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[Page 287]



[Page 294]

Productivity, Cultural, and Innovations

by Efraim Zilberman (America)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 294: Efraim Zilberman}

Jonava was one of the most important and well-rooted Jewish communities in Lithuania. Throughout the 19th century, it quickly developed into a large Jewish settlement on the lovely banks of the Vylia, 30 kilometers northeast of the capital Kovno. As a child I recall how the older generation used to mention with anguish the “great fire” which afflicted the town in 1905. The fire destroyed the entire town in one night. Not long passed before new brick houses and six fine, large Beis Midrashes were built in place of the old wooden houses. Already before the First World War, the population reached 5,000 souls, of which 3,500 were Jews.

In 1915, the Jews of Jonava experienced the decree of the Czarist authorities: in 48 hours they must leave their homes along with all of the Jews of the Kovno Gubernia. The Jews wandered out to various cities in Czarist Russia. Some paused in Vilna and returned to the town immediately after the Germans marched in. After the end of the war in 1918, the rest of the Jews who had gone deep into Russia returned to their Jonava. The rabbi of the town, Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Silman returned along with important activists of the time such as Reb Abba Pogirsky, Chaim Levin, Shmerl Stern, Yaakov Gloz, and A. Abramson. They began to rebuild Jewish societal life. The Talmud Torah was renovated. It was led by the veteran Hebrew teacher of Jonava Shaul Keidansky. A small Yeshiva was founded, as was a charitable fund for Jewish artisans and shopkeepers which later developed into a large Jewish public bank. A Bikur Cholim (organization for visiting the sick), Linat Tzedek (organization for providing lodging to wayfarers), and other such institutions were founded. Jewish life began to pulsate again in Jonava. Jews also had a majority in the city council. For several years, the mayor of Jonava was the honorable communal activist Reb Chaim Levin.

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Jonava was especially known for its large number of Jewish artisans and laborers. The well-developed center of the Jewish furniture factories in Jonava with their dozens of Jewish carpenters produced modern furniture for all of Lithuania. “Jonaver furniture” was a known item. There were large Jewish sawmills and brick kilns there. Jonava also had a large Jewish match factory called “Oran” and several modern rolling mills in which many Jewish people were employed. Jonava had a “Smith Street” where there were dozens of Jewish smithies which produced worked metals and special light wagons for the Lithuanian marketplace. In addition, Jonava had dozens of Jewish tailors, shoemakers, quilters, tin workers, locksmiths, belt makers, furriers and potters. Jewish hands made all types of things in the town. On account of the Vylia, Jonava also had a large number of barges. Jewish toilers earned their livelihood by binding together and driving the barges. Even the Jonava Jewish wagon drivers and coach drivers were known throughout Lithuania. The town also had a lively, temperamental youth with right and left leaning organizations. The Zionist movement was led with enthusiasm by the veteran Zionist Moshe Ivensky, particularly the years 1923-1925. Many people also immigrated to America and Africa. Jonava also had good sports clubs – Maccabee and Hapoel.

{Photo page 295: A Maccabee march in the Girialkac Forest.}

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