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8  Economic Life

The 1831 census offers the first comprehensive information about the population of the borough of Podu Iloaiei. Some of the data come from an act issued in April 1830. According to this source, the town consisted of 131 households with 13 Christian tradesmen who were tax-exempt and 85 Jews, locals, and Sudits; among them were three who were tax-exempt, three who were paying tax, 13 who were servants and were tax exempt, 15 who were bachelors and widows, and nine who were Gypsies. Assuming that there were five people in each family that would make a total of 905 people, which is an overestimate since another contemporary source indicated only 420 individuals.

The censuses, especially the ones done in 1831, 1838, and 1845 that are kept in the archives in Iasi and Bucharest, are considered to be of documentary importance. The Jewish population —“Judaeus” or “Ebrews” — had a special status in the census, and the references contain valuable information on different aspects of the community life. Although there have been many differences in the making of the questionnaire or the census, with many unjustified omissions and additions, in general the censuses offer a true image of reality.

The work on the first census began in 1831 and was completed the following year. In the book Roumanie et les Juifs, Verax (Radu D. Rosetti) compared the data from the 1831 census with the partial data from 1803 (the register of the peasants) and 1820 to emphasize the Jewish “invasion.” This malicious interpretation of the data revealed his judeophobia and his “ardent” comments diminished the value of his work.[A-91] Referring to the 1831 census, Verax wrote that in Podu Iloaiei there were 281 local Jewish natives, 281 Christians, and 8 Sudits; a total of 570 people in 164 families. On page 44, he mentioned only 284 Jews. In a 1970 report, the researcher E. Negruzzi mentioned 109 Jewish children, estimating the total population at 560 people of whom 281 are Jews (see Appendix E).

Particularly important for the economic life of the town were the weekly fair days and the annual markets. Although the 1818 act allowed seven fair days per year, the owner of the estate neglected their organization, which led to a financial loss for him and the townspeople. The loss became more obvious after 1829, when the Adrianopol treaty stipulated the freedom of foreign trade for the Romanian Principalities. Meanwhile, the price of agricultural products had increased, as well as the demand for these products. An important grain trade was done at the fairs. The peasants used the money they obtained from selling their products to buy necessary items. The peasants, tradesmen, and craftsmen were making profits, though the profits were far greater for the owners or the tenants of the estates or towns, since they were collecting the taxes from the fairs.

That is why the inhabitants sent a note of complaint to the heirs of C. Palade, arguing that if the fair was cancelled they “would have no food” and be forced to “go back where each of them had come from.” On October 20, the owner requested that the treasury renew the right to seven annual fairs, which it did, and then he made the usual announcements in the village papers and in The Official Bulletin.[A-92]

In 1842, these fairs were neglected once again by the owner of the town or by its tenant.

Industry began to develop in the town. On October 10, 1832, the brothers Boan from Bucovina, who owned a “plate factory” for 10 years, complained that taxes were demanded from them even though they were Sudits and the law also exempted them from paying tax because they were “manufacturers.”[A-93] Referring to the pottery made in Podu Iloaiei, an industry that continued to exist in the 20th century, Dr. Slatineanu wrote that the ornaments were “made with a horn-like instrument or brush. The motifs are geometric or floral, pale or dark green, but rarely blue on a white background.” The style of the local manufacturers seemed to have been influenced by that of the pottery makers living in the villages around Roman. (Could this have been the influence of the popular art of Csango?)

In 1836, there was a rudimentary spirit distiller with a six-bucket capacity that was valued at 1,490 lei. It belonged to the Jew Iancu from Carazeni.

The treasury inspector Ion Teodoru considered the numbers in 1831 census to be too small. On June 30, 1834, he found 23 “profit-makers,” who he included among the taxpayers or patent payers. Ten of them had their own shops. The “profit-makers” practiced the following professions: one peddler, one grocer, one shoemaker, two butchers, two bar tenants, three teachers, four tailors, and five alcoholic beverage makers. The townspeople argued that not all of the “profit makers” were able to pay tax. A reexamination was done. Declarations were taken in the presence of the town's captain Colonel Constandin, the representatives of the Jewish community, and the former captain Tudorache. The result was that only seven “were worthy to pay tax.” Of the others, two were Sudits, two were new arrivals to the town, two were underage, two were “free of settlement obligations,” six “in all were poor and weak,” and two family heads could take up a third-grade patent. The thorough observations revealed the poverty and low social position of the Jewish population that resulted from the repressive measures taken against the Jews as stipulated in The Organic Regulation (see Appendix L).

Jews were not included in the 1838 census. Using data from a taxpayer register from 1839, Verax estimated that there were 120 Jewish taxpaying family heads, to which he added 20% invalids, poor, and widows, for a total of 480 Jews.[A-94]

A complaint signed by the Jews in Podu Iloaiei and dated September 1845 indicated that there were 102 peasants in 1838. The old table referred to only 97 peasants, 68 of whom lived on Lascarache Cantacuzino's part of the estate and 29 on Nicolae Cantacuzino's part.[A-95]

The inauspicious economic status of the town was reflected in a request to the treasury, pointing out that “the Jewish ethnicity from the villages of Stefanesti, Hirlau, Burdujeni, Podul Lelioarei, and other similar boroughs” could not pay the annual tax of 60 lei, which was to be paid by each family head, because “commerce and their trades in these boroughs could not be compared to that practiced in the bigger towns.” The commissions enforced taxes on shochets, some invalids, and some people who were underage. Some were registered twice and Sudits were also included. In the small towns, commerce was limited to trade. They asked that the tax be reduced to 40 lei for each head of family.[A-96]

Some of the relatives of the townspeople lived abroad. In 1842, Strule Moscovici and a servant Solomon, both native Moldavian Jews, passed through Galati on their way from Constantinople to visit the shop Strule had left in Podul Iloaiei.[A-97] The structure of the Jewish population in town in 1842 is best reflected by a “tax-money list” that was included in the “possession” register. At the “main road,” there were 43 houses inhabited by Christians (Romanians, Lippovans, Bulgarians, Serbs and one Armenian) and 58 houses inhabited by Jews. In the suburbs, there were 40 houses inhabited by Christians and 15 by Jews (see Appendix M).

In 1845, the census showed the following structure of the Christian population[A-98]: On Lascar Cantacuzino's part of the estate, there were two tradesmen of second state, 14 of third state, and three apprentices, consisting of five Moldavians, one Serb, one baptized Armenian, one former German, five Lippovans, and six individuals with no mentioned nationality but who, no doubt, were Moldavian shepherds or cheese makers. On Neculai Cantacuzino's part, there were four third-state tradesmen, all Moldavians. The Christian craftsmen on Lascar's part consisted of nine third-state masters and nine apprentices, six of whom were Moldavians. On Neculai's part, there were four masters and two apprentices, all Christians. In terms of the practiced professions, there were one furrier, one cook, seven shoemakers, three fur coat makers, four tailors, two stone hewers, one rope maker, one woodcutter, one Polish wood carver, one joiner/adzer, and one carpenter. The structure of the Jews' professions was as follows: one small merchandise seller, one silversmith, three grocers, five intermediary tradesmen, one cotton dealer, one pail maker, one wagoner, four butchers, one synagogue janitor, one shoemaker, one sieve maker, two barkeepers, seven tailors, one grain dealer, one fur cap maker, two teachers, one torch carrier, one flour dealer, one horse merchant, one shochet, one carter, eight tradesmen at Lipsca, three bar tenants, two bakers, two merchants, 74 alcoholic beverage makers, two glaziers, two carpenters, one soles maker, one tax collector, one tobacco seller, two wine sellers, seven with no profession indicated, and three with no occupation.

The large number of alcoholic beverage makers can be explained by the fact that many Jews had been driven away from the villages and had settled in town. Indeed, the census mentioned 35 Jews who came from the villages, among whom only four were craftsmen. Some of them owned a house in town, while others lived in rented houses. Sixty-three Jews had their own houses, even the old rabbi Moise who, forced by poverty, rented a part of his house. One cannot be wrong in assuming that all the others lived in rented houses, as was the case for 61 tax-paying Jews and 23 newly married couples, elders, or poor who did not own a house.

The economic situation of the town was made difficult by the large number of Jews who had been driven away from their villages and had settled in small towns without the possibility of quickly finding an occupation, because of the limited range of economic activities that the modest settlement could offer. This economic-social process was not restricted to Podul Iloaiei. It could be generalized to all of Moldova, and had serious repercussions on the country's budget. Actually, in a letter dated December 20, 1845, “the entire community of Jewish tradesmen from Podu Iloaiei” complained that now they had to pay the tax for 181 people, compared to 102 in 1838. The document also mentioned that since “the first writing,” that is since the drawing of the census, six taxpayers had died and 10 had moved “no one knows where” and could not be found “because our little town is surrounded by woods.” At the end of “the table” indicating the part of the town on N. Canta's estate, it was mentioned that 27 people “have come from somewhere else.” This explains the sudden growth of the Jewish population in town.

