“Ploiesti” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 1
(Romania)

44°57' / 26°01'

Translation from Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1969


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania,
Volume 1, pages 218-224, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1969


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[Page 218]

Ploiesti, Romania

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by

A city in the province of Wallachia, Prahova region, in an area rich in oil.
It is an important railway crossroads between Transylvania, Moldova and Bucharest.

Jewish Population

Year Population % of Jews in
General Population
1831280 
1838388 
1860301 
18942,290 
18992,4785.5%
19102,400 
19303,843 
19413,5963.3%
19422,075 
19473,000 

Until the End of the First World War

The Jewish settlement began in the latter half of the 17th century. The Jews were few in number at that time, and they buried their dead in the cemetery of the nearby village of Buzau. At the end of the century, they obtained a plot for their own cemetery, some distance from the old city. Gravestones from the years 1719-1740 can be found in the floor of a church in the valley of Orlii (Valea Orlii). We can surmise that these were gravestones from an earlier cemetery, located near the old city.

A second cemetery, located in the Dambu valley, was seized by the neighboring Romanian landowner who wished to enlarge his estate. In 1818, the Jewish Guild obtained land for a cemetery on the Jewish Street, which was located at the edge of the city in those days. Later, an area for a fourth cemetery was set up outside the city.

Until the times of the Fanarioti (rulers from the Turkish government of 1716-1812), the Jews lived at the edge of the city, near the first cemetery and surrounding the synagogue. When the synagogue and cemetery were destroyed – apparently, in those days a synagogue in Bucharest was also destroyed – at the order of the ruler Serban Cantacuzino (1714-1716), the Jews moved their neighborhood to a location approximately two kilometers from the city. An animal market and general market were opened up near this neighborhood. Romanian merchants also began to open up shops in this new neighborhood, thereby forging a connection between the city and the market. Many Jews built their homes on this central connecting road. The length of this road was about one kilometer. It was called the Street of the Jews until 1882. Later, the Jews moved their neighborhood to Vlad Tepes Street.

Sephardic Jews who came from the Balkan countries settled in Ploiesti in the year 1806. They set up their residences in a street that was called the Sephardic Street. It was known as Di Frankishe Gasse by the Ashkenazim. The Sephardim dressed in Turkish style, and the Ashkenazim in local Romanian style. A wave of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland arrived in Ploiesti in 1848-1856. They brought with them the traditional Jewish Eastern European dress. With their influence, the local Jewish began to dress in that manner.

[Page 219]

Persecutions of the Jews

The Jewish community of the city was faced with difficult trials from its inception. Their location in a distant neighborhood was a cause of hatred between the Romanian merchants and the Jews. The Jews were afraid to pass through the city, for the Romanian merchants would throw stones at them as they approached the marketplace.

A blood libel was perpetrated against the Jews of Ploiesti at the beginning of the 19th century. The Jews then fled to the mountains out of fear of the Christian residents. There were also blood libels in the years 1815, 1867, 1871.

During the time of the Greek revolt in Romania in 1821, many of the Jews fled to the neighboring villages. The revolutionaries pursued them, tortured them, and extorted money from them. Several Jews were chained and dragged by foot to the nearby village of Valeni de Munte. They were freed from their imprisonment only after the Romanian boyar Moise paid ransom for them all.

In 1824, Prince Grigori Alexandru Ghica visited the city. During the reception that was arranged in his honor, the prince recognized the absence of representatives of the Jewish community from the ceremony. To his question, one of the boyars answered that the Jews were not answered that the Jews were not invited because they were flotsam and jetsam. While the prince was visiting the city, the Sephardic Jewish banker Hillel visited him. He came to refute the claim of the Romanians. Indeed, during the following visit of the prince to Ploiesti, he commanded that representatives of the Jewish community be also invited to the ceremony. Not only that, but from that time, Jews participated in all ceremonies and receptions that were conducted in honor of other princes.

In 1844, Prince Stirbei issued an ordinance to expel the Jews from the villages of the area. The decree was annulled thanks to the intervention of a Jewish delegation. However, the Jews were forbidden from selling liquor. In 1849, the expulsion edict from the villages was renewed for the Jewish lessees of land and owners of taverns, bakeries and butcher shops.

