Translated by Ron Skolnik
On the 29th of January 1936, the Jewish community [kehila] in Bălţi published a notice in the newspaper Unzer Tsayt [Our Time] in these words:
The Jewish community has decided to put out an anthology on the history of the community in Bălţi.
The anthology being planned will include:
Anyone who can contribute to this work or who has documentary material, photographs in his possession for this anthology is asked to notify the community secretariat of this immediately as per the address:
COMUNITATEA EVREILOR 23 REGELE CAROL BALTI
Signed: Eng. Yerachmiel Jaffe Chairman Dr. Y. Feinblatt General Secretary
We do not know what fate befell this anthology, whether its preparation was begun, and if so, the material certainly went down the drain. Fourteen years passed from the time the announcement was published until the Russians' entry into Bessarabia and the cessation of the Jewish community's activity. It is a pity that these years were wasted and they did not publish the Bălţi book as planned. Fifty-six years later since the aforementioned notice's publication, with the intention of putting out a book on Bălţi, the natives of Bălţi in Israel are realizing the dream of Bălţi's Jewish community leaders.
This book will be an expression of the fulfillment of the wishes of Bălţi's public emissaries to see in written form and in print the history of the magnificent community of Bălţi's Jews. They certainly did not foresee their community's bitter end. And this book shall be a commemoration for our origin community and a source of inspiration for the generations that come after us.
The Jewish community in Bălţi
The start of the Bălţi community was the same as that of the Jewish settlement, but an official community was established only in the 1880s. From the criticism of the heads of the Jewish community that we find in abundance in the period's Jewish press, Russkii Evrei, HaMagid, Voskhod, HaMelitz, and Ha-Tsfira, et cetera, and it is written by authors
who were Maskilim [liberal, rationalist adherents of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement] in the style of the Haskalah bordering on satire, one may deduce that there already existed well-developed Jewish public activity in Bălţi at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
This activity, however, did not take place as part of an organized community council recognized by the authorities, as it was during the later period, especially after the Russian Revolution. The collection of the taxes from the Jewish populace, for kosher slaughter, the famous Korovka, or Taksa in the wording familiar to us from Mendele Mokher-Sfarim's stories, was done in centralized fashion based on contracts with the authorities and based on tenders; but most of the council's operations and the mutual aid, such as aid to the poor, Kimcha D'Pischa [lit. Flour for Passover charity to the needy to help them buy the food required for the holiday meal] campaigns, Bikur Cholim [lit. visiting the sick], homes for the aged, and, later, also assistance to education at the traditional cheders [Jewish religious elementary schools], the reformed cheders, and the different types of Talmud Torah schools were supported through philanthropists' donations and alms and were done in an organized manner. The existence of a magnificent hospital, which was established in the year 1861, was made possible almost solely thanks to donations. Similarly, too, an Association for Helping the Indigent Sick from 1880.
In any event, there existed a kind of central authority that was created through cooperation among all the bodies operating on the Jewish street, and it was acceptable to the governing authorities as representing the Jewish community. We learn of the existence of this authority from a news item which says that in 1884 the community's powers were annulled by the Tsar's government and the governmental functions were transferred to the police and the municipalities.
Only the following institutions remained intact: The supervisors of recruits and the tax collectors, who were in charge of collecting the taxes unique to the Jews. (See Shlomo Yovel's essay in Bălţi Bessarabia.) With the abolishment of the community, the governors would decide on the distribution of expenditure for the community's needs, after they had collected what the authorities were owed and after deducting the allocation for the Jewish schools that existed on the government's behalf.
The debates between the Orthodox and the secular began as far back as the second half of the 19th century. And they escalated in the '80s. This was noted in news reports from Bălţi from the year 1884.
This phenomenon would also continue within the modern community, in the 1930s, too, and up until the Holocaust. The debate always revolved around the distribution of public funds between the institutions of Haskalah, the traditional cheder, and the Talmud Torah, which in the eyes of the Orthodox was considered secular.
In 1887, the Ezrat Ani'im [assistance for the poor] association was established in Bălţi. It was a sort of community substitute. More than once, the official in charge of the district would intervene in a dispute at Ezrat Ani'im. Especially commended was R' Shmuel Lipson, the well-known benefactor of Bălţi, who gained fame by virtue of his aid to the families of those conscripted into the army.
In 1893, a restaurant for the poor, too, was established in Bălţi, and like it soup kitchens for the poor continued to exist at the beginning of the 20th century as well, and even in the '30s there existed a kitchen for the needy that was sustained by a voluntary organization.