A comparison of the data regarding the situation of the town's population is of interest: 20 tradesmen with two apprentices, 13 craftsmen with 11 apprentices, Moldavians, Lippovans, Serbs, Armenians, one German, and one Pole. The rest of the Christian population lived in the suburbs and were engaged in agricultural activities. Professor Gh. Platon estimated that in 1845 there were 240 Jewish taxpayers and 143 Christian taxpayers, for a total of 1,815 people. Among the Christians were 21 tradesmen, 23 craftsmen, 63 taxpayers, 13 widows, and 23 elderly and invalids. Among the Jews, there were 129 tradesmen, 40 craftsmen, two apprentices, six of other professions, 18 with no specified profession, 31 elderly and invalids, and 14 widows.[A-99]

A complaint dated December 20, 1845 was signed by the following individuals: Simha from Targu Frumos, Moise from Berlesti, Iancu from Popesti, Moise sin Iancu Leib from Targu Frumos, Zisu Tvi son of Iosef, Tvi son of Iaakov, another Iaakov from Targu Frumos, David Casap, and Iaakov Leib.[A-100]

Appendix N includes a complete list of the Jews in Podu Iloaiei as stipulated in the 1845 census. Of interest are the specifications regarding the name days, places of origin, professions, and social status.

Around 1848, the fair and market days had a considerable impact on the economic life of the settlement. In 1847, Palade's heirs tried to forcefully bring “the people” to the fair, which was held each Sunday in Podu Iloaiei. Nicolae Cantacuzino complained on June 3, 1847 that for 20 years the fair had been held each Sunday in Scobalteni and asked that “the townspeople and tradesmen be allowed to make their trade on both sides of the Bahlui River.”[A-101] On June 14, 1847, the State's Secretariat demanded from the Finance Department that the days of the fair be Sunday in Podu Iloaiei and Monday in Scobalteni.[A-102] During that year, a French mission found the population of the town to be 1,250 people.[A-103]

In 1848, cholera ravaged the town. An incomplete official report indicated that 39 Jewish and 6 Christian heads of family had died. However, professor Gh. Platon showed that 237 Jews and Christians died of cholera in Podu Iloaiei.[A-104] The French mission ranked the town as a village because of its rural style of life. The mission pointed out that the poor condition of the roads hindered economic activity, particularly cattle breeding. Podu Iloaiei and Targu Frumos were becoming profitable cattle markets. To obtain a better deal for his products, V. Bosie the owner of the Sarca estate formed a partnership with a Jew from Podu Iloaiei.

Of special significance was an address from July 27, 1853 that ordered Dumitru Buliu from Targu Frumos to come to Podu Iloaiei and make 15,000 bricks, for which he had already received money from Moise Lozneanu; the same was true for Constandin, also from Targu Frumos, who had received money two months before to make 8,000 bricks. The administrator of the Iasi district asked the police in Targu Frumos to comply with Moise Lozneanu's complaint.

Of special importance to the economic development of the town was the notification in 1854 that there were 20 steam mills in the Bahlui region; at least one of them was in Podu Iloaiei, of course.[A-105]

The statistics for 1859 indicated 996 Jewish and 881 Christian inhabitants in Podu Iloaiei, with no mention of their occupation.[A-106] The statistics for Moldova in 1859 showed for Podu Iloaiei: heads of family - 216 men and 39 women, with 473 men and 516 women, for a total of 989 Jews, to which are added 888 Christians.

In town, there was a factory that made vinegar from water and alcohol with the help of a machine. In 1859, Moise Rat, the owner of the factory, had a stock of 100 vedre of vinegar and another amount already in the process of being made.[A-107]

We have no statistics or special data on the economic development of the town in the following decades. Its progress was hindered by its status as a rural settlement, which placed it under ever-increasing restrictions—legal or not—regarding the Jewish population. However, the building of the Great Synagogue, the hiring of a physician, the increasing number of inhabitants, the development of the grain trade, and the rising of the cultural level indicate the efforts made by the Jewish population to build a proper community in the vicinity of Iasi. A document issued at the end of the 19th century fully reflects the structure, situation, and dynamics of the Jewish population (see Appendix P).

The list of “the foreigners” drawn up in 1898 reflects the abnormal situation of the Jews in Romania during those years. The overwhelming majority of the Jews in town, who were born and brought up in this country (as were most of their parents) with no foreign protection and who had performed their military service, had no political rights and were forbidden many civil rights as well. Due to administrative stipulations, they were the victims of the arbitrariness of the police and of all the local authorities in general. The maintenance of the status of the boroughs as communes had negative repercussions on the national economy, although it satisfied the egotistical interests of those who wanted to restrain possible competition by making use of extra economic measures.

Summing up the data in the table, we obtained the following results: heads of family- 490 men and 53 widows; family members (under age 21) - 536 males and 829 females; of these 17 were not Jews with 11 children. Only 25 of the Jews were subjects of other states. There were also several “righteous” Jews, former combatants in the 1877/1878 Independence War or their descendents, or coming from Dobrogea.

The professions of the Jews in Podu Iloaiei were as follows: four barbers who also applied leeches; eight cabmen who were transporting people to and from the railway station and also to Iasi and Targu Frumos; six waggoners who transported goods inside and outside the town; three substitute teachers who were hired to help the four “melamdim,” the heder teachers officially named the “the confessional asylum.” The only furrier in town competed with 13 other fur coat makers who made thick coats, fur coats, and fur caps. The peasants who wanted their wool dyed solicited the help of three dyers. No receipts were used, but inscriptions were made on a wooden tally that was “attached” to the hank of wool to be dyed. The only braga maker in town was assisted by two confectioners; all three were Turks. Three Jewish bakers, assisted by two pretzel makers, were baking according to the Mosaic rules[B-15]. The coopers made keys, bathtubs, and vats. There was also a coffee shop, a brick factory, two kosher butchers, four synagogue janitors, two shoe makers, 12 boot makers who - like the fur coat makers - were also working for the surrounding villages, and 28 tailors and 8 dressmakers who worked only for the townspeople with modest incomes, since the dresses for the wealthy women were ordered in Iasi or a deluxe dressmaker was brought from Iasi. The only accountant in town worked for the rich man Marcu Ghetel, whose fortune was said to be worth 1 million gold francs.

To the 203 tradesmen of all kinds, we have to add the 30 merchants and the four “fisherman,” who traded fish caught predominantly from the pond in Scobalteni. Eleven Jewish blacksmiths and smiths and two wheelwrights also worked in the town. The presence of three teachers at the primary school, which was founded in 1892, was a sign of the modernization of the Jewish educational system. The four shochets, the rabbi, and the Hasidic court are discussed in another chapter. The only innkeeper in town took care of the inn. The three “business men” were probably wholesale tradesmen or private clerks. In addition to the Romanian physician who worked at the regional hospital, there was a Jewish physician who owned aprivate practice but also paid visits to the members of the mutual assistance association and the poor in the community. The presence of five midwives, one of whom was over 90 years old, indicates that the birth rate was high. Seventy-five Jewish workers helped to load and unload grain and other agricultural products, and worked at the oil press, at the wood warehouse, and as assistants in shops.

In the construction business, there were three masons, six carpenters, and a tinker. There were also a saddle maker, a carpet maker, and three water carriers. Only 12 people were listed as servants. I believe that some of those who were mentioned as “workers” did chores in other men's households. There was also an “animal doctor,” who was famous in the neighboring villages. It is possible that the family men who were listed as “having no profession” were intermediaries or craftsmen without a shop or workshop of their own, and thus were not included in the fiscal records. In fact, the unmarried young people, who were listed as having “no profession,” usually worked in their parents' workshop or shop.

Several observations: all unmarried young people over age 21 are considered heads of family, even though they continued to live and work in their parents' house (32 men and 60 women). Women who only had a religious marriage ceremony were considered heads of family, just like their husbands. There was a great number of old people and widows (85 widows, 14 elders between age 60 and 70, and nine elders between age 70 and 90). Actually, only 21 heads of family had no profession (see Appendix P).

The poor harvest and the economic crisis at the beginning of the 20th century had repercussions on the town's economy. In August and September 1897, three bankruptcies took place. The consequences of the crisis became more serious in 1899-1900 and later, especially for the craftsmen, leading to the famous mass emigration on foot that took place in 1900-1901 under dramatic conditions. On May 31, 1900, 100 people from Podu Iloaiei were about to emigrate. On July 16, 400 of the town's Jews left for America. Sraier, the representative of the local Jews, asked Auerbach, the ICA's delegate, to facilitate the emigration of the craftsmen, particularly the women whose husbands had emigrated the year before.[A-108] Auerbach promised to help. In July 1902, another 25 families of Jewish craftsmen from Podu Iloaiei prepared to emigrate. They had a 4,000 lei fund and asked for help from the committee in Iasi. The emigration continued over the next years, although at a slower rate. On July 20, 1907, more families from Podu Iloaiei left for America.

