The cantors in our town were considered among the best and were well-known everywhere. In addition to being cantors they were of good character. The cantor in the Sadigura synagogue, Pinie Misonzshnik had a pleasant voice, could read music and was one of the most beloved cantors in town. He was a scholar and was well-received by the public not only in his synagogue, but also by many other people. On holidays and the High Holidays he would gather around him a choir made up of his sons and other youths. Krasiltzik conducted the choir. Several famous cantors arose from among the choir members Yosef Schwartzman, son of the shoemaker Simcha Schwartzman and Muny Balaban, son of Moshe Balaban (now in Argentina).
Betzalel Steiner, known as Tzalel the Cantor, led the services in the Talne synagogue all his life. He was short, innocent and modest, observant and a Hassid. His style was one of pleading to G-d. His lamentations on Tisha B'Av were unique. He was a Talne Hassid, but he learned a great custom from the late Meir'l Promishlianer, the Tzadik from Promishlian. Although he was very poor and depended on contributions from his followers, he still gave to anyone in need on the eve of Shabbat. It was his custom to delay his dinner on Thursday night until he distributed money to the poor folk- a tenth of his weekly income. In addition, he asked others to do the same. He visited the residences of the needy and secretly deposited their share under the tablecloth. These people were able to use the money for Shabbat. He followed this custom all his life until he made Aliyah to Eretz Israel.
(Tzalel the cantor)
One of the best of Bendery
There were always such generous people in many Jewish communities May their names be blessed.
Steiner was a religious man, but he gave his children a secular education. His daughter was one of the first kindergarten teachers in Tarbut and in the Schwartzman high school in Bendery. He sent his children ahead of him to Eretz Israel and he and his wife followed. After some years spent in Eretz Israel, they died and were both buried in Haifa.
Other cantors who stood out in synagogues were: Tuvia Shchanovsky in the Old synagogue, Shimon (Shimele) Greenberg (also called Genzil because he was skinny like a stick), in the synagogue of the Clerks.
Among the best known people in town was Roitman the medic. He belonged to the most popular medical group in Bendery. It is hard to believe, but often the doctors in town would consult him in special cases. He was so knowledgeable in his field and saved many lives. He could prescribe medications. He had a strange appearance- walking with a cane under his arm. He was also famous for biting his lower lip. When he entered a house he would say: What! You could not find anyone else to bother? The patient will live somehow.
There were many good doctors in Bendery. We must mention Dr. Bernstein who loved Russian culture, Borovsky who had a warm Jewish heart, Vanderberg who was strange, nervous and severe (he worked in Itzy Nissenboim's hospital), Rynewman- son of the teacher. Among the non-Jews were Dr. Dovagel, a military doctor and an expert in his field, but a drunkard and a Jew-hater, Dr. Petrov, from the Russian clinic, who was nice and kind.
There were two outstanding Jews who worked for the Tsarist government. They formed an integral part of Bendery. The first was policeman Kahanovitch. In spite of being a Jew he was chosen for his position because he had served in the Nikolayev army (those who were taken into the army during the reign of Nikolai I). He spoke an excellent Russian and his Yiddish was Russian-accented. He stood out with his big beard, trousers tucked into boots and his sword on his side. He wore a uniform and would stride quickly holding a briefcase under his arm. His job in the police was to distribute proclamations to the residents. Sometimes he stood guard at the entrance to the Balanovy theatre and other times at the door of the Auditorium when plays were staged there.
The second person was Yaakov Liev who served as a Jewish government clerk. He did the weighing at the old train station and worked for the railroad. He wore a uniform including a hat with a visor. He was a quiet man, polite, easy-going, religious and well-respected. I do not know how he obtained this position. He gave his children a Jewish education as well as a secular one. One of his sons was a pioneer in Eretz Israel in the Third Aliyah. When the Romanians came to Bessarabia he left his job and went with some of his family to Eretz Israel. His daughter was married there as well as the son who preceded him. His wife came from a respectable family in our town. (Other families from our town who joined in the Third Aliyah are discussed further on.)
The Jews of Bendery were merchants, grocers, brokers, agents, religious personnel, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, barrel-makers, blacksmiths, hat makers and furriers. Most craftsmen in town were Jewish and thus the profession was referred to as Jewish work. The merchants dealt in grain and wine. Many families lived off these businesses. In town there were large grain warehouses and wine cellars.
Among the businessmen we must mention Asher Kishinovsky who headed the grain merchants group. He was an honest and respected businessman who was of good character and true to his word. He was quite generous and loved to help those in need. His good reputation preceded him and his references were always helpful.
Another was Moshe Haham who was also a grain dealer. He was a scholar and was active in Zionist circles.
We must also mention the Shreibman and Sirkis families.
The leader of the wine merchants was Moshe Rabinovitch. He was a scholar and composed a journal in Hebrew. His wine was used for Passover even by the ultra Orthodox.
Shlomo Pagis was religious, respected and charitable.