The first pieces of evidence regarding the election of a council for the Bălţi community are from the year 1882. In an item from 14 July 1882 that was published in Russkii Evrei (see Shlomo Yovel), a list appears on which Dr. Pinkenson, Dr. Kenigshatz, Lipson, D. Rabinovitz are mentioned. Also talked about there was a Jewish craftsmen's fund that was established in Bălţi in 1882. Whereas an organizational effort for establishing synagogues, especially after the fire of 1882, is talked about in an item from Bălţi from the early '80s.
Thanks to the large bequest of R' Yechiel Halperin, who passed away in 1887, massive and steady support for all the public institutions in the city became possible, from the building of a new public bathhouse to the hospital. Benefitting in particular were the educational institutions in Bălţi, the Talmud Torahs to which a steady budget was allocated for the sake of their development and dignified existence.
With the coming of the Revolution, the lands from which the fund had been sustained were confiscated, which caused a steep drop of the revenues.
The existence of another fund in Bălţi is indeed known about, and it is the Zambrovsky Fund for professional and agricultural training, which was established in January 1881. Starting in the year 1889, Y. Lieberman served as chair of the community council board, and it was he who initiated the establishment of professional classes within the Talmud Torah framework.
The period between the end of the century and up to the First World War has not been thoroughly examined in terms of the public activity aspect and we must learn about this period from the essay of Yerachmiel Jaffe, who was the chair of the Jewish community
in Bălţi in the decade before the Holocaust (Yer. Jaffe, Of Jewish Public Life in Bălţi). His memoirs take in the period starting from the year 1913.
The first community, pre-community actually, organization that fulfilled a philanthropic function, as a sort of organized community substitute, was, according to Yerachmiel Jaffe's writings, the "Chevra L'Ezrat Ani'im [assistance for the poor society], which has already been noted above. The establishment of an official community became possible only after the Russian Revolution. The Romanian government allowed the establishment of Jewish communities and even demanded it and prepared a law proposal. However, due to the dissension on the Jewish street, about ten years passed from when the Romanians entered Bessarabia until matters worked out.
The question of the organizing of the Jewish communities in Bessarabia was one of the fundamental problems in the lives of the Jews there, especially in the big cities, writes A. Baltsan.
It occupied both the authorities and the Jews alike. During the Russian Revolution, communities were founded in every city in Bessarabia in accordance with the modern model and during this time the communities fulfilled their role faithfully, but when Bessarabia passed to Romania, the authorities dissolved these communities and their place was taken by the well-known benefactors from time immemorial, writes Baltsan (Ha-Tsfira, 5 October 1923). The official community, as an institution certified in accordance with democratic elections, was set up only in 1928. The convening of the first meeting of the initiating committee for the establishment of a Jewish community [kehila] in Bălţi was reported on in Unzer Tsayt of the 6th of June 1928.
Taking part in the founding meeting were delegates of all the institutions and political parties according to the following breakdown: The hospital, the Gymnasium [secondary school], Talmud Torah, Moshav Z'kenim [home for the aged], the craftsmen, Maccabi, the General Zionists, Tze'irei Zion [Youth of Zion movement], the Kultur-Lige [Culture League], ORT [vocational school], OZE [Jewish Health Society], Lei aun Shpor Kasse (loan and savings bank), and representatives of the synagogues.
It was reported at the meeting that the Romanian government's new law requires the establishment of kehilas [communities] and elections within a year and the abolishment of all the substitutes for communities. But already at its outset, the gap in worldview emerged between the two camps, as we came to know them in the pre-kehila period, the collectors and the powerful people, on the one hand, and the advocates of a system of democratic elections, on the other hand. In 1935, Eng. Yerachmiel Jaffe was elected chairman of the Jewish community council. The years 1935-1940 were highly productive for the work of the community, and one must credit its flourishing for the most part to the chairman's initiatives and proper management.
These years will be recorded in the city's history as the golden era, prior to the sunset of the local Jewry, the first phase being the closure of the kehila by the Soviet authorities after Bessarabia's annexation to the Soviet Union in 1940, and subsequently the physical extermination of most of Bălţi's Jews by the Nazis and their brutal Romanian troops in 1941. That was the tragic end of a magnificent Jewish community that had existed close to 150 years.
Yerachmiel Jaffe was a master of compromise and quiet diplomacy.
He was not a quarrelsome individual, and although he had nationalist Zionist views, which he did not hide (he even served as chairman of Ha-Tzohar [acronym for the Revisionist Zionists] in Bălţi for a certain period in the years '38-'40), he knew how to get along well with all the political currents within the Jewish public, both with the people on the left, the Bund and the Kultur-Lige, and with the craftsmen, too, and certainly with the Zionist movements in the city, like Tze'irei Zion, Po'alei Zion [literally Workers of Zion], and the General Zionists.