In 1910, 1,895 Jews lived in Podu Iloaiei, comprising approximately 68% of the town's total population. The decline in the Jewish population—there had been 1,962 Jews in 1899—was due to the emigration that took place during the years 1900-1901 and 1905-1906. Considering the occupations of those who had left, there were now 187 tradesmen, 15 tailors, 20 boot makers, eight smiths, three carpenters, and 175 people with other occupations such as coopers, tinkers, cabmen, wagoners, haircutters, bakers, coffee sellers, dyers, clerks, porters, day laborers, and intermediaries. In 1914, more families in town emigrated.

The years 1923-1924 were marked by price increases, especially for food, and by an acute monetary crisis.

The fair in Podu Iloaiei was no longer held after 1924. One time, the producers returned from the fair in Targu Frumos with all their merchandise unsold because the merchants did not have money to buy the merchandise. As usual, there were brutal, irresponsible, anti-Semitic forces that seized the popular discontent. In March 1924, the organization of the Sunday fair and the market day in Podu Iloaiei was terminated. An increase in taxes followed, and the tradesmen became worried. A committee called The Tradesmen's Council was elected; it was made up of nine Jews and one Christian (C. Ioan).

In 1925, the Small Credit Bank opened with the help of the Joint [B-16]. The short-term loans offered by the bank helped the small tradesmen and craftsmen to maintain their businesses and confront the various forms of discrimination. After a short period of stabilization, we were informed that, in 1928, the peasants and merchants in Podu Iloaiei had become impoverished. In the past, the town had exported 3,000 to 4,000 wagons of grain; however in 1928, nothing was exported and the local needs could not be satisfied. The cattle starved because of a lack of fodder. Some peasants left to find work elsewhere. Excessive taxes and bankruptcies hindered commerce. The new harvest was better, and on August 1, the grain market was opened.[A-109]

In 1926, The Commerce Bank opened, managed by Haim Orensteim. For several years, the Jewish craftsmen had been organized in a mutual assistance society that remained active until the Jews were evacuated in 1942. In 1929, and for many years thereafter, the president of the society was Avram Herman. At the general assembly held on May 1928 at the Tailors synagogue, the project of an independent office was launched.

The Ceres mill, estimated to be worth 8 million lei, was destroyed by a fire. It was rebuilt, and opened on February 22, 1928. On July 28, 1928, the grain market opened; one of the managers was Iancu Sneier. The Small Credit Bank expanded. In June, Israel Fisler, Strul Moscovici, and Litman Vigder were elected auditors.

The setting up of the grain market, on which taxes were imposed, brought losses to the small tradesmen. Due to a policy that stipulated an imposed compulsory price, the peasants preferred to go to other markets. A commission of 10 tradesmen presented their case to the Commerce Chamber in Iasi and offered a sum equal to that brought in by the taxes in exchange for the closing of the market.

The 1930 census indicated 1,601 Jewish inhabitants in Podu Iloaiei, who made up 40.4% of the total population. The decline in the population since 1910 was, of course, due in part to the exodus of the Jews to the larger cities. To a smaller degree, it was also due to emigration and the death rate during the war, which was particularly high because of the epidemics.

The various anti-Jewish actions in the 1930s deeply affected the economic situation of the local Jews. The process of impoverishment, Proletarian-ization, and social differentiation increased, and many intellectuals and qualified workers left the town. Thus, it was no surprise in 1941 that the Jewish community consisted of only 1,454 individuals, 37% of the total population.

After World War II, the economic role played by the Jewish borough was a thing of the past. The history of the Jewish community in Podu Iloaiei thus came to an end, one and a half centuries after its founding. It was a closed chapter.

 

9  Communal Life

The oldest Jewish community organization in Podu Iloaiei was Chevra Chedosha, the burial brotherhood that took care of the burials, the cemetery, and sometimes the poor who fell ill. The organization was established soon after the founding of the borough, but its records were lost during World War I. There were also other organizations such as Chevra Tehillim, which was set up for reading the psalms together, and other groups for the study of the Mishna or the entire Talmud. Their records were not saved, however.

The oldest documented society is the branch of the Israelite Alliance, which was founded at the initiative of the head office in Paris for the purpose of defending at least the civil rights of Jews in Romania. The committee in Podu Iloaiei was made up of Aron Goldental, president; Abraham Dov Katz, vice president; Solomon ben Haim, cashier; Dov ben Itchak, secretary; and Moise Gang and Ghedalie Horenstein, members.

In 1882, the existence of a brotherhood mutual assistance society was announced, providing a physician and free medication. In 1889, Tomhei Ani'im was a well-established society that provided clothes for poor children. It was chaired by I. Lazar and Saie Steinberg, the latter was involved in community life until after World War I.[A-111] In 1894, Achim, a youth organization, was established to help the poor. The committee included Leon Landman, Herman Wechsler, H. Spirt, and Isidor Lazar. In 1895, Achim donated several items of furniture to the community's school. The traditional ladies' charity activities were formally organized some years later.

The Zionist organization played an important role in the community life of the Jewish population in Podu Iloaiei. The first section of Hovevei Zion[B-17] was set up in 1891 and was still active in 1894, when it sent its delegate Saie Steinberg to the congress in Galati.[A-112] Subsequently, its activities diminished, and, at the end of 1901, the society Carmel was reopened at the initiative of Ghersen Cohn.[A-113] Carmel had 35 members. In April 1902, the Maccabea branch was established, and was chaired by Iosef Solomon. The medical student Albert Spirt lectured. Sometime later, the Zionist society Dr. Herzl's Youngsters was established. It had 40 members, a reading group, and a committee led by Elias Reisch. At the congress in Bucharest in 1903, the young men Michel Sor and Iosef Rosental were delegated. The societies Carmel and Dr. Herzl sent delegates from other towns to the congress in Basel. Dr. Herzl was still active in 1912 with a reading group and a library containing books in Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and German. The president was the teacher I. Rosental. Literary meetings were organized quite frequently with readings in Yiddish and lectures on Jewish history. There are some data from 1914 on this society's activities. In 1915, the Zionist society Bnai Zion, Dr. Theodor Herzl merged with the group “The Light” in order to form a 150-member society. The leader was the future engineer Ghetel Buchman. The committee also included Vigder Iosupovici who later became president of the community; Adolf Kern who died during the war in 1917; Iancu Elias; the bookseller Jean Meirovici, Moise Solomon who later became the mayor's assistant; David Hers Hahamovici the self-educated tinker; Leon Sor who was still alive in 1978; Lupu Buchman who also was still alive in 1978; and Samuel Wechsler. In 1916, a Hebrew course was taught by Rubin Epstain, who was active in town until 1942 and lived to be 80 years old.

Between 1916 and 1918, any Jewish cultural activity was forbidden, and the library was closed. It was not until 1919, when the old Zionist section was reopened with six members, that the traditional celebration of Hanukkah was held, and a Hebrew course was attended by 30 students. I too, attended this course, which was held by I. Rosental. Literary meetings were also arranged at which Lupu Buchman and Simha Schwartz performed readings. The influence of the Zionists was also increasing in the community's committee. In 1922, a new committee of the organization was elected. The collection of funds and the Hebrew transformation of the school intensified. A kindergarten was set up and a sustained Zionist propaganda was carried on until the outbreak of World War II.

After a sports society was established, another one called Maccabi was founded in 1922 and remained more or less active for many years, organizing literary-artistic festivals, among other events. Moise Sor took part in the national leading committee of the Maccabi society. In 1924, Bention Nahman initiated and led a Mizrah[B-18] youth organization that presented the play Tzezeit in Tzeshpreit by Shalom Aleichem. In 1933, there was also a Gordonia society.

The socialist movement had followers in Podu Iloaiei, where Petre Taranu - an activist in this movement, died during the war, together with a Jewish socialist, under mysterious circumstances. In 1919, there was a socialist society in town. Two Jewish delegates, who were born in town, took part in the congress in 1921. Moise Elias remained with the Social Democrats, while Itic Mendelovici (later known as Jack Podoleanu) voted for the “Third International” party.

