would most likely have resulted in different estimations. At any rate, relative to other towns Brichany was in a good economic position.
There were about 20 large villages in the area around Brichany, and the Jews found most of their livelihood from them. The neighboring farmers would bring their grains from the fields and the fruit from the gardens, the produce from the chicken coups, the cowshed and the animal pens. The wives of the farmers brought a range of products hand made during the long winter nights, such as towels, rugs, coarse fabrics, and the like. All these were sold to the Jews and in return the storekeepers and craftsmen sold the farmers food, clothes and shoes, various handmade products, work tools and did a variety of repairs. Consequently, the economic existence of the Jews of Brichany was strongly connected to the farmers from the neighboring villages, and this influenced the social order of the town.
As a result, a special social stratum came into being whose entire business was purchasing grain from the farmers and thus were called grain merchants. These consisted mainly of small businessmen and those with minimal incomes who bought the grain in order to sell it the same day or the next to the bigger merchants for a very low profit. These small merchants usually lived on the outskirts of town where they built wooden storehouses, each one next to his home, so they could meet the farmers and buy their produce as soon as they approached the town. Each one went to the bridge in the hope that he would succeed in finding a farmer and his produce. When a farmer was seen approaching, the merchants immediately ran to him and his wagon; each one pulled to his side, each one offered a different bid encouraging the farmer to sell to him.
The competition between the merchants was immense and it grew from year to year. Storehouses were built on the roads outside of town. In the spring the merchants already had bought the produce that would arrive in the autumn, and the farmers received a deposit. Certain farmers knew how to exploit the situation and received advance payments from more than one merchant and when the time came they sold the produce to a third merchant. In this way, much Jewish money was lost.
In the period before the First World War there were some Jews who found a livelihood selling chickens and eggs. However they had limited funds and what they bought at the market in Brichany and in the area was sold to out of town exporters usually from nearby Novoslitza, a city near the border between Russia and Austria.
Cattle merchants were few, mainly oxen merchants. They were wealthy men since this business required a great deal of money both in cash and credit. The risks in this commerce were huge, however the profits were also great. The cattle that was bought was meant for export, mainly to Austria and Germany, but there was also a local market for meat and work animals.
Commerce in hides and sheep occupied an important place in the economic sphere. Well before spring the hide merchants went out to the villages near and far
to buy the lambs that later would be born, from the estate owners, the masters of the villages (pritzim) and from the wealthy farmers who had large herds of sheep. When the season of foaling arrived they went to take the lambs. The meat was sold to butchers and the hides especially the finer ones were exported to other regions. This commerce actually began before the two world wars during the rule of Romania in Bessarabia. Many dealt in it as it provided the dealers with good profits.
There were numerous shops in town: including stores for groceries, fabrics and woven materials, clothes and shoes, hats and sewing goods, most of them intended for the needs of the farmers and just a few for the local Jewish population. In addition there were restaurants and bars whose main income derived also from the village farmers.
Most of the craftsmen and artisans sold their wares to the farmers in the area. The tailors sewed custommade clothes for the Jews in town, since ready to wear clothes were not common at that time and place. Some tailors supplied clothes to larger stores and also sold them at the market. Some also traveled to sell their wares in the markets of nearby large towns: Yanuautzi, Lankautzi, Kalmantz and others, and in the district towns of Lipkani, Skorani, Yadintzi and others in the years before the First World War. Other craftsmen like shoemakers, furriers and hatters also followed this example. It was a type of merger of craft and commerce. In addition, other artisans prepared readymade products blacksmiths, wool dyers, tanners, watchmakers, water carriers, butchers, sellers of musical instruments, wagon drivers, porters, etc.
A few Jews dealt in leasing land for farming from the estate owners. They themselves did not farm but hired workers from among farmers who had no land. These Jews usually profited well from this occupation and enjoyed a relatively high standard of living; their leased lands stretched across wide areas. During the Romanian rule, with the end of the Czar's law prohibiting Jews to acquire land, some of these lessees and others bought the land permanently.
However, there was one family in Brichany who had special privileges even during the Czar's rule, and was allowed to purchase land, estates and even their own private village, Sankautzi. This was the very wealthy Bershtein family who owned many assets. The family built a large flourmill in Sankautzi. A second flourmill was built in the nearby village of Chaplautzi,
by Yosef Babanchik. These two mills were among the largest in Bessarabia and supplied flour not only to Brichany and the surrounding area, but also to many other large and small cities in Bessarabia and Ukraine. In addition, there were two not very big oil factories and a winery where a few families made a living.
Of course, among each of the classes enumerated above there were substantial social differences. Among the merchants and the storeowners the situation of a few was strong and even wealthy. In contrast, the majority made their living with difficulty and lived close to poverty. They worried about each coming day and worked day and night, busy looking for charity, so they could make products to sell at the market.
The conditions were similar with the craftsmen. Some succeeded and reached a stable status, however, most had to work very hard just to feed their families. Some others were dirt poor all their lives, living in meager bitter conditions.
Therefore, it's no wonder that many left to find employment in far away countries such as both North and South America. At first, only young men left whether due to the lack of employment or because of an unwillingness to serve in the Czar's army. A few left due to problems with the law and needed to leave Russia (for that reason it was called to escape to America).