With the religious public, the clerical or the orthodox, too, he knew how to tread with courteousness, with good manners. Quietly and with tact, he knew how to fend off the attacks and slanders of his opponents by drawing them in closer and including them in the public activity. And, indeed, Yerachmiel Jaffe succeeded in establishing an administrative and fiscal framework that was amazingly well-organized. He was particularly vigilant in the matter of the budgetary financial management of the community and likewise of the various funds that were under its supervision. One may cite as an example the open public tenders for leasing the collection of taxes on kashrut [dietary regulations for keeping kosher] or the tenders for supplying flour for the baking of matzot [matzahs] for Passover.
The makeup of the different committees, undoubtedly determined after power struggles and countless discussions, from which the community's board was composed, will likewise attest that Jaffe always managed to bring about a compromise between the various elements. He possessed administrative skills and was highly cognizant of proper public management. Yerachmiel Jaffe excelled in particular
at tasks of external representation, and he represented Bălţi's Jewry honorably at the various conferences and conventions of the organization of councils of Bessarabian communities and even of Romania as a whole; and by organizing conferences of Bessarabia's communities in the city of Bălţi, he put the town on the Jewish map of Romania.
Until the Russian Revolution, Jewish public life was based on the Korovka system, this being the statute that levies a special tax on the Jews in connection with the use of candles for Shabbat and taxes on the consumption of kosher meat, that being the Taksa, famous from the stories of the Jewish way of life and its ambience by Mendele Mokher-Sfarim and others. The authorities would appoint a contractor, by tender, to collect these taxes, most of which was meant for a fund, from which the social actions were funded. This fund also took care of the Jewish public's religious affairs.
A similar thing happened in the Bălţi community, too as Yerachmiel Jaffe, who was chairman of the Bălţi community for several years, he himself being a Bălţi native and a public activist since his youth, tells of in his memoirs (Upon the Land of Bessarabia, Section B).
Generally, the community institutions everywhere were taken over by the takifim [people of influence] among the group, the clericals. The public activity framework centered around the synagogues, with the gabbai'im [lay synagogue officials], the rabbi and the holy vessels [a sobriquet for Jewish clergy] having control both over spiritual life and over Jewish society's social needs, such as: Assistance for the poor, visiting the sick, Kimcha D'Pischa [Passover charity], looking after the orphans and the elderly.
These were the patterns of life that were imprinted on the Jewish street and existed for generations and perhaps for hundreds of years. The Chevra Kadisha [burial society lit. sacred society] possessed supreme authority in the matter of Jewish burial, whereas vis-à-vis the living, the rabbinate was all-powerful and dominant, starting from a Jew's birth and until their wedding, and all the matters of law between a person and a fellow person and a man and his wife were resolved in the rabbinic courts.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 for the first time allowed the Jews, like all the peoples of Russia, the possibility of reorganizing their lives in accordance with the rights to equality that had been proclaimed. The Jews were permitted to organize their public life in an independent manner and they were allowed to break free from the religious coercion and from rigid frameworks that were not always per the wishes of the whole of the Jewish community, especially not the Jewish intelligentsia, which played an important role in the revolutionary movements of various stripes. The liberation which came in the wake of the Russian Revolution allowed for the establishment of elected local kehilas, not subject to people who had been appointed by the authority, and that in democratic fashion, via free elections. So, it happened in Bălţi, too.
It will be noted that, from the start of this process, the Zionist movement endeavored, wherever there existed a Jewish population, to play an important part in setting the new patterns of the Jewish public arena. With Bessarabia's annexation to Romania, uncertainty reigned in the initial period as to what the next day would hold. This gave rise to disquiet and a state of depression. The situation was fuzzy, and that became highlighted in the life of the community as well.
The Romanians did not have a statute pertaining to national autonomy. The affluent and assimilating Jews were not interested in establishing a body holding powers vis-à-vis the Jewish public that would be recognized and supported by the authorities. They feared that establishing the new body would lead to the levying of taxes on top of those collected by the government, directly.
Bălţi was not, like Chișnău was, a city that had a broad stratum of intelligentsia and assimilators, and the Jewish public there was made up primarily of the class of craftsmen and petty traders, although there were well-to-do Jewish people there, mainly great merchants, big business owners, wholesalers, and industrialists. But most of the Jewish public in Bălţi sided with establishing a Jewish kehila. Particularly interested in this were the Zionists, who saw it as the genesis of national autonomy.
In the years after the First World War, most of Bălţi's Jews were still people of tradition who received their education at the cheder or at the reformed cheder and at the Talmud Torah.
They held in regard the people's national and spiritual values and were active on the Jewish street for the purpose of establishing,
sustaining, and solidifying a Jewish kehila that had a hue that was national, Jewish, secular, and Zionist all at once, with the maintaining of Judaism's values but without orthodoxy's imprint.