The followers of the leftist movement, who had Yiddish inclinations, founded in 1924 the cultural society Shalom Aleichem. They performed in Yiddish The Siege of Tulcin and plays by P. Hirsbein. Their tutors were Gedale Westler (1906-1978) and Itic Svart (later known as I. Kara). The committee also included Moise Sor (1908-1968), Ioel and Sulim Finchelstein, Bianca Lozner, Ana Zaharovici, and Ghizela Solomon. The society also had a library and organized literary meetings. In 1927, after two years of existence, Shalom Aleichem merged with the society Achad Ha'am and prepared a show with the play Manasse by Ronetti-Roman.

In August 1926, the club Iavne opened, led by L. Buchman. There was also a chess club there. In March, the club took the name Achad Ha'am, and a new committee was elected.

There also existed in town several charity societies such as Ida Strauss, a society for the assistance of poor lying-in (confined) women. It was founded in 1912 and chaired by Ghizela Langberg. In 1919, Lupu Buchman established a philanthropic society called Baroness Clara de Hirsch for mature and young ladies. Between the two World Wars, a mutual assistance society of Jewish craftsmen, called “The Brotherhood” was also active.

The Native Jews' Union had existed in town ever since 1910. It intensified its activities around 1914, but especially after 1917, when the issue of granting citizenship to the Jews was at stake. The first decree legislating citizenship requested complicated formalities, which led the Native Jews' Union to organize a juridical office. After 1922, the importance of the Native Jews' Union diminished significantly because the Zionists supported the National Jewish Party and many Jews were registered in different political parties and thus their votes were dispersed. The elections for the leadership of the community were also an occasion for different political views and personal interests to be revealed.

Information on the various economic and professional associations is presented in other chapters.

In general, the community life of the town was never stagnant, even though there had been times—apart from the periods of maximum activity—when the activity was less intense. The fact that several local Jews asserted themselves in community, literary, or artistic life offered proof of the intense cultural and community climate.

We present biographical data on some of the most noteworthy representatives of the Jewish community in Podu Iloaiei:

GHETEL BUCHMAN: son of the leader Moise Buchman, an engineer, played an important role in the community life in Iasi.

LUPU BUCHMAN: brother of Ghetel Buchman, very influential, the author of many initiatives but only in his native town, has lived in Israel since 1981.

GHERSEN COHN: born in 1868, in his youth he was active in the press as the editor of Di Yiddisher Tzukunft (1899).

ELIEZER FRENKEL: born in 1920, made an early debut. His published work: Naie Yiddisher Dichtung (1935; co-author with I. Paner); The Jewish Problem (1946); Dus Yiddisher Vort (1947); and essays and literary criticisms.

BENTION ISCOVICI: see the chapter “The Hasidism.”

I. KARA: born in 1906, historian, literary and theater critic, writer of prose. His published work: Naie Yiddisher Dichtung (1935; anthology); Centuries Old Testimonies (1947); O Iur Yiddisher Literatur (1947); Yiddisher Gramatik (1948); A Moldevisher Yingle (1976); and Inghe Iurn (1980).

IRA LANDMAN: see the chapter “The Rabbinate.”

ADOLF MAGDER: principal of the community's school, URA activist. His published work since 1903: Alia (1913); Great Errors (1923); and Wonder of Wonders (1924).

SOLOMON PODOLEANU: publicist and historian. His published work: The History of the Jewish Press in Romania (1935); Sixty Romanian Writers of Jewish Origin (1935); and others.

ELIE ROSENTAL: see the chapter “The Rabbinate.”

IULIAN SCHWARTZ (1910-1977): actor, cultural activist, and writer. His published work: Der farkishefter shraiber (1947); 10 Yiddisher folk sliden (1947); Literarishe dermonungen (1975); and Portret in eseien (1979).

SIMCHA SCHWARTZ (1890-1974): actor, writer, and sculptor. His published work: Baudelaire, Verlaine. The artistic group Cameleon (Cernauti 1931-1934). Plays: The Theater Hakl Bakl (Paris 1945-1956).

ITIC SVART: see I. Kara.

LITMAN VIGDER (1901-1972): community activist and writer. His published work: Translations of Arghezi's poems in Yiddish (1965).

GHEDALE WESTLER (1906-1978): cultural activist, reciter, and man of the theater.

 

10  Private and Public Education

One of the first concerns of the Jews who founded the borough was to ensure their children's education and religious training. “Melamdim” teachers were brought to town. In 1834, there were three of them—Avram, Aron, and Moise. In 1845, there were six—Meer sin Fisel, Itic sin Bercu from Iasi, Strule from Todireni, Simon sin Lupu (who owned a house), Hoisie sin Liebu, Itic sin Moise, and Moise sin Mendel (who was old and ill). In 1882, the magazine The Brotherhood (page 361) noted that a Talmud Torah course was taught in town for the children of the poor. Although there were several confessional schools and a modern private teacher, some of the Jewish children attended the public primary school. The 1898 statistics indicated that there were four teachers and four assistants (belfer) living in town. There were also two private teachers who taught Romanian, Yiddish, German or French, and a little Hebrew, in addition to calligraphy and arithmetic. These teachers were Ihil Glanter and Leon Cramer. The latter was qualified to work as a teacher at the newly opened primary school. The traditional education system continued to function well after the opening of the Jewish-Romanian primary school, where at least two hours a day were spent on Jewish-related topics. In 1904, there were five confessional asylums (see Appendix S).

In the commune, public education began in 1862 for boys and in 1865 for girls; but it started to function properly only after 1867. Jewish students were also accepted. However, the boys had to have their head uncovered and attend the school on Saturdays, although they did not have to write. Most of the Jews in town had difficulty accepting these rules. Despite this, in 1884, the public primary school in Podu Iloaiei had 33 boys enrolled in the first grade, 17 of whom were Jews. There were 8 Jews and 5 Christians in the second grade, and 9 Jews and 5 Christians in the third grade. For the girls, there were 13 Jews and 13 Christians in the first grade, 12 Jews and 1 Christian in the second grade, 7 Jews and 6 Christians in the third grade, and 9 Jews and 1 Christian in the fourth grade. A school report showed that 15 of the 58 girls attending the primary school were Christian. The Jewish girls did not speak Romanian well, and they did not attend school on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.[A-114] In the fourth grade, there were no Christian students. The girls were not taught how to sew at school, and instead of the traditional national costume, they wore “long dresses that swept the street.” The female teachers were paid poorly.

The number of Jewish students — especially the girls — remained high over the next years. In fact, in the girls' schools the Jewish students formed the majority. The Christian girls rarely graduated from the fourth grade. Here is the situation for the boys in 1886[A-115]: first grade, 27 Christians and 6 Jews; second grade, 9 Christians and 9 Jews; third grade, 8 Christians and 6 Jews; and fourth grade, 8 Christians and 4 Jews. The situation for the girls: first grade, 12 Christians and 11 Jews; second grade, 8 Christians and 7 Jews; third grade, 2 Christians and 10 Jews; fourth grade, 1 Christian and 5 Jews. In 1891, the winners of the scholar prizes were[A-116]: first grade, Dumitru Draganescu and Nathan Schonhaus; second grade, Haim Rotenberg and Dumitru Dumitras; third grade, Avram Zalman and Itic Leibel; and fourth grade, Vasiliu Haralamb and Gh. Cretulescu.

Alarmed by the poor attendance of the Christian students, the government came up with “the miraculous solution”: the extreme limitation of the number of Jewish students! The 1883 law for public education, which was revised in 1896, stipulated that “the foreigners [of whom 99% were Jews — author's note] who enjoy no foreign protection will be accepted according to the school vacancies and will pay school taxes.” Actually, the increase in anti-Semitism could be felt in the schools as well. The Jews decided to open their own primary school, following the example of the school set up in Iasi. In 1898, a year marked by a serious economic crisis, and two years before the mass emigration “on foot” in 1900, the teacher Pincu Svart founded the mixed Jewish-Romanian primary school. The school continued to function without him, in its own building on Garii (Railway) Street from 1902. I also attended primary classes at this school. When the school became too small for the increasing number of students, a new building was opened in 1914, where it continues to function today. The institution was supported financially by a committee. . The funds came from school taxes, the revenues of the annual banquet, and donations. A letter published in The Israelite Courier (November 1, 1903, page 3) noted that “the Jewish-Romanian school in our little town functions very well. The teaching staff is made up of: A. Magder, principal; I. Horodniceanu, teacher of Romanian language; I. Rosental, I Doroscanu, and S. Finchelman, teacher of Hebrew. For the excellent situation of the school, we have to thank the gentlemen in the school's committee and especially Mr. Z. Schor. A special thanks is owed to Mr. M. Ghetel, a rich man who donates a 1,200 lei subvention to the school each year. The committee decided to organize a banquet on October 7 in the school's benefit.”