Over the years letters arrived from them that told of the fine things they found there, that they were having a wonderful time, about the wealth that many acquired finding gold in the streets. Accompanying the letters often were photographs in which the young men were dressed in splendor and even wore top hats. Splendid New Year greeting cards were received no one ever saw such beautiful ones. In addition, checks of dollars arrived and tickets for ships for the whole family. This caused hidden jealousy. I don't know why so many were embarrassed to emigrate, but it's a fact that these lucky ones made their preparations in secret and did not reveal their secret until the last day maybe because the trips were arranged via smugglers and there was a fear of informing the authorities.
At first, only a few left, however the stream of emigration slowly increased and reached a significant magnitude.
The people that left were those who had lost their assets in one way or another, or who never were able to make a reasonable living or those who had daughters to marry yet lacked the required funds, and many who were fed up with an idle life with no hope of advancement. In the period before the First World War, the Jews emigrated mainly to the United States and Brazil, but in the following years when the gates to America were closed and with the development of Zionism, the aliya to Eretz Yisrael began, mainly among the youth.
From time to time periods of economic depression affected the region including Brichany. One year there was a drought and the grain did not grow well, therefore the farmers did not have produce to sell and thus no money to buy necessities from the Jews. Another year was actually an abundant one but the prices went down. Another time the depression was caused by very extreme winter weather and the next by an especially rainy summer. The merchants called these periods of depression a crisis. These crises came fairly often and continued sometimes for a few years and affected the economic life of the whole town.
During the Romanian rule the economic conditions were aggravated in Brichany as in other towns in Bessarabia. It was known that Bessarabia was a region rich in grains and fruit. Some of the produce was exported to Germany and Austria, and some was sold to areas all across Russia where agricultural produce was lacking. However, when Bessarabia was annexed to Romania, which was a significant agricultural country, the economic value of Bessarabia decreased and its importance as a supplier of produce diminished. This fact alone would permanently injure the economic life in Bessarabia.
In addition, the Romanians administered a policy of cruel oppression towards the Bessarabian population in general and especially toward the Jews, and completely ignored the most important economic necessities. Thus began the continuous degeneration of the status of the Jews of Brichany. The number of those who became impoverished increased, and the process of impoverishment that affected many occurred fairly quickly. The distress increased from year to year affecting all levels of society, but of course, the poor suffered the most. The situation was so dire that there arose the need to establish new charitable institutions.
Therefore, the association Bikur Holim was founded, which supported the city's poor, cared for them when they were ill, and gave them medications and better nutrition. When hospitalization became necessary they went to the Jewish hospital. In addition, the Cantina was formed as a dining room for the children of both the Hebrew schools, and where more than 100 children received a free daily meal. There is no doubt that the number of children who required a meal was much larger than this because not all the children of the poor, especially the girls, studied in the Hebrew schools. Some parents of children who did learn in the Hebrew school did not send their children to the Cantina due to the shame of eating free with no payment.
According to the list of names that was sent by the associations to America, the Community Committee distributed, in 1937, clothes and footwear (coats, shoes, sweaters, etc) to 128 children (!) and who could count the number of children who wore rags and went barefoot, and did not receive such aid.
Of course, the Jewish populace of Brichany was not able to fund on its own the expenses that amounted to tens of thousands of pounds per month. We must remember also the institutions that already existed, such as the Home for the Aged, the hospital, the Hebrew schools and others. Thus it was forced to apply for aid from the Relief organization of exBriceny residents in America. Even after the formation of the Community Committee in 1943 it could not raise the necessary funds to support all the institutions and needed help from the Relief.
The middle classes and the working classes required aid from the economic institutions that had existed in our town for years; these were the banks and savings and loan cooperatives. The former served the merchants and the latter helped the small tradesmen and the laborers. These types of institutions were founded before World War I. The bank for mutual credit was founded by the merchants themselves and reached the ability to distribute almost 2000 rubles a huge sum in those days. This bank was closed after World War I. Other banks were established, some local and others branches of large banks in Romania. The financial activities of these banks aided the merchants and fulfilled an important role in the commercial activities in Brichany.
The savings and loan cooperative was established before the war by the Yaka society and had a few hundred members. Its first director was Yitzhak Vertikovski, and credit was given for loans up to 300 rubles. After the war, it reopened with the assistance of the Center for cooperative credit in Kishinev and the help of the Joint. The fund covered most of the Jewish population and was invaluable in giving aid to all levels of the Jews in town: the small merchant, the storekeeper and the working man who asked for loans throughout the year and especially before each season and market day. The grain merchants needed a loan to purchase produce from the farmers, the storekeeper needed money to fill up his stock, the craftsmen to prepare readymade wares like clothes, shoes, etc. for the farmers to purchase.
This fund was an institution of the people and of great importance; its members considered it their institution. The annual meetings were conducted with great interest. Hundreds of members came to the meetings to hear the annual report of the administration and to elect a new one in place of the outgoing management. These assemblies often went on for 2 3 consecutive nights and were very stormy. The arguments were mainly between the middle class and the tradesmen with each side attempting to achieve a majority in the administration and to control it. In addition, many came who felt oppressed (justly or not) by the management. Also loudmouth Jews came, looking for an argument and a reason to release their anger. All these together caused a great deal of noise and commotion and usually it was impossible to hear the arguments near the head table. Usually such a meeting was concluded only after the ones who shouted became hoarse,
and the wheelerdealers and the loud speakers became exhausted. Only then, late on the third night did they reach a hasty compromise that didn't satisfy any of the sides, and they dispersed with a firm decision to gain in strength to continue their fight in the next annual assembly…
Thus, the days passed, gray routine lives, as they carried life's burdens, always looking for a livelihood happy at good times and depressed in difficult times, but always full of hope and confidence that better days were coming…
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