A short while after the annexation of Bessarabia, all the local community councils, which had existed in proper manner and which had been established in the time of the Tsar, were dissolved by the Romanian authorities. In so doing, they went backwards to the period of the Korovka, and the collectors of all sorts once again took control of the social institutions. They also tried to gain control over Jewish education. Indeed, Romania's government had undertaken, in accordance with the peace treaties of 1919/1920, to grant the Jews full rights in the territories that were annexed to Romania, and it re-ratified this undertaking on March 28, 1923, in the state's basic law (the Romanian constitution).
The various communities that already existed in most of the cities in Bessarabia began to organize themselves and, on October 17-19, 1920, delegates of the community councils and the aid committees convened and chose a seven-member provisional action office that was charged with preparing a proposed law for Jewish autonomy in Romania.
Then began the internal struggle among the Jewish communities in Bessarabia, a struggle between Orthodoxy, which was supported by the authorities, and the assimilators, who paradoxically sometimes joined hands with the Orthodox against the Zionists who were highly active and had gone to war full-steam over the character of the Jewish community. The abovementioned committee prepared a proposal and it was brought for deliberation at a second convention in Chișnău on January 22, 1921, this one approving the proposed law for submission to the Romanian Chamber of Deputies in Bucharest. Oddly enough and most regrettably, it was Rabbi Tsirelson, the greatest of Bessarabia's rabbis, who headed Agudat Israel, who joined together with the assimilators, the apikorsim [apostates], and the wealthy, openly declaring war on the manner in which the communities were being managed by his accusing the Zionists of exploiting the communities' framework as a platform and instrument for promoting Zionist activity.
At a parallel conference of the synagogues, a counterproposal was worked up, which was likewise submitted to the authorities, with a demand to give the control over public life to the religious circles. A similar struggle played out in Bălţi as well, and, like in Chișinău, this ended in a compromise between the Zionists and the Orthodox and assimilators, which included concessions by the two sides to each other.
In the city of Bălţi, things worked out only in the year 1928. Up until then, the quarrels and mutual accusations were occupying most of the time of the heads of the public arena, as the regular items of correspondence from Bălţi that were published in Unzer Tsayt will attest to. For example, in the issue from March 13, 1928, the main headline appears over a report from Bălţi in these exact words:
[The report referenced above is here presented in the original Yiddish.]
A scandal of the Korovka was examined, that set the entire town into an uproar, of a half-a-million loan held in secret. How they made the divisions. Raised the taxes on meat. The two-faced behavior of the Korovka people. In Primaria [city hall] they do advertisements, and in Korovka, they do whatever they want.
In 1928, Rabbi Tsirelson convened a conference of the communities in Bessarabia. Each community chose its representatives and so this was done in Bălţi, too. But the Unzer Tsayt correspondent in Bălţi, who signed with the initials Y.K. (perhaps Kleiner?!) claimed that the elections had not been performed democratically. Look what sharp wording he writes with: In the elections, two representatives were chosen on behalf of the kehila in Bălţi: The distinguished gentlemen Yechiel Kark and Rabbiner [Rabbi] Yerachmiel Jaffe. Y. Kark by 10 votes and Jaffe by 9 votes. Y. Kark represented the Orthodox. The correspondent's amazement was how the democrat, Jaffe, agreed to be elected in a non-democratic manner. The correspondent even uses a sort of curse, with him expressing this in the words [the rest of the paragraph is a quote in Yiddish].
Peh [spit] should become of them, It is a complete opera, a total swindle, whoever they want, that's who they put there, and whoever they do not want, they discard.
[The next paragraph, also in quotation marks, is also in Yiddish.]
That's how representatives were elected for the rabbis' assembly. We give this over for judgment to the Master of the World Problems of how the Korovka and several Gabaim and religious hypocrites conduct community issues in the interest of the city.
While serving as a correspondent for the newspaper, Unzer Tsayt, attorney Tzvi Heinichs, who had already stood out in his youth through community work in Bălţi as a Zionist activist,
wrote an editorial on June 16, 1928: [The title of the editorial appears in Yiddish]
Gabba'im, shul representatives, or institutions
in which he sounds an alarm about the takeover of community life in Bălţi by the synagogues' gabbai'im [lay officials].
That was the last year of existence of the pre-kehila framework. During 1928 and 1929, the official kehila, as a democratically elected institution, came into being. On the differences of opinion and the separation into rival camps inside the community council writes our correspondent from Bălţi for Unzer Tsayt:
[The next four paragraphs are quoted in Yiddish.]
During the discussion of the Kehila issues, two situations became evident: one, a supporter of the Kehila in every sense of the word, and a second, someone who was afraid of the free nation's expression and determination, will be put into a Sodom [death] bed by Kehila life, and then will be shrunk by the suffocating space of the so-called shul representation with the well known Kehila shul people and Polish diplomats.