In August 1906, a new committee was elected, chaired by Saie Steinberg. The school functioned independently from the community, which was insufficiently organized and dealt only with cultural issues. The Israelite Chronicle from July 27, 1907 announced that the school needed a principal, who could teach Romanian; it also needed a Hebrew teacher. The president of the school's committee was the engineer Leon Brill. The frequent changes in the structure of the teaching staff were due to both poor pay for teachers and the committee's ambitions. In the beginning, Barad was appointed principal, then Adolf Magder in 1903, and Grinberg in 1906/1907. In June 1909, the school's committee and the school, chaired by the popular Dr. Margosches, were looking for a teacher of Romanian and German for the first and second grades, as well as a teacher of Hebrew for the third and fourth grades. A source of funds was the traditional banquet (held on January 25, 1909). At the banquet on January 20, 1912, the students presented a show in which they recited in Romanian and Hebrew.

Even after the opening of the Jewish-Romanian primary school, some Jewish children continued to attend the courses at the public school in the hopes of avoiding the difficult graduation exam at the end of the primary cycle. The exam took place in the public school with teachers, some of whom manifested chauvinistic beliefs. However, the Jewish children studied hard. As a result, they were better trained than most of the other students. During the school year of 1911/1912, the Jewish-Romanian primary school in Podu Iloaiei had 91 boys and 56 girls.

In 1913, a committee was formed to resolve the problem of erecting a new school building. Its representative, I. Astruc promised substantial help from the I.C.A. in Paris. The central hall was planned to be large enough to serve as a place where students could spend their free time during cold and rainy days and as a room for wedding ceremonies or banquets. The school's principal, the lawyer Adolf Magder who had been the author of some much appreciated initiatives, played a special role. In 1913, he wrote about the visit paid to the school by the minister Spiru Haret who, among others, had been extremely impressed by the students' work in the vegetable garden of the Jewish-Romanian primary school.[A-117]

A 30-page booklet, entitled A Celebration: The Festivity of Laying the Foundation Stone of the New Building of the Jewish-Romanian Primary School in Podu Iloaiei, was printed in Iasi on May 11, 1914. The booklet mentioned the choir that was conducted by the Hebrew teacher Iosef Rosental. After the religious ceremony performed by the old rabbi Ira Landman, the following people spoke: S. Steinberg, Rabbi Thenen from Iasi, Moritz Wachtel, Petre Constatinescu (a member of The Students' Center in Iasi who later became an academician; he died in November 1978), Aron Rosenthal, Moses Duff, Dr. Carol Vittner, Ghizela Wechsler, H. Gerner (a lawyer who was killed in the 1941 pogrom), Ioan P. Dumitriu (a school teacher from Iasi), Adolf Magder (the school's principal and initiator of the new building), and N. Ionescu (the school inspector). Funds had been collected since 1911. The vice president of the community was Iosef Svart, my grandfather. The author of the booklet was Flodam (Adolf Magder).

The inauguration took place on January 25, 1915. The Israelite Courier reported on February 7: “The administrative authorities were present, as were many guests from Iasi. The festivity opened with the royal anthem and Hebrew songs performed by the school's choir. A religious ceremony followed. The following people gave speeches: Schaia Steinberg (the president of the community), Rabbi Dr. Mayer Thenen from Iasi, Mrs. Ghizela Vexler (president of the former committee for the school's building), Ghetel Buchman (on behalf of the Zionist section), Zalman Simon (a student), Dimitri (principal of the Medie school), Gerner, Dr. Vitner (the physician at the local hospital), Ms. Clara Herscovici (principal of the Steaua - Star school), Mrs. Roza Sufrin, Dr. Fany Brandman, and Adolf Magder (the founder of the building). D. Ionescu, the delegate from the Education Ministry, concluded the series of speeches. The schoolgirls from the professional school Steaua (The Star) in Iasi and the pupils from the school Dr. Adolf Stern performed brilliantly in a play. Then, the schoolgirls from Junimea (The Youth) No. 2, The Union of the Israelite Women, and the primary school Steaua, as well as the schoolboys from the local school, recited poetry. The festivity closed with a violin concerto played by Cerbu Solomon, Wiess Vainstein, and Osias Branchfeld, the delegates from the Lyra society in Iasi. At nine o'clock that night, a banquet in the school's benefit was held in the large hall of the new building. Owing to the work of Ms. Debora Aron and Mr. Lupu Buchman, the elegant bazaar, which was tastefully arranged, surpassed all expectations. The profit, which amounted to about 1,600 lei, was mostly owing to Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Magder's contributions. Many others donated money during the banquet.”

During the war years (1916-1918), the school building was used as a military hospital; the courses were held in the old building. The students participated in the work in the vegetable garden, which was located on a lot that was given to the school outside the town. After the war, the Hebrew education system was modernized; even post-school courses were taught. Following Barad, Grinberg, and Magder, the next principal was Iancu Horodniceanu. He was followed by Abis Mendelovici in 1927-1928 and then by the excellent Hebrew specialist R. Epstein. In 1921, Michel Sor, as the mayor's assistant, obtained a subvention for the school from the mayoralty. He had argued that if the Jewish children enrolled in the public school—a right they were entitled to as Romanian citizens—another school would have to be built with an enlarged teaching staff. In 1933, the school prepared 110 students for the exam. At that time, the principal was Rubin Epstein and the teachers were Etla Marcovici and Tania Rotenstein.

In 1936, the 25th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the school building was celebrated. M. I. Schor was the president of the community, Michel Schor was the president of the school's committee, and Lupu Buchman was the mayor's assistant. Solomon Elias, the veteran of the committee, was also present. The school operated until 1942 when the Jews in town were evacuated to Iasi for racist reasons. The last secretary of the school was Velvl Candel, who still possessed a portion of the community's archives in the 1950s.

 

11  Synagogues

The documents legislating the foundation of the borough in 1823 granted tax-free land for the construction of three synagogues: two on Palade's estate, which became the center of the town of Podu Iloaiei, and one on the Scobalteni estate. These synagogues must have been made of wood, just like in most of the other new boroughs, where the owner of the estate sometimes offered free of charge wood for construction of the synagogues.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish funeral processions that passed through the town stopped at a certain place on the road to the cemetery to say an “El mulei rachamin,” because at this place a synagogue had once stood. The synagogue was probably the first one to be built after the founding of the borough. Not far from this place, but closer to the Iasi-Targu Frumos highway, there was Aziels Beth Midrash, the second oldest house of prayer. You could get there by following a narrow street that emerged from the highway at one end of the main road (a kind of Moldavian “Main Street”). It is known that a synagogue's floor must fall below the level of the street to respect psalm 130: “From deepening have I called on thee, my Lord.” But this establishment was even deeper below the ground level, so that you had to descend several stairs. According to oral tradition, this was the oldest synagogue in town. All kinds of terrifying stories were told based on the belief that at midnight, the dead left their tombs and came to pray at the synagogue. In the past, diligent students stayed at the synagogue from dawn till dark to study the Talmud. During the summer, when the synagogue's windows were open, the students' thoughts were sometimes diverted from their study by the voices of the young dressmakers in the neighborhood who were singing and working hard for the women in the town and the villages. Love stories were sometimes born — silent, barely recognizable, and not exactly part of the study schedule.

There was also a story about a practical joke that ended tragically: one winter night, a young Talmudist had fallen asleep over his book. Two of his colleagues, practical jokers, blocked both doors and dressed themselves in sheets. They then knocked at the window, grievously singsonging. The young man woke up and tried the front door and then the back door, but everywhere he confronted “the ghosts.” He suffered a nervous breakdown which marked him for the rest of his life.

The synagogue was destroyed during World War II.

A beautiful synagogue—named Scobalteni Sill till 1917, later renamed Iavne — was built on the place where the first synagogue in this part of the town had existed before. It was also probably made of wood and then rebuilt with bricks. Among its congregation were some of the town's important figures, such as Moise Buchman who could read beautifully from the Torah and David Leib Davidovici.

On the same street as the Great Synagogue, was the Hahnusas Orhim synagogue, that in the beginning probably belonged to a brotherhood with the same name. Some members of its congregation were also important personalities, for example Zelman Schor. On the same street, parallel with the main street, was the Tailors' Synagogue where the congregation consisted mainly of the craftsmen in town. There was also another house of prayer in the house of the Hasidic Rabbi Bention Iscovici.

But the most impressive synagogue both in terms of architecture and interior decoration was the Great Synagogue, which was built in 1876. An 1892 report of the Prefecture of the county of Iasi mentioned the existence in town of this synagogue and of five other houses of prayer. The Great Synagogue impressed its visitors with the quality of its traditional motifs: The Zodiac, the twelve tribes, the wailing wall, Rachel's tomb, the illustration of the psalm “By the river of Babylon, there I sat and wept,” as well as some images of the Holy Land painted by a popular master. The wood sculpturing around the ark and the shrine were also remarkable, rich in floral elements but also zoomorphic, symbolic, and allegorical. There were griffins, two-headed eagles, lions, and stags. The items of the creed, which were made of silver or silver-plated, were the works of the Jewish master brass smiths, silversmiths, and lace makers who were renowned in the country for their skill and talent.

