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The Influence of the Workers in our City

M. Rotkov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The workers in our city were alert to all communal matters. They gave of their energy to the communal institutions and were members of the various parties. They gave the best of their thought to the Cooperative movement.

What was the character of the worker who came to this social status?

At the end of the 19th century, The Jewish community included wealthy householders, merchants, and clergymen, who were considered to be the “well connected.” On the other hand, the workers and poor people were considered to be the “lower class.”

The disparity in status caused disunity among the Jewish community. Contact between the “well connected” and the “lower class” was considered an infringement of honor to the former. On the other hand, the workers suffered from a feeling of inferiority, and they took a low profile even among those of the same status.

The reason for this economic disparity was based upon the depressed economic conditions that the workers had found themselves in for generations. The reason for the depression and the lot of the worker was – backbreaking work. There was relief when work could be found and poverty and hunger when work could not be found. Here, one trods about without education, and without the ability to read and write. In the spirit of the low cultural situation, time was wasted, and at times, they even became literally drunk.

From that depressed situation, workers came to the Workers' Union. Only the children of the poor were sent to learn a trade. The son of a poor person was sent to work at the age of 9 or 10 under shameful, exploitative conditions. They worked 12-14 hours a day for a tiny salary, or even for no salary. The apprentice youth served the family of the owners for two years, and his knowledge of labor was meager. When he got older and became an expert in his field, he was burdened with the support of the family, without any time for self-betterment. He was a boor in a community of boors, similar to himself. The youth grew up without a purpose.

Thus did the worker live for generations. On the other hand, it is worthy to point out that the community of tailors established their own synagogue and engaged the renown cantor, Yonah the Lame, who served them for many years, accompanied by a choir made up of members of our community. Similarly, the community of shoemakers established their own synagogue in the year 1904.

Relief and salvation came to the workers from the circle of young activists, Yisrael Milshteyn, Ben Zion Furer and Itzel Mishkis, who made strong efforts to establish clubs for reading of Yiddish literature. Other young people (Pinchas Shaposhnik, Hershel Krasilschik, Reuven Shaposhnik) established a dramatic troupe along with young people of the intelligentsia, under the direction of Solomon Loshakov (a photographer), that existed for many years. At a later time, another drama group functioned, in which the workers participated. It was directed by Moshe Shtikon (a cigarette maker).

From that time on, our people attained important positions in communal institutions, factions, cooperatives and local government. Some of our representatives were elected to the city council (the writer of these lines in 1924, Y. Shamban in 1929). Shamban was also elected as the vice-mayor, and proved his worth in the position of chairman of the technical division and social assistance division, through which the poor people were helped. In performing his duties, he also assisted many pioneers as they made aliyah to the Land.

Shamban also did a great thing in helping to establish an ORT trade school. He even served as the director of carpentry for it. Many of his students made aliyah and were employed in that field.

Yitzchak Fasir (a tailor) represented the workers in the directorship of the union of cooperatives in Bessarabia, from the time of its founding through the following two decades. David Belfer (a shoemaker) was the chairman of the “Loan and Savings Fund.” Itzik David Cheriyan (a tailor) was the chairman of the “Organization for the Assistance of the Poor.” The following people served in other capacities: Aizak Shander (a smith), Zerach Mordkovitz (a tailor), Moshe Perlov (a carpenter), David Hersh Shapanik (a baker), Zalmina Chinkis (a shoemaker), and dozens of other dedicated members, who each fulfilled their tasks, shared in the burden, and dedicated their time and energy for the benefit of the workers of our city.

Those activists, such as Milshteyn and his friends, took upon themselves the goal of awakening the workers to take an interest in helping their fellows by the establishment of a fund.

In 1902, the “Loan and Savings Fund” was founded in Kishinev, the first in Bessarabia, under the direction of the director N. M. Roitman. Roitman answered the request of Yisrael Milshteyn to assist in the establishment of a fund for the workers of our city. After great efforts, a permit was obtained, and in October 1906, a festive proclamation was made about the opening of the “Loan and Savings Fund for Workers.” 56 members were registered at that meeting. 160 rubles of membership dues were collected. Directors and an advisory committee were elected, and the official opening date was set for the 19th of the month.