Among the flour merchants there were several scholars - one was Shmuel Abba Sudit. Hirsch Weiser (his daughter Aniuta Weiser-Boris was our first dentist) was inquisitive and involved in both cultures, Jewish and Russian. He was intelligent and wise and gave his children a secular education as well as a Hebrew one. His home was full of national spirit.
I can still see him leaning in the doorway of his shop watching and thinking. He loved to have deep discussions and was an original thinker and was quite broad-minded.
The lumber merchants were David and Shlomo Stoliar (on Krapostnaya Street), Laskin, and Goligorsky behind the prison in Giska.
The grocers were the brothers I. and M. Immes who owned the largest store.
The fish-mongers were Moshele Saltonovitch and Moshele Levinstein.
The pharmacists were Mulman, Zaidman and Vineshneker.
All the people mentioned were of good character, involved in the community and respected. Some were religious; others were assimilated (except for Vineshneker who was active in Jewish affairs). Others were Russianizers who loved Russian culture. Among the ordinary people there were some important personalities. The tailor Latman was active in the Zionist movement. Meetings were held in his house to discuss Zionism, distribution of funds and dissemination of proclamations. Every meeting was hidden from the police. It was well-known that in Tsarist times, the Zionist movement was forbidden since it was too liberal. Many ruses were used to be secretive. His home was open for such events. On Shabbat people would meet around a table laden with refreshments (as pretence) and they would discuss items on the agenda. He himself would visit homes to distribute funds. He was the permanent Gabbai in the tailors' synagogue. As a committed Zionist he achieved his dream and went to Eretz Israel with the pioneers of the Third Aliyah. He and his wife died there and their sons and daughters followed them to Eretz Israel.
We must also mention Shlomo Buchbinder. Although he was not active in the Zionist movement he loved his fellow Jews. He was the assistant Gabbai in the same synagogue. In 1910 he went to Eretz Israel on the Second Aliyah. He became a member of a labor movement kibbutz. Now, in his old age, he resides in an Old Peoples' Home. His parents also came on the Third Aliyah and died in Eretz Israel.
Another wonderful Jew from among the craftsmen was the shoemaker Simcha Schwartzman. He was religious and loved to study Torah. His son Yosef studied with Pinie the cantor when he was a young boy. Yosef became a cantor in the United States. Simcha Schwartzman gave his children a good Jewish education.
Transporting goods in Bendery grain, wine, flour- was done by the railroad or on jetties on the Dniester. Carts made of long boards were used to bring the goods to the depots.
The haulers worked in the warehouse and in the store. I still remember Mr. Sobel who lived in a little house on the banks of the Dniester. He kept a stable there. He was an honourable, religious Jew. He always kept his promises and watched what he said.
Well-liked and respected by others, he gave his children a secular education. One of his sons studied at the University of Kharkov and then moved to Kiev. Those Jews who continued their studies while doing hard physical labor for their livelihood brought honor to our town. Sobel was killed by a stray bullet during a battle between the Bolsheviks and the Romanians across the Dniester.
For this topic it seems necessary to divide the town according to its sections, suburbs and their residents. Each section had its own type of residents and its own character.
The surrounding area from Michaelovskaya Street (also called Teachers' Street) up to Kaushanskaya Street was unique. Most of the residents were the ritual slaughterers, teachers and ordinary folk. However, the area from Sovoronaya Street to the Auditorium was different. Its residents were well-known merchants, Hassidim such as the Shreibman family, headed by Shmuel, and the Stoliar family who were lumber merchants. They would congregate in the Talne synagogue located there.
The more privileged lived in the area from the Auditorium to Giska. It was an area almost completely self-enclosed where everyone knew each other's business. There were even marriages among the neighbours. The grain and lumber dealers resided there. The most respected people in town were: Azriel Shreibman, Leizer-Yona Farkonsky, Yehiel Boratnik, Hirsch Laski, and Alter Pasternak.
A totally different section was the one enclosing Harozinskaya Street (actually called Drivasovskaya Street until 1907), Nikolayevskaya, Pushkinskaya and Alexandrovskaya. As a rule, Jews lived there among non-Jews, especially the Moluccas. The elite Jews, highly respected in town lived there. There were important merchants, Asher Kishinovsky (previously mentioned), and Haim Volovetz a dear and pious Jew, honest in his relations with G-d and man. He brought up a beautiful family. Mulman, the pharmacist, was the most assimilated of them all. He was polite, honest and highly intelligent. Other educated, well-liked Jews lived there as well. It was a quiet suburb where the Russian language flowed especially among the young. The Post Office and the Judicial Bureau dealing in agriculture and real estate were located there.
A different area was the one from the end of Kaushanskaya Street to Sergeyevnaya (including the Glinnes). Here resided scholars such as Moshe Sverdik, Aaron-Moshe Shneirson and wealthy, charitable people the Blank family. They were quite active in the community. Their flour mill was located there as well. Moshe Stern and Goldenfeld were owners of a brewery. They were rich Jews and belonged to the elite of the town. These two families, Blank and Goldenfeld, had great influence in town. Nearby were the simple, hard-working folk- ordinary labourers. They were poor and their life was hard. Their homes were mainly in the Glinnes and the area extended from the valley. It was almost impossible to distinguish between the streets. The mud was very deep in the winter. This was also a mixed area of Jews and non-Jews who all lived on the banks of the Dniester and the jetty. Relations between them were cordial. Retired army officers resided there. However, their sons- the cadets- were Jew-haters. They often sent their dogs to attack Jewish children passing on the street. The children sometimes reacted by throwing stones. Both factions often ended up with injuries...