The synagogue was associated with many legends, such as: the deceased members of the congregation came to pray at midnight; the synagogue being dug up already built from under the clay hill that towered over it. The latter legend was identical to that of the Great Synagogue in Iasi, which I wrote about in 1938 in Vilna in the volume Yiddisher Folklor (number 34, page 151; published by YIVO[B-19]). During World War I, the synagogues in town were transformed into military hospitals. The Great Synagogue was damaged during the years of persecution and had to be demolished in 1973. The last Jewish inhabitant of Podu Iloaiei, Avram - the smith, used to go to the Great Synagogue each Friday and pray by himself.

After the demolishment of the synagogues, the holy scrolls and objects of the creed were brought to Iasi. Let's not forget that during their existence the synagogues were not only “Bait Tefilah,” houses of prayer, but also “Bait Medrash,” houses of study. Here the Talmud and the commentaries were studied, the Bible was popularized for the adults who had not studied it thoroughly in childhood, and the children were given elements of religious training and education at the heder, the confessional school. The synagogue was also a place of gathering for debating community issues, a “Bait Knesset.”

The end of the synagogues' activity in Podu Iloaiei was also due to the rapid outflow of the Jewish population. Thus, the existence of the synagogues became useless. Their remembrance will not die within the souls of those who attended them, and will continue to live perhaps in some literary depictions (see the chapter “Podu Iloaiei as Reflected in Literature”).

 

12  Rabbinate

The creation of the rabbinate of Podu Iloaiei seemed to correspond chronologically with the founding of the borough. The 1823 document exempted two shochet houses from paying tax. One of these houses, no doubt, belonged to the rabbi, since some time during that decade the town's rabbi was invited to a wedding by the famous rabbi of Iasi named Apter Rav.[A-118]

I believe that this was Rabbi Moise sin Leizer, who was registered in Podu Iloaiei in the 1831 census. He was also mentioned in a Hebrew act from 1834, and the 1835 census included him at No. 63 as “Moise the rabbi, the weak old man,” meaning that he was ill. We do not know how long he led his community or who followed him, but between 1868 and 1878, the position was occupied by a famous rabbinical personality: Ghedalia Aharaon, son of Itahak Zoil from Lint, son-in-law of the rabbi Smuel Aba Sapira from the well-known Hasidic and typographical center of Slavuta, and nephew of the famous Hasidic leader Pinchas from Korzec. He was born in 1814 and died in Podu Iloaiei on 15 Tevet 5638 (1878). His biblical exegesis Chen Aharon was printed and published by Elie Rosental in 1910 in Iasi (Progress Typography, 60 pages). The editor remembered that as a young man he had had the wonderful opportunity to listen to this appreciated rabbi's lectures and to take notes. Four decades later, he looked over the notes and published them. Elie Rosental was the author of the work Sefer Iore Dea (Seini 1925, 52 pages).

Uri Landman (1838-1916; also see the chapter “Podu Iloaiei as Reflected in Literature”) followed in Rabbi Ghedalia's chair. He was the son of Rabbi Tvi Hirs from Strelitk and Kuty, and the nephew of Rabbi Ithak from Vijnita. According to some documents from 1892 and 1898, Uri Landman was born in Mihaileni and confirmed as rabbi by the rabbinical authorities from Lvov and Brody. He was a noble, erudite, and wise man. He also studied and wrote a lot. The writer Litman Vigder (1901-1972), who had been Landman's neighbor, told me that the common attic of their home was filled with the rabbi's manuscripts. Only one work from Landman's youth was published, a triple obituary, Dismet Shlish (Cernauti, 1885), dedicated to the memory of the rabbis Avraham Iaakov Fridman from Sadagura, Chanoch Henich from Alesk, and Mendel from Vijnita.

After Landman's death, no other rabbi was hired. Instead, the shochet Elie Rosental became dayan. In 1923, a group of faithful people tried to bring in a rabbi from Maramures. The candidate was an erudite Talmudist, but was less trained in the study of the Bible and modern Hebrew, and could not be accepted by the scholars in town. After Elie Rosental's death, the shochet Burah Svart became dayan. He was the last shepherd of the Jewish community in Podu Iloaiei.

The evacuation of the Jewish population from the town in 1942, and the events that followed, greatly diminished the Jewish presence in the area. The creed was being served by a shochet from Iasi, who also served Targu Frumos.

But let us return to the history of the shochets in Podu Iloaiei. The censuses from the 19th century mentioned some of their names. Let's not forget that they were the teachers of the Talmud and also the readers in the synagogue. A source from 1834 mentioned the name of Herscu the shochet, who was probably the shochet mentioned in the 1823 act. The 1845 census mentioned the shochets Marcus and Haim sin Iosup; the latter died of cholera in 1848. The 1898 foreigner's list mentioned the shochets Iosub, Elie, Haim, and Burah; Beiris was mentioned as a teacher.

During the first decade of the 20th century, several shochets, who I met as a child, worked in Podu Iloaiei. For example, Reb Beiris, a feeble and sickly old man, lived on a hill behind the Great Synagogue. He was appreciated for his devoutness, as well as his gentleness.

Elie Rosental was a tall, intelligent, ambitious, and erudite man, who was also very active and was eager to play a leading role in the community's life. He was a good Talmud and Hebrew specialist, and he also knew algebra. His sons were scholars: Iosub was, for several decades, an excellent Hebrew teacher at the Jewish school in the town, while his brother, Aron, worked in Hebrew journalism; Itoc Ioil, the third son was a tradesman, who also had good knowledge of the traditional culture. Elie Rosental dreamed of becoming a rabbi after he was elected dayan.

Moise Sor (1901-1977), a fine intellectual and a friend of mine since childhood, told me about an event that occurred around 1923-1924 when a classic machloket (conflict) began on a minor issue, but had serious implications. As a rival of Michel Sor, who was the former mayor's assistant and president of the community, Elie Rosental declared “treif” a bird that Michel had cut on a Thursday without thorough examination. My friend's father took notice and sent the chicken to the shochet Burah, who examined it carefully and declared it kosher without knowing the previous verdict. For his dishonest act, Elie was about to be dismissed. He maintained his position, however, by giving up the issue of the mikvah (the ritual bath) on which, until then, he had had an excessively strict position.

Burah Svart a very pious and good Talmudist (my brother Simcha studied with him) was a small, sickly man with a house full of children. He was appreciated for his honesty, gentleness, skill, and kindness. He became the dayan of the community after Elie Rosental's death. The shochet Heim was renowned for his intransigence on ritual issues. He would pray for a long time and was always busy with the study of the Talmud.

The youngest shochet, Moise, was a handsome man with a nice voice and a house full of children. His wife used to wear a hat over her wig (a concession to modern times), but it did not suit her for she was not that beautiful.

The evolution of the social life between the two World Wars raised many difficult problems for the religious leaders in town. Some merchants would keep their shops open on Saturdays and others would eat pork sausages in public. In general, the numerous and severe rules of the Mosaic ritual were no longer strictly respected.

Among the young people as well, controversies on acute issues were beginning to take shape. In the end, the mizrahist (religious) orientation did not prevail.

 

13  Hasidism

Within the general framework of traditional Jewish life in Podu Iloaiei, the Hasidism occupied an important place. In town, there were followers of different Hasidic rabbis (tzadikim), but they did not get into serious conflicts, as happened in other places. It was known that the famous tzadik David Toluer visited the town several times.[A-119] The rabbi Ghedalia Aharaon was considered a Hasidic. Later, Rabbi Alter Aharov Arie settled in Podu Iloaiei. He was the son of the rabbi in Sulita and the nephew of the rabbi from Zloczow and the famous tzadik reb Meirl Premislaner. According to data in a report from 1892,[A-120] the rabbi Alter Iscovici was born in 1840 in Galicia and “inherited the title of rabbi from his father.”

The magazine The Brotherhood published a letter by Moses Schwarzfeld in 1882 (page 361) that told of a “ghiter id” in town who was visited by followers from other towns. In 1958, Heim Strulovici, the old leader of the community who settled in Podu Iloaiei in 1897, told me that primarily poor women and simple men consulted reb Alter. The rich people were the followers of the rabbis in Stefanesti, Pascani, or Buhusi.

In 1964, I obtained some information from Ruhel Klinger, an 86-year-old woman living in town. She remembered that her father had been a passionate follower of the rabbi Ghedalia Aharov, who had died without leaving any descendents. Rabbi Alter came from Suceava around 1800. It was known that establishing a Hasidic court in a town could have favorable economic consequences; there would be followers who would come into town and who had to be hosted; businesses and marriages would be arranged, and the prestige of the place would increase. A typical example was the town of Sadagura.