The shul, the shul, the shul, shouted the real few people. We should, heaven forbid, never destroy the shul, you should not forget the shul, do not give the shul back to G-d! This is what they argued. What do I care about institutions? Who needs them! Who is looking for them? We do not need any institutions in general not the hospital, not the gymnasium, not the Talmud Torah, and so on.
Whoever discussed political organizations or cultural institutions, for example the Zionist organizations, the Culture League, and so on, are unquestionably treif [non-kosher] and invalid.
Is the shul and its beadles the only thing that is 100% kosher?
And here came a personal attack on the correspondent's part against the representative of the religious circles: Who was the traitor from this standpoint, understandably Reb Chaim Refael Jaffe. A familiar screamer and scandal followed him Macher H. M-S. (perhaps referring to Massis?) And it was merry.
In the end, the representatives of democracy won the argument, thanks to the firm stand of the venerable Messrs. Hoichman and Tzvi Heinichs.
The chairman was tired, the crowd stopped controlling, and thanks to the energetic intervention of Mr. Hik, who uncovered for the crowd the subtle intentions of Chaim Refael Jaffe, and also of Mr. A. Hoichman, and Mr. Tz. Heinichs, who indicated the difficult situations that might occur for the Jewish society if the Kehila would be totally under the shul beadles and familiar congregation people, so things calmed down. This is how the position of the democratic section that was leaving the meeting was presented, that they should soon try to step up to the expanded work and not give over the building of the Kehila life exclusively into the hands of clerics, and mostly into the hands of the backwards elements who have no idea about the amazing significance of the Kehila for our national and social life. (signed Y.K.)
It should be noted that the Unzer Tsayt was a Zionist newspaper and its correspondents were, likewise, mostly Zionists. At the beginning of 1928, the recognition of the necessity of electing a democratic community council, and soon, was already proceeding to gel.
Already on June 6, the Bălţian correspondent wrote in A Briv fun Belts [A Letter from Bălţi] as follows:
The first community meeting - why did they not think of creating a community earlier? The Balti Korovka circle and its stories are the greatest propogandists for the community mind. The suggestion is to divide into two camps, professional voices and political drivers. You do not need institutions nor organizations. You only need representatives from schools, shouts Mr. Chaim Refael Jaffe. Who will be part of the next general meeting?
In brief, says the correspondent: Obstructions and complaints that those interested want to drown the powers. Several months have already gone by. In the end, the people saw that all our institutions
that are collapsing because of confusion and money, can only be saved by a Kehila [community]. The hospital, gymnasium, the Talmud Torah, the place, OZE, the seniors' residence, Jewish public library, all, all the institutions will be able to improve their existence only through community. With all this, there is the scandal of the Korovka, which gives out three quarters of its monies to the shochtim [ritual slaughterers] and rabbis, and only one quarter goes to the Jewish institutions.
Understandably, no greater publicity methods for the needs of the Jewish community were necessary. The scandal with the Korovka that it consumes the poor man, maybe the businessman, with irresponsible elements, who do themselves favors for one another at the expense of the people's money, all this convinced the entire crowd, except, understandably, the interested personalities and regular hypocrites that instead of the plague called Korovka, there must be in its stead a free, Jewish democratic community, elected by Jews, poor and rich, religious and non-religious.
The Initiators of the Community in Bălţi were the Honorable Messrs. D' Westerman and Hik
They headed a group of public activists and, calling for the assembly of the institutions and synagogues as detailed above, they reported on the proactive convening of the community councils in Chișinău, where the basic guidelines for the organization of community institutions in Bessarabia were delineated. The solidifying period for the life of the Jewish kehilas in Bessarabia, until they began to function, spanned about ten years from the time the Romanians entered Bessarabia. This issue occupied the best energies on the Jewish street, and that is reflected atop the pages of that period's press.
The Jewish kehila in Bălţi existed about 12 years and, notwithstanding the open and the hidden struggles, a kehila that was elected in a democratic manner took shape, with the majority being the seculars and the Zionists. On July 23, 1930, a conference of all the Jewish communities and organizations in Romania took place in Bucharest, and it approved the Jewish communities' regulatory statute. The Romanian Minister of Religious Affairs, pressured by the Orthodox and the assimilators, tried to torpedo Jewish unity in the communities and supported a counter-resolution, that it be permissible in any locale, should such a demand exist, to establish two kehilas, one of them religious.
Taking part in the conference in Bucharest on behalf of the Bălţi community were the honorable Messrs. Heinichs, Hik, and Weissbuch.
But the democrats managed to foil the secessionists' plot and an amendment to the law was accepted, leaving the decision to maintain two kehilas to local determination.