The directors dedicated themselves to their work with enthusiasm. Some of the members loaned significant sums in order to form a capital base for loans. Natan Zubritsky, a member of the committee of directors, excelled. He was ready to assist at any time.

Nachman Zubritsky

Nachman Zubritsky

 

Already from its inception, the fund established its credentials among those who were in need of it. A loan of 5,000 rubles from I. C. A. (ed. note: Jewish Colonial Association) enabled it to give out larger loans. Milshteyn offered advice about broadening the cooperative activity by obtaining materials for members from primary sources, and by organizing manufacturing groups. First was the group of coopers. They were granted a loan to obtain materials under the supervision of the directors of the fund with the following conditions: a) the members will receive a salary in accordance with the customary tariff of the workshop; b) the manufactured products would be collected in a joint warehouse. After the sale of the products, the loan would be paid back to the fund, and the profits would be divided among the members in accordance with their agreement. This experiment worked well, and the directors earned the recognition of the members of the group.

At the end of the fifth year of the fund, it grew from all aspects:

Year Number of Members Membership Dues Pledges Loan from I.C.A. Loans to Members
1907 202 1527 1694 0 2322
1912 557 7360 20393 8460 35512

Along with the growth, there was a greater need for more comfortable premises. At that time, a comfortable house on Torgovia Street was purchased, that served as a headquarters for the organization, and increased its esteem. The faith of the members in it increased. The faith in the effectiveness of the credit cooperative grew, and the field became open for other cooperative ventures. A member of the audit committee of the fund, Moshe Ravich, proposed the idea of a savings venture. In accordance with his advice, the directors decided to place a small metal box in the house of every member, signed by the organization. There was a dual purpose to this: the family members would become used to saving, and the money accumulated would serve to increase the loans. Results were not long in coming. Significant sums were added to the circulating capital of the fund, and the families of the members found relief from their straits. However, the First of August 1914 came like a thief, and a general conscription was announced. The First World War broke out with all of its horrors, and all the plans were thwarted.

The draft of many members of the fund to the army caused a dwindling of its activity. The depositors demanded their deposits, and the number of those late in their payments increased. Those who were in need of loans were not granted them on account of the shortage of capital. The income decreased, and the audit of January 1, 1915 ended with a deficit of 1,556 rubles. The spirit of the directors and members declined. However, there was one bright ray of light – the dedication of the building, which was conducted with energy and brought encouragement. The workers felt that they had a basis for their dear institution.

Yisrael Milshteyn, who left the institution for a period of time due to family reasons, appeared at the annual meeting in 1915 and encouraged the members to band together at the time of depression in order to take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves in the cooperative for the benefit of the members. “Especially now, it is necessary to provide the materials for the workers in an organized, cooperative manner. In order to thwart the plans of the black marketers, who hide merchandise and strip the skin of the workers; to organize, it is necessary to organize a manufacturing group, to provide items for the needs of the army; to establish a warehouse for food provisions.”

On the heels of the decisions of the meeting, a group of 24 shoemakers was organized. In their cooperative workshop, they manufactured 100 pairs of boots each week for the army. Similarly, a group of 10 harness makers was organized. Thanks to these enterprises, that deposited a portion of their income into the fund, the capital increased, and the year ended with only a small deficit of 845 rubles. In 1916, a central warehouse for food provisions was established in affiliation with the fund. This warehouse also included wood for fuel, flour, and other such items. The war, the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the conquest of Bessarabia by the Romanians all had a negative influence upon the status of the fund. It is important to point that, despite this, our members gained a great deal of experience in the realm of the cooperative. The young activists also joined in the effort with self-confidence. A new page was opened in the history of the institution.

* * *

In the summer of 1920, a new chapter opened in the Jewish cooperative movement of Bessarabia. At a meeting of the lending fund of that year, in which representatives of the Joint cooperative also participated, it was decided to organize the assistance that was to be given by the Joint to the founding of each cooperative. To this end, the union of Jewish cooperatives in Bessarabia was founded, the “Farband” (ed. note: Yiddish for “union”). The members of our fund decided to join the Farband in July 1920.

From that time on, the influence of the Farband in the development of our fund was noticeable. The capital of the fund continued to grow. The loans were paid in an orderly fashion, and the situation strengthened.