Economic Life

Ploiesti was one of the important centers of commerce and business, and the Jews contributed greatly to its development. They were occupied in commerce and trades, primarily in the trades of smithing and tailoring. Many of them were occupied in the production of shoes for farmers (in Romanian Opinca, a type of shoe made from a single piece of leather). These tradesmen were called Opincari. Jewish merchants of wool and hides collected their merchandise from their representatives in the villages, and exported them to Brasov and Vienna. In the middle of the 18th century, the Jews began to become involved in the extraction of resin, and refining it for lighting fuel and mineral oil, which was exported to Austria and Turkey. The Jews also arranged the export connections (with wagons carried by oxen), and established the appropriate connection routes. Many Jews founded smithing shops and workshops for the production of buckets, sheet metal, etc. Some of the Jews owned land and fruit orchards. In the villages, Jews were occupied with the provision of liquor. They owned taverns, and also conducted business with ready made clothing.

Organization of the Community

Until 1840, the Jews were organized in the Jewish Guild. That year, an organized Jewish community was founded. The head of the community was subordinate to the “Head of Government”[1] in Bucharest as well as the chief rabbi (Chacham Bashi)[2]. The communal council served as the middlemen between the Jews and the government, and oversaw the movement of Jews in the city. When a strange Jew appeared in the city, he had to present his passport to the communal council, who brought it to the city council for authorization. When a local Jew required a passport, he turned to the communal council.

In 1830, the Sephardic Jews of Ploiesti turned to the Chacham Bashi in Bucharest and asked him for permission to found their own communal organization and Chevra Kadisha. Their request was not agreed to, and they were given permission only to conduct their own Tahara[3]. This decision was observed meticulously. Throughout all times, the two groups formed one community and had one cemetery. They only maintained separate synagogues and Chevra Kadishas (burial societies). This example of a combined Sephardic and Ashkenazic community was unique in Romania during that era. A rotation of Ashkenazim and Sephardim served as head of the community.

The community also maintained a bathhouse, a matzo factory, and a slaughterhouse for fowl. They also maintained a restaurant for the school children in a special building fitting for this purpose, built by the women of the community.

The state of these institutions was very difficult. Until the ordinance of the communities was passed in 1928, the community was not recognized as a jurisdictional body. Therefore, the purchase contracts were registered in the names of private individuals, and the authority of the community over the property was not certain. The community was not able to receive gifts or inheritances, and its representatives were not able to demand their rights and protect their property.

Rabbis and Synagogues

Among the rabbis who served in the rabbinate of Ploiesti during that era, we should mention Rabbi David Moidel (1833-1868) who later served (from 1838 and on) for a long time as the chief rabbi in Bucharest; Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Brezis (1848-1908) whose forbears were also rabbis in Ploiesti. He served in Ploiesti until the day of his death; his son Rabbi Tzvi Yosef Chaim Brezis occupied the rabbinical seat after him (see later).

For decades, the Jew of Ploiesti worshipped in rented houses. The first synagogue, built at the beginning of the 18th century, was destroyed. In 1780, the Synagogue of the Rabbi was built. It was renovated in 1891. Next to the synagogue was a “Kina” (jail) for Jews who rebelled against the “Head of Government”, especially for those who transgressed a grave sin. In 1820, the Great Synagogue was built next to the Synagogue of the Rabbi. It was built of wood, and rebuilt in stone in 1840. Itzeles Synagogue was built in 1843. Heichal Yisrael, with the traditions of the west, was built in 1882. Heichal Hasephardim was dedicated in 1899 (its building was completed in 1895). The Sephardic Jews already built themselves a synagogue in 1807, which was later known as the Synagogue of the Tradesmen.

Education

Several Jewish schools operated in Ploiesti. The Luca Moise School for boys was built in 1875, through the benefit of the estate of that philanthropist. The communal leadership participated in the expenses of the school. Four members, chosen by direct elections by all the local Jews, headed the school. The institution stood on its own authority and was outside the jurisdiction of the community. 173 students studied there in the 1880/81 school year; 235 in 1885/86 and 282 in 1886/87. On account of the high academic level of the school, Christian parents

[Page 220]

also preferred to send their children there. During that time, about 25-50 Christian students studied there.

 

rom1_220.gif [53 KB] - The protocol of the communal council meeting in 1895
The protocol of the communal council meeting in 1895
with the representatives of the synagogue and community notables.

From the general archives of Israelitish history

A school for girls was built in 1896 from the donations of members of the communities. Many Christian girls studied in this school, until the ministry of education forbade them from attending.

Organizations and Institutions

In 1857, the Poale Tzedek organization for tradesmen was established, as well as a synagogue which did not last long. An additional institution for tradesmen was founded in 1878, which operated for five years. From 1876-1883, a women's organization for assisting women in childbirth and for Hachnasat Kalah (assisting brides) functioned. Rabbi David Moidel founded a Talmud Torah and a Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) organization with 75 members. This organization turned into the Gemilut Chasadim (doing of good deeds) organization in 1864, but its activities only continued for two years.