Already at the second convention of the council of Romania's kehilas, which took place in Chișinău on November 3, 1935, consolidation and results were reached, and the communities' Zionist activists saw the fruit of their labor. The honorable Messrs. Gedalia Lipson, Eng. Yerachmiel Jaffe, Dr. Feinblatt, and Leib Kleiner represented the Bălţi community at this conference. Bălţi's representatives were dissatisfied with the agenda. They asked to broaden the discussion framework beyond the two main sections: Assistance for the casualties of the famine in southern Bessarabia and the racial incitement. They demanded to discuss the totality of the problems of Jewish public life in Bessarabia, and the Jewish-national issue in particular. They met with a deaf ear; hence, they were forced to secede and call for a parallel conference in Bălţi. But the majority did not support them.
Taking part from Bălţi at the third conference of the kehilas on December 3, 1936, were the honorable Messrs. Rabbi Leib Landman, Pinchas Levtov, Leib Kleiner, Zelig Berditchever, Yeshaya Fuchs.
Finding expression at this conference was the objection of the Kultur-Lige people to the Zionists' proposal to specify in the regulations that the union of communities had to support all the institutions tied to building up the Land of Israel as well as the HeChalutz [The Pioneer] movement. They demanded that the communities attend only to local matters and not engage in political affairs. The majority of the convention's participants were Zionists, however, and the proposal of the Yiddishist and anti-Zionist minority failed.
On the occasion of this conference, the Bălţi delegates (Levtov General Zionist and Kleiner Tz. Tz. [likely referring to the Tzeirei Zion Youth of Zion Zionist movement]) apologized for the Bălţians' withdrawal
from the previous conference, and it was recorded in the protocol that the dispute had been snuffed out. The honorable Messrs. Yerachmiel Jaffe and Leib Stoliar were chosen for the central council on behalf of the city and district of Bălţi at this conference. From 1930/31, the Bălţi community operated in an organized manner and won esteem from the Jewish public and recognition from the Romanian authorities till the coming of the Holocaust.
For the Annals of the Bălţi Community Council
Eng. Yerachmiel Jaffe, the last chairman of the Bălţi Community Council until the coming of the Russians, was a most interesting personality and figure. He was a man of many exploits, educated, and a devoted nationalist-Zionist who left the business of his well-to-do family, one of Bălţi's most notable, and dedicated himself with heart and soul to public labors, as far back as the days of his late adolescence.
He held two academic degrees and was ordained to the rabbinate, serving as Crown Rabbi, what was called Kazioni Rabbiner, in the days of Russian and Romanian rule. After his immigration to Israel with family members (his son is the literary critic, A.B. Jaffe), and already being very old, he began to study law and even graduated successfully. He received a degree and even did an internship and worked a short spell in the profession. He passed away in 1974, in Haifa.
Events and Phases in the Evolution of the Jewish Community in Bălţi
The Jewish community in Bălţi grew progressively stronger each year. The Zionists in the city of Bălţi became the decisive factor in the community council's activities. In the elections in 1934, two Zionist slates appeared:
In an item three years after, November 1937, which appeared in Unzer Tsayt ISS 4316 from the first of December, it is reported on new elections to the Belts Community Council. However, it was not noted whether this was after ordinary elections or on behalf of the government on the occasion of a new instatement. The composition was as follows: Engineer Yerachmiel Jaffe, chairman; L. Hochman and A. Gefter deputies; B. Scheinberg chief secretary; Frimerman treasurer. Numbered with the department heads: Itzkovitz administration, Grobocopatel social, Krimski culture, Kalichman taxation and assessment, Kark religious affairs, and Shnairson audit.
Criticism of the Kehila's Actions
In 1936, a crisis occurred among the components of the coalition in the community council. The council was made up of Mr. Y. Jaffe, representatives of the Kultur-Lige and other public activists from the Zionist parties, whereas the craftsmen and the united Zionists left the kehila. The craftsmen, headed by E. Itzkavitch, left the council in protest over their being discriminated against in the distribution of financial support to their institutions: Assistance for the poor and the home for the aged. One of the members of the craftsmen's organization who is mentioned, in addition to Itzkavitch, is M. Tshulak.
In 1936, a dispute broke out between the kehila and the Chevra Kadisha. The grounds: The decision to buy for the kehila Prokofiev's house for the kehila [sic] out of Halperin's bequest funds. This matter brought about discord with the Chevra Kadisha.
It apparently did not come to fruition. In the same year, a decision was passed in the community council to establish a Yiddish school in Belts. This decision, too, did not come to fruition.
Criticism on the Part of the Unzer Tsayt Correspondent
In order to improve the community's financial condition, chairman Y. Jaffe fell upon on an exceptional contrivance: It was decided that only the community would be permitted to trade in gravestones and any engraving on the gravestones would be done by the community, while those putting up the gravestones would work on commission by percentage.
This was an extreme act and an attempt by the kehila to take over the lives of the Jews. But this, too, did not come to fruition and in the city only gave rise to jokes at the kehila's expense.