Bendery saw itself as an integral part of the rising nationalistic movement in Russia in the previous century. It was not surprising that the Jewish national movement, together with the spirit of the Russian culture, influenced the development clearly seen at the end of the last century. It was strongly felt among the intelligentsia. There was opposition to assimilation- considered a false solution to the Jewish problem. It was coupled with disappointment with the liberal movement in the Russian intelligentsia which had given rise to pogroms in Kishinev and Odessa. The Jews understood that assimilation was not an answer. Another road to redemption had to be found- return to one`s roots and homeland.
Most of the activity took place in the institutions- trust cooperatives, public libraries, Heders and Zionist schools. In addition, practical deeds were seen in the distribution of funds to the poor and the collection of money for Jewish National Fund. There were groups composed of students and working youths- such as store clerks, office workers, tailors and seamstresses. The Hebrew teachers were at the centre of this activity and educated a whole generation of loyal Zionists. Many of them were among the first pioneers in the Second Aliyah. Hanina Kratchevsky became a music teacher at Herzliah High School in Tel Aviv. He brought with him members of the Zipstein family. He was followed by Kasp, one of the first Young Workers in Eretz Israel. He was a typesetter and organized a strike at the Shoshani Brothers plant protesting the exploitation of workers. He later became owner of a large printing plant on Avoda Street. It still exists and is run by his son and brother in Kiryat Mlacha in south Tel Aviv. Another was Buchbinder who was a member of Poalei Zion. (I remember the day they left Bendery for Eretz Israel.)
Zionism grew roots especially in two sectors of the Jewish community of Bendery: the intelligentsia which had already absorbed secular and Hebrew education and the group of small merchants and craftsmen. The pious opposed Zionism in those days.
Young people were mainly concentrated in Zeirei Zion and Poalei Zion.
As in all Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, the Zionist movement in Bendery sprang from Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion). It was headed by Dr. Shlomo Bendersky who was the chief spokesman of Zionism in Bendery. He was kind, aristocratic and pure-hearted. He participated in the first Zionist congresses and was elected secretary of the Bessarabia wing of the Zionist movement before the arrival of Dr. Yaakov Bernstein-Cohen. He organized the Zionist mail and distributed circulars arriving from the Central Office of the Zionist movement. His warm demeanour lit a spark in the souls of the Jews and directed them to the national Zionist movement. Dr. Shlomo Bendersky did not only influence the educated masses, but also the workers who attended meetings of Poalei Zion. He was surrounded by the most active educated Jews in Bendery. One was Hirsch Kogan, an educated and scholarly Jew, a brilliant orator who had great influence on his listeners. His sayings became slogans in our town. Another was Baruch Holdonka and other students. Dr. Bendersky died in 1908.
That year there was a Typhus outbreak in Tiraspol, on the other side of the Dniester from Bendery. The doctors there were overwhelmed and they could not overcome the spread of the disease. Tiraspol was not part of Dr. Bendersky`s jurisdiction, but as a doctor who had sworn an oath he went to help his colleagues. The irony of fate is that among all the doctors, Dr. Bendersky was the only one to contract the disease and he died from it. When his passing was announced, everyone in town greatly mourned him. Even the non-Jewish residents had great respect for him as a man and as a physician. His funeral was quite large. There were delegations of Zionists from all districts in Bessarabia as well as representatives of the authorities and the non-Jewish community.
Haim Greenberg, a regular visitor in Bendery and active in Zionist circles, had close relations with him. Greenberg was quite talented and stood out as a brilliant speaker. He excited the youth and fought voraciously with those who opposed the Zionist idea. He was still young- a handsome man. He could be seen on the streets wearing boots, a round cap on his head and a cape on his shoulders. Every visit he made was a special event for the local Zionist youths.
After the demise of Dr. Shlomo Bendersky there was a reorganization of the Zionist groups in Bendery in order to continue his work. The new grouping included Hirsch Kogan, an intelligent man totally committed to Zionism and the teacher Noah Lifshitz who joined Hovevei Zion in Kishinev and was Dr. Bendersky`s assistant. Lifshitz and Hirsch (Zvi) Kogan were the leading spokesmen in the movement. Others were Israel Blank, Moshe Haham and Baruch Holdonka. They represented the general Zionists movement in town in those years.
1) Shifra Immes 2) Leah Rabinovitch Greenberg
3) Hanina Kratchevsky 4) Olya Rivlin 5) Haim Greenberg 6) Paulina Bendersky
7) Noah Lifshitz 8) Yonah Gogol 9) Esther Lifshitz-Kasp 10) David Natanzon
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