Zionism

In 1894, a Chovevei Zion organization was set up in Ploiesti, which sent delegates and was active in all of the national conventions of the movement. Baruch Kahana (see later) was sent as a delegate to the third convention of Chovevei Zion. A Zionist youth organization called Atzilei Bnei Yisrael (The nobles of the Children of Israel) was also active in the city.

Personalities

In 1859, the linguist and historian Lazar Schine Saineanu was born. He was one of the founders of the organization for the research of Romanian Jewry. In addition to his research in Jewish history, he also published research essays on Romanian folklore and the history of the Romanian language. He was appointed as a professor of Romanian history at the University of Bucharest in 1890. He published the most widely distributed dictionary of the Romanian language in 1896. Even though he converted to Christianity, the Romanian parliament refused to grant him Romanian citizenship for 11 years. To protest this, he left Romania in 1899 and settled in Paris, changing his name to Sainean. There, he attained fame as a researcher of the French language of the 16th century and its dialects. He died in Paris in 1934.

David Emanuel (1854-1941), one of the great mathematicians of Romania, was also born in Ploiesti. He completed a brilliant doctorate dissertation in 1882, and after that he was appointed as a professor of mathematics at the University of Bucharest. In 1966, his name was noted at the United Nations as one of the select personalities who promoted the advancement of various scientific areas.

In 1913, the merchant Baruch Kahana of Ploiesti donated the first and largest donation to the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund), a sum of 130,000 golden francs (6,000 pound sterling). The Keren Kayemet LeYisrael used these funds to establish two moshavim in the Land of Israel. One of them, Kfar Baruch, was named for him.

Between the Two World Wars

Social Situation

After the emancipation, the Jews played an active role in the local communal and political life. Jews, as members of the various Romanian parties, served as members of the city council. For some time

[Page 221]

one of them even served as vice mayor, during the days of the rule of the Farmer's Party of Maniu. The Jewish party was also organized, and attained recognizable achievements. It obtained 407 votes during the elections of 1931, and 228 votes during the elections of 1932.

The influence of Jewish members of the Romanian parties was also noticeable in the community. The chairman of the communal leadership was always a member of the party that formed the government at the time. During the 1930, when the Jewish party was organized, some of its members were appointed to the communal leadership. The head of the Luca Moise organization was a member of the Jewish party during those years.

In 1932, the community received official authorization as a jurisdictional body.

Rabbis

Rabbi Tzvi Yosef Chaim Brezis served in Ploiesti from 1911-1922. During the years 1924-1925, he was the director of the office of the Zionist Organization of Romania. He served as the director of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael in the country from 1928-1930. He died in 1930.

Rabbi Dr. Menachem Safran served in Ploiesti from 1939-1956. He then made aliya, and lives today in Ramat Gan.

During that era, Rabbi Friedman of the Rujin dynasty came to the city and set up a prayer house in his home.

Organizations and Institutions

During that era, three charitable organizations, Chesed Shel Emet, Shomer Yisrael and Fraterna, united into one organization with 500 members. This organization tended to impoverished ill people, provided them with medicine, since there was no Jewish infirmary in the city.

There was an active chapter of WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) in Ploiesti, which founded a Hebrew kindergarten in 1926. The kindergarten was located in a fine building that was erected in the yard of the Luca Moise School in 1927, with the donation of the philanthropist Mendel Predinger. In this building there was an auditorium, a dining hall, and a bath house for the students of the school. The WIZO chapter took advantage of the proximity of Ploiesti to Bucharest, and invited the best lectures on all areas of Judaism to come from there and present their lectures in Ploiesti.

 

rom1_00221a.jpg [25 KB] - Rabbi David Friedman
 
rom1_00221b.jpg [16 KB] - Rabbi Dr. Yosef Chaim Brezis
Rabbi David Friedman (on the left), who was
murdered by members of the Iron Guard
.
Next to him is Rabbi Mendel Friedman of Buhus
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Chaim Brezis

In 1939, a group of maskilim set up an institute for Jewish culture, named after Rabbi Dr. Yosef Chaim Brezis. Courses were conducted in Jewish history, the Hebrew and English language, as well as courses in various professions were conducted almost every evening.

Continuation »

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is apparently referring to the head of the national Jewish community. Return

  2. Chacham Bashi is a term generally used for a Sephardic chief rabbi. Return

  3. A tahara (purification) is the ceremony of preparing a dead body for burial. Return


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