A financial crisis befell the community in 1936. The institutions dependent on the community, such as the Jewish hospital, OZE, ORT, Bikur Cholim, Ezrat Ani'im, the Hebrew Gymnasium, the socialist Zionists' Mitbach Amami [people's kitchen], the Talmud Torah, the Craftsmen's Association, were hurt. A committee to save the situation was chosen; taking part in it were: Shnierson, Krimski, Kagan, A. Krasiuk, Scheinberg, Nulman, Bessarabskiy, Walter, Y. Krasiuk.
Districtwide Convention of the Jewish Communities in Bălţi 1937
At the end of December 1937, a convention that was organized by the chairman of the Bălţi Community Council, Yerachmiel Jaffe, took place in Bălţi. Dr. Filderman from Bucharest participated. The Unzer Tsayt correspondent reports on L. Kuperstein's brilliant speech: A glowing report, that evoked excited applause, was given by the Agr. L. Kuperstein A.D.T., Cultural Problems of the kehilos [plural of kehila]. Among others, he presented that the kehilos should concentrate on all the school issues.
The stated resolution that was accepted was that a culture fund should be established in the whole country to sustain the schools, particularly in the smaller kehilos.
Tender for the Leasing of the Meat Tax Collection
The Bălţi Hebrew community
The Bălţi Hebrew community [Spanish] announces:
The Balti Kehila announces that on Wednesday, August 26, 1936, at 12 pm, in the location of the Kehila street, Regele Coral 232, there will be an open auction to give, in concession, the income of the taxes from the slaughter of animals and birds.
The concession will take place through closed convoys, and with verbal quotes, and will begin with the sum of 1,800,000 Leu and higher.
The concessions have to put forth a guarantee on paper or in monies at the value of 5% of the sum. The conditions can be seen daily in the Kehila office.
In case the concessions do not take place on the above-mentioned day, they will move to Sunday, August 30, at the same time and at the same location.
Chairman Yer. Jaffe
Secretary B. Fichman
20 August 1936
A Pension Committee was organized and approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Members of the committee the honorable Messrs. Gulka, Dubinovsky, Milgroim.
Strike of the Shochets [ritual slaughterers], a labor dispute due to wage issues. April 1936.
24 November 1936
A great act regarding social assistance.
A broad plan of aid for the needy Jewish population worked through by the chairman of the Kehila, Mr. Y. Jaffe.
Social economic section: Krimski, Bershtein, L. Kleiner
Ezrat Ani'im, members of the committee: Shofer, Gefter, Wallich Y. Chalfin, Shammai Dimentberg, Shuster, Kegel, Sorotzkin, Teodoro. Overseers: B. Frank, Yer. Jaffe, Hik, Itzkovitz, Petrushkin Szmaragd, Belotserkovsky, Z. Itzkavitch, Krimski, Karzsh, Nikolayevski, Soibelman.
1936 Butchers' Strike against the Increase of the Tax on Kosher Meat, from 48 to 88 lei [units of Romanian currency] a pood [unit of weight measurement] as per the recommendation of R' Chaim Rafa'el Jaffe.
The butchers' opposition resulted in the scrapping of the increase.
Dispute between the Community Council and the Ezrat Ani'im Fund
The house in which the kehila is quartered belongs to the fund. The house is a bequest of Balbachan. The dispute went to court.
An item in Unzer Tsayt from 3 January 1936 (Tender for the Supply of Flour for Matzot)
Bălţi Hebrew Community
Iddishe Kehila Belts
27 December 1935 No. 1937
The Jewish Kehila announces to all those interested that on January 15, 1936, there will be in the place in the location of the Kehila, through closed envelopes, with a verbal concession to sell to the Kehila 800-850 sacks of Passover flour, of 80 kilograms, for matzos for the Jewish population of Balti.
To this offer, there will be added a sample of the flour, that is being used. The quality of the flour will be less than the type of flour used as a sample in the location of the kehila, and which you will be able to see there. The flour must be from wheat with a natural ingredient of up to 10% gluten, and the construction of the flour has to be the first 30%. The flour has to be ground on a high, systematic mill. The price will be prepaid in the store for the Kehila. All the taxes belong to the salesman. The sacks will be returned after using the flour.
The money will be paid after taking the flour from the receipt commission.
At the concession, a guarantee of money or paper will be placed into the treasury at the most of 10% of the total sum of the flour. The company that sells the flour remains responsible for all the losses that can be caused to the Kehila by not respecting the contract, except for what is on the guarantee. All necessary information can be received in the location of the Kehila during working hours.