In 1926, festivities were arranged for the 20th anniversary of our fund. It was the only one of the 30 funds affiliated with the Farband that was founded by workers alone. (footnote: to mark the milestone, the advisory committee of the fund published a printed pamphlet called: The Twentieth Anniversary of the Loan and Savings Fund for Workers in Orheyev).

ORT School - 20th Anniversary Year

ORT School – 20th Anniversary Year

 

The festivities took place in the ORT building (owned by the fund). All of the members of the fund participated. Yosef Pagis was the representative of the Farband, Y. Milshteyn was the representative of the Joint. Present were representatives of the institutions of the city and representatives of the Loan Fund for Small Merchants. We will suffice ourselves with giving over the essence of the blessing of Pagis: “… It is a multiple joy for me to be present at the jubilee celebration of one of the first branches of the Farband. More importantly, the cooperative whose members come from the community of workers and artisans in your city is unique within the network of Jewish cooperatives in Bessarabia. The Jewish cooperative embodies socio-economic contradictions. Since the motto of the cooperative is 'from the manufacturer to the consumer, and banding together to obviate the need for middlemen,' the Jewish credit cooperative encompasses a community that mainly belongs to the petite bourgeois, merchants, etc. At times the interests of these people run counter to those of the class below them that belongs to the same era. Not so with you. As artisans, your interests are in mutual benefit and cooperation. Your future depends on the existence of cooperative institutions. In your activities, and with your members, we hope to see a seed of cooperation that will yet bear fruit, and will serve as an example for the community of workers throughout Bessarabia.”

In this spirit, the rest of the speakers at the celebration expressed the feelings of their hearts toward our activities. Indeed, the experience of twenty years of activities in cooperation and achievement encouraged the activists of the younger generation to work with greater energy to consolidate our cooperative and direct it toward broader cooperative provisions, such as the acquiring of raw materials, and cooperative manufacturing and marketing.

As a first step toward this broader plan, the committee of the cooperative started to organize partnership groups for the marketing of the wares of the hat makers, the carpenters, the coopers and the cobblers. A committee was chosen whose tasks included concerning themselves with matters of the partnership, directing it, ensuring credit, and mediating between partners in the case of a dispute. The committee saved more than one partnership from disbanding. This new idea proved its worth, and from it, we learned how to establish and develop various areas of cooperation in the running of the Farband – which placed its financial and organizational power at the disposal of those interested, and assisted them in overcoming social and financial crises.

The Convention of the Workers

The Farband saw the spreading of the cooperative idea among the workers as one of its prime tasks. In January 1927, a convention of representatives of the workers in Bessarabia was arranged through the efforts of our representatives, for the purposes of clarifications of the paths of the cooperative. 57 delegates from 34 cooperatives participated. Our members (Y. Shamban, the writer of these lines, and Fasir) made presentations about the problems of partnerships in labor enterprises, and discussed the difference in interests between this paradigm, and other economic paradigms in Jewish cooperatives. They advised: a) to establish special cooperatives for workers in those places where the objective conditions are appropriate for such; b) if this cannot be realized, a division for labor matters should be set up within every cooperative; c) an office should be setup in affiliation with the Farband to direct the matters of labor. These suggestions were brought to the directors of the Farband for deliberation; however the matter only came to actualization in the year 1930. In September of that year, the writer of these lines was invited to serve as an advisor and consultant for matters of labor under the auspices of the Farband.

Cooperative of Coopers, 1930

Cooperative of Coopers, 1930

 

Cooperatives of hat-makers in Orheyev, 1924-28

Cooperative of hat-makers in Orheyev, 1924-1928

Below from right to left: 1. M. Fruchtman 2. S. Bobrik 3. M. Roitkov 4. V. Nudelman 5. Y. Spivak 6. Yechezkal
In the middle: 1. [alef]. Grinberg 2. V. Vaysman 3. C. Vaksman 4. N. Sapozhnik 5. Kopelnikov 6. Y. Shaposhnik
Standing: 1. M. Udis 2. [feh]. Shaposhnik 3. [alef]. Grinshteyn 4. [feh]. Roitkov 5. [feh]. Oberman
6. Yosef Chusid 7. G. Vaysman 8. Ben-Zion

 

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