After the death of the founder of the rabbinical dynasty on 7 Elul 5670 (August 1910), his son Bention, who was born in 1878, took his place. He was a strong and handsome man, but he lacked charisma. He and his entire family were killed during a bomb attack in Iasi in August 1944. They were buried in the cemetery in Pacurari (Iasi). Thus, the destiny of the Hasidic court in Podu Iloaiei tragically ended.

The rabbi's secretary was a red-bearded Jew. He was a smart man but was rather cynical and skeptical of his boss and, just like many other gabaim de tzadikim. It was known that the butlers and secretaries of important people tended to notice more the flaws than the qualities of their masters.

Itikl, the son and successor of the rabbi Bention, was 38 years old when he was killed by a bomb. As children, we had been colleagues in the study of the Talmud. We had been taught by a melamed from Lithuania, a severe but good teacher who lived at the rabbinical court. Unfortunately, his teaching qualities could not change the insufficient zeal that I had as a scholar. This was by no means a deficiency of the Hasidism in Podu Iloaiei.

To render complete the image of the religious life in Podu Iloaiei, we need to mention those erudite Talmudist merchants who contributed to the shaping of the cultural profile of the town at the beginning of the 20th century. Their presence promoted the subsequent development, even though it did so in a different way than expected and took another direction.

 

14  Folklore and Ethnography

The Jewish folklore in Podu Iloaiei was, of course, of Yiddish expression, although naturally, forms and influences of the Romanian local folklore can be seen.

When a child was born, the mother and the baby were defended against the evil spirits by a knife placed under the lying-in woman's pillow and by “kimpeturnbrivl,” sheets of paper containing magic formulas that were pinned to the curtains, the door and the sheets that made up the canopy above the lying-in women's bed. If the newborn was a boy, on the seventh evening after his birth, just before the circumcision, the melamed came with his students to say the prayer “Shma Yisrael”[B-20] at the lying-in woman's bed. While entering, they sang in unison “Ghitn uvnt, mozl tov” (Good evening, mazel tov) and continued with the prayer. As they left, each child received a piece of “leicheh,” rhombic-shaped gingerbread. Some of the children would ask for one more piece for a small brother at home. And so would end the ceremony of “Krismeleinen.”

The child was growing, and if he fell ill, he would be treated with “upshprehn,” an exorcism, with embers extinguished in water, melted lead poured in water, and other Jewish and Romanian medicines and exorcisms. When the child was healthy, the mother would put him to sleep singing: “Inter deim kinds veighola / shteit a goldn tzighiola / Dus tzighiola iz ghefurn hondlen / rojinkes mit mondlen.” (Under the child's carriage / Stands a golden goat / The goat is selling / Raisins and almonds / The child will learn / This is the best merchandise.) or “Dus kind vet lernen / Dus iz di beste shoire / Toire vesti lernen / Sfurim vesti shrabn / A ghiter, frimer id vesti, mirtzeshem, blabn.” (Torah he will learn / Books he will write / A good, religious Jew he will / God willing remain.)

Every pious mother's dream was to have her boy become a rabbi. “Toire zolsti lernen / zan mit oel males / in noch tzi der chaene / vesti posken shales.” (You shall learn Torah / It should be with all good character traits / And then with the countenance / You will render legal decisions.)

There was a different song for the girls, just as their lives would be different. The mother put her baby girl to sleep singing: “Di vest lernen biholeh / Di vest shtrikn tiholeh / In groisn zal / vet zan a bal / Mit di kleidoleh vesti mahn a vint / Sluf man kind, gezind / Sluf shion in dan ri / Mah di eighioleh tzi / Mah zei tzi in ofn / Ver ghezinterheit antshlufn.” (You will learn books / You will knit kerchiefs / In a big hall / You will have a husband / With the dresses you will make a breeze / Sleep my child, healthy / Sleep restfully / Close your eyes / Close them, then open them / Go to sleep in health.)

If the child did not fall asleep, the mother would tell the story of the grandmother: “Amul, amul iz ghevein a bobitze, hot zi ghehat asa, asah kinderleh.” (Once upon a time there was a grandmother, who had many, many children.) It is a story similar to that of “The Goat with Three Kids,” a common motif in Slavic folklore. The grandmother leaves for town, ordering the children not to open the door for anyone. The children hide under the bed, under the table, behind the oven, under the trough, and in the closet. The bear comes and asks to be let in. The children refuse. The bear breaks down the door, enters, and eats the children, except for the one who hid behind the oven. When the grandmother comes back and finds out what has happened she goes into the woods and invites the bear, promising him a bath. The bear refuses twice, but cannot resist the third invitation. He comes and agrees to be given a bath. The grandmother strikes him with an ax, cuts open his belly, and saves her unharmed children, whom she bathes, changes their clothes, feeds them milk-boiled semolina, and puts them on a shovel and says: “Hait, in heider aran” (Hurry up to school).

When the child was three to four years old, he was taken to school for the first time, wrapped in a “tales,” a prayer shawl and carried in his parents' arms. The teacher showed him the ancient Hebrew letters, hiding gingerbread letters between the pages.

The child grew and played in the field while singing an absurd little song: “Pantofl, pantofl / Der himl iz ofn / panti, panti / der himl is tzi / Der goisher got zitzt ofn feld / Eir hot a make, nisht kein ghelt.” (Pantofl, pantofl / The heaven is open / Panti, panti / The heaven is shut / The Goishe god sits in the field [cemetery] / He has a sore [blemish] / No money.) The song is perhaps an irony to the spirits of the field. As a matter of fact, many children's songs in many languages contain expressions that mean nothing to us today. This was the case for the counting game, which was a century old in Podu Iloaiei: “Endza, denza, dicha-dacha, pona knicha, shirl-pirl, tirl troosk / Eih hob deih arusghelozt.” (The second line means I let you out.) When the last word was said, the indicated child had to run while the rest tried to catch him.

As the child grew even older, he would play “serjont-ganuv,” meaning “the thieves and the cops.” He would listen to and shiver when ghost stories were told. He would also cheer up with this absurd song: “A zin mit a reighn / Di kole iz gheleighn / Vus hot zi ghehat? / A inghiole / Vi hot eir gheheian? / Mendole / Hot men im bagrubn in a kendole.” (A sun with a rain / The bride is having a baby / What did she have? / A little boy / What was he called? / Mendele / Who was buried in a pail.) Because of rhyming necessities, “a coffin” was replaced with “a pail” so that it would rhyme with “Mendole.” Actually, there were happy songs for almost every name, for example: Moisole, koisole lompampir / Tontzn di vontzn hinter der tir … Kimt di bobe, leigt a lobe / Kimt der zeide, leigt er beide,” (Moishe … / Insects are dancing under the door / Comes the grandmother and smacks them with a big hand / Comes the grandfather and smacks them both.) or “Itzik, spitzik nudleteshl …” (Yitschak, pointy one, bag of noodles …)

The girls played with dolls, usually made of rags. Their ears were pierced and they would wear a red wool thread until they got their first pair of earrings. Most of them did not go to heder, which was a type of crèche. At the Jewish-Romanian primary school, they studied in the same rooms with the boys but at separate desks. They learned to read Hebrew prayers and gained some knowledge of Hebrew. During break, the boys played “sheli sheloh, sheloh sheli.” In this game, two rows of boys face each other. One of them runs quickly toward the opposite row trying to break the chain. If the boy succeeds, he can bring back with him a “prisoner” to strengthen his team. If he does not succeed in breaking the chain, he becomes a “prisoner” himself. Then someone from the other team makes his attempt, and the game goes on until the bell rings that it is time for classes. The girls played a game with Romanian words and an anti-monarchy message! One girl sits on a stone, while the others make a circle around her and sing: “Maria sits on a stone (ter) and brushes her fair hair. Suddenly her brother Carol appears (ter).” Carol makes a rude gesture, and the girls conclude: “Maria's a sweet angel, while Carol is a cheat.”

The children, as well as the adults, looked forward to the Jewish holidays as major events in the monotonous life of the town. The month of Tishri, the month of the autumn festivities, kept everybody in a special tension and emotion. Rosh Hashana, the confession of the sins, the penitence, and the promise to respect during the next year all 613 godly commandments and all the interdictions, prepared everybody for the day of Yom Kippur.The fast, the tears, the prayers, and the whole apocalyptic atmosphere that lasted for 24 hours marked everybody for the rest of their lives. They were relieved when the nine days of “Sikes” (Sukkot) were coming, when they could sit in the “sike” (sukka), or the “cages” as the other co inhabitants called them. But they especially looked forward to the children's games with nuts, “hakafot”, the procession with the rolls of the Torah, the calling to the Torah of all the boys on Simchat Torah, the nuts, the apples, the grape juice, and the little flags with an apple and a candle on top that symbolized the abundance of autumn.

The game with nuts was played in three ways: “in the pit,” “ciccecode,” and “in breitl.” In the first scenario, you are supposed to throw from a distance a handful of eight nuts into a hole. Those that fall outside of the hole are taken by your game partner who throws next, and you wait to take the nuts that do not end up in the hole. In the second scenario, several nuts are placed on the ground at a distance, just like the skittles. The players try to hit them with a nut, and pick up those that they hit. For the third version called “on the board,” a board is propped up against a wall and a nut is left to slide along the board. The nuts that are hit become the possession of the thrower. Nuts were much appreciated by the children, who made up this riddle: “What is taller than a house, smaller than a mouse, sweet as sugar, and bitter as gall?” Answer: The nut tree, the nut, its core, and finally the green skin of the nut.

A fierce rivalry took place among the owners of the small flags that were made of cut, colored paper with an apple and a candle at the top of the pole. Shalom Aleichem immortalized this tradition in his story The Little Flag.

Hanukkah was impatiently awaited not only for the story of the Maccabei's heroism, the cheering little candles, and the tasty food, but also for the Hanukkah gelt, the money offered as a present to the children by their parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends. The children would then buy pictures, marbles, toys, or even a small sleigh.

It would be futile to try to describe the cheer during Purim—the groups of masked people going from house to house sometimes accompanied by fiddlers performing folkloric plays on biblical subjects.

“Purim-shpiler,” the amateur artists of Purim, were not only boys but also poor adults for whom the money they obtained from performing on Purim made up an important “capital.” Among them “Ieruel the barefooted,” nicknamed “the little horse,” was outstanding. His nickname came from his Purim activities. In his Purim-shpil band, he played the part of Haman riding a horse that was symbolized by a broomstick. The “company” was made up of family members: sons, nephews, and sons-in-law. Locally, the tradition was maintained until the outbreak of World War II.

Also in honor of Purim there was a one-man show. The “artist” was Haim “parah,” the bald, who was helped by his protean hat. As a “civilian,” he was a poor, silent, and sad man, but on Purim he would juggle with his old, overworn, floppy hat. He would call it a cap, parodying a Jew from the country, or he would imagine it to be a straw hat and introduce us to a knave. At the end of his show, he would pretend it was an officer's cap and recite: Bin ich mir ghevorn a maiur / zei ech mer us vi a Shvartz iur.” (Poor me, I became a major / and I look like hell). Also on Purim, Gypsy music bands and fiddlers stopped by the houses playing the fiddle, the flute, and the kobza. At each house, the Gypsies would receive some money, sweets, or a glass of wine. The Christians in town named the day of Purim “Haman,” and took great pleasure in tasting the delicious “hamantashen”, and exchanging the recipe for that of the famous Easter cakes.

Pesach was preceded by “Shabbat Hagadol,” which was related to a most peculiar tradition (see the short story Dudl Consul in the annexed anthology).

The most anticipated segment of the Seder on Pesach was that with the “afikoimen,” the piece of unleavened bread hidden at the beginning of the ceremony. Whoever found it received a present.

The trips on “Leckboimer” (Lag BaOmer) to the Holmului hill—the arch target shooting, the fights in the grass, and the meal served in common—were a joy. On Shavuot (Shvies), the children were charmed by “Akdumes,” the festive recitation, the milk-based foods, and the permission to take a bath in the Bahlui River.

On Tisha be Av, the boys felt obligated to throw thistles in the girls' hair and the men's beards. It would bring tears to your eyes if you tried to pull out the thistles—real vegetal hatch hogs.

As the children grew up, they started singing love songs: “A libe, a libe iz ghit tzi shpiln / Mit a mentshn, nisht mit dir.” (A love, a love is good to play / With a good person, not with you.) Others would sing more serious songs: “Mu adabru, mu asapru, oidchu, oidchu, tam-ta-ra-dei-ram / Ver ken zugn in dersheiln, vus der eins batat.” (What can we say, what can we tell, more, more / Who can tell and retell what means one.) They also sang a version of “Ehad mi iodea?” from the night of Pesach. It goes like this: One is the only God; two - the tables of the laws; three - the patriarchs; four - their wives; five - the Pentateuch; six - the sections of the Talmud; seven - the days of the week; eight - the circumcision term; nine - the pregnancy; 10 - the Decalogue; 11 - the stars in Iosef's dream; and 12 - the zodiac.

Popular creativity also cultivated humor and satire, especially against the injustices, abuses, and lack of knowledge. The bar tenants were satirized because they did not have much in common with the knowledge of books. For example, a bar tenant says before Yom Kippur that he does not remember whether the prayer starts with “kol” or “bol”, but is sure that the second word is “ghidre.” The bar tender is referring to “Kol nidre,” but he cannot tell the difference between two letters that look similar in Hebrew: K and B, and G and N. Another anecdote tells of a lecture held on Yom Kippur by a rich bar tenant in front of the minian he has organized at his house together with the bar tenants from the neigbouring villages: “Brothers! Hant iz aza groiser tug, bold vi <<ziua crucii (the day of the Cross)>>; vet ir zan evlavios, vet dumnezeu zan bucuros, az nishte, tu-va-n dumnezeii mamii voastre[B-21] … in zugts <<Lamnateiah>>. A rival shouts: “There is no need of <<Lamnateiah>>.

From among the proverbs and sayings, I have mentioned: “Eine baklugt zic, az dus steirtichl iz ir shiter, di andere-az di momelighe iz ir biter” (One woman complains / That the kerchief is not woven thick / The other that her cornmeal is bitter.) or “Veir'shot pares, deir tontzt zares” or the complaint of the daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law: “Ghei ech pavole / Zugt zi az ich-bin moale, ghei ich gich / ras ich di shich.” (When I walk slowly / She says I am small / When I walk fast / I tear the shoes.)

Here are several examples of the local Yiddish folklore as it was before World War I. The choreographic folklore included “nohbe-tontz,” “vulehl,” “serbl,” and broighes-tontz,” while the musical folklore had “nigunim”, especially the Hasidic one. The ethnographic “arsenal” included the “dreidl,” the Hanukkah spinning top made of lead; the beautiful “Tfilin-zekl” and “Tales-zekl,” the bags for carrying the phylacteries and the prayer shawl that a fiancée would embroider just before marriage; as well as other ritual embroideries for the Sabbath, Pesach, and other holidays. We have to mention the calligraphers, who made the ritual “graphics” (such as mizrah and kevisi), the stone and wood carvers, the lace makers, the silversmiths and others, all of whom were masters of the Jewish popular art. The musical art practiced by the choristers was much appreciated as it carried on a many centuries old tradition.

Let us not forget about the “badhen,” the popular troubadour who, at weddings and family parties sang satirical or moralizing songs, made up flattering verse, and at the beginning of the 20th century, was the one to order the quadrille paces: “avansei, balansei, aine dame for …”

The specific culinary art included the cakes for the Sabbath and other holidays (especially Purim), hamantashen, kiholeh, petzea, ciulnt, all kinds of cornflower pastries, leventze, gingerbread, and other traditional cakes, which were representative of the ethnographic nature of the Jews in Podu Iloaiei.

A sociological curiosity was the way in which the children addressed their parents. The most frequent names were “Tote” and “Mome,” that is Granpa and Granma. In more modern families, the names were “Fater” and “Muter,” that is Papa and Mama. The native language was Yiddish, which was spoken even by the Christian employees. All Jews spoke Romanian, and often used the Moldavian dialect. Most of them read newspapers and wrote in Romanian. Only the “up-town” fiancés would write a short letter to their fiancées (and vice versa) in a sui generis German or French, which was often the creation of the teacher who tutored these young men and women. Anyhow, we were connected to the European cultural trends. … The public library that was endowed with books in Yiddish, Romanian, Hebrew, and later German and French existed in Podu Iloaiei from the beginning of the 20th century. This being told, I feel that I have digressed from the theme of this chapter, which was dedicated to folklore and ethnography.


  1. [Ed-Com] Mosaic rules: Jewish laws as outlined in the Torah (Moses). return
  2. [Ed-Com] The Joint refers to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. return
  3. [Ed-Com] Hovevei Zion: The original modern Zionist organization established in the late 19th century. return
  4. [Ed-Com] Mizrahi: A religious Zionist organization established in the early 20th century. return
  5. [Ed-Com] YIVO: A organization established in Vilna which documented European life. return
  6. [Ed-Com] Shma Yisrael: A prayer recited in times of great personal danger. return
  7. [Ed-Com] Romanian for I obscenity in your mother's gods. return

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