Kehila Chairman Y. Jaffe
General Secretary Dr. Feinblatt
by L. Kuperstein
Translated by Ron Skolnik
He was a wondrous fusion of Jewish and Western culture, as a person who finished higher technical school in Belgium and received an engineer's certificate, and was ordained to the rabbinate. And, indeed, from that time, in the early 1920s, his reputation preceded him in the vicinity. And I, then still a pupil in the Gymnasium, heard about him even in my town, Mărculeşti. Whether because I carried within me a concern for this whole public phenomenon, or whether on account of my affinity for the Jaffe family, which dwelled in the town and to which I was close. The more I grew up, the figure before me became clearer, with respect to he then being the standard for the young, Zionist, and nationalist public activism of the big city, the second largest in Bessarabia. For it was a large Jewish center and deep inside a big community of towns all around it, everything that took place in the big city did not remain foreign to us. At that time, he had just returned from Belgium, decorated with an engineer's degree, and he contended for, and even got to snag the seat of, crown rabbi, this institution, a legacy of the Russian Jewish public arena, having been privileged to have its framework preserved in Bessarabia by the Romanian authorities.
But truth be told, he was more than that. On the crown rabbinate's throne in many of the cities of Tsarist Russia before the revolution sat rabbis like Rabbi Mazeh, Shmaryahu Levin, and others. This was an esteemed position, a sort of spiritual and advanced community head, who was chosen by a cohort of murshim [authorized agents] and was recognized by the government, not just for the purpose of registering the Jewish residents, births, marriage, and demise. The crown rabbis would engage in public affairs, in organizing community life, in the Taksa budget; they engaged in the establishment of Jewish schools and their supervision, served as religion teachers at governmental and municipal high schools, but most important and essential of all, they constituted a sort of intermediating institution - and, of course, a lobbyist - between the Jewish community and the authorities, first and foremost owing to knowledge of the country's language and also by virtue of their education: Most of them were rabbis, too. But at the same time, enlightened and erudite people as well, so the authorities and the non-Jewish public sphere treated them with all respect and esteem. I did not know much about the activity of the Engineer, Rabbi Yerachmiel Jaffe, but in the area a positive public and spiritual image of Yerachmiel Jaffe formed in our consciousness.
I will not be able to determine when, exactly, our introduction took place, whether at his brother's house in Mărculeşti, or in Bălţi, from contact with the families, with my being friendly with the boys and girls, the extensive Jaffe family's HaNoar HaLomed, as members of the HaShomer HaTza'ir movement, and even as part of the network of Hebrew schools. That, of course, was a casual introduction of no interest at all between a Gymnasium pupil and a crown rabbi. I do remember him tall, pale, with a keen luster of youth, but laid-back, and what primarily left an impression on me at the time was - he was bearded. It was not a beard such as his brothers' thick beards, which were still widespread among the old men in Bessarabia. It was a kind of wisp of a beard, hair trimmed short, likely out of respect for his own father, who was still alive, or in honor of his brothers, and perhaps also because he was a candidate for crown rabbi and he had to
warrant this title's special meaning, inasmuch as among the murshim who chose him there were certainly gabbai'im [lay officials] of the synagogues, too, that is to say, people who were devout and adhered to the religion and its customs. Therefore, it seems to me now, it was kind of a symbol of those days that the youth was not enthusiastic about being bearded, and the absence of a beard was a sign of education, of progress, and through and through antithetical to tradition. But it was clear in any case that growing a beard was a sort of nonconformism vis-à-vis the fashion that then was dominant with the young generations; therefore, out of the ordinary, audacious, inspiring respect, and most importantly winning the trust of the large community of more than 30 thousand souls that Bălţi numbered.
In the external appearance of the young engineer, a handsome man, there was also something symbolic of his being deeply involved in the city and the family. He was a big believer in the life of Jews in the Exile. In that period, the Romanian authorities demonstrated goodwill, out of an express intention to push out and supplant Russification, and also out of a commitment to the West, at the peace conference, to ensure the rights of the Jews in the districts added, one of which was Bessarabia. There sprang up in Bălţi Hebrew secondary [lyceum] schools for boys and for girls, preschools, all in the Hebrew language, the opening of libraries was allowed; and although an official kehila [community] had not yet been declared, there is no doubt that the idea was already ripening at the time in the mind of the young engineer, who was economically well-off, the entire family being a partner in an enterprise of flour mills and even wealthy. But his primary attraction was apparently to community work.
After years of separation from Bessarabia, for the purpose of studies in the West, in Belgium and France, I was reimplanted into Bessarabia as a teacher and a principal in elementary and high schools, and I put forward my candidacy as a teacher of Hebrew literature and Hebrew studies at the Hebrew Gymnasium. Many knew the name of the nice, talented, young engineer, who inspired respect in all his comportment and behavior, even though he was different as far as matters of religion and tradition were concerned.
Once more I became stuck in the provincial towns and in the Bălţi vicinity, and the reputation of Engineer Jaffe - (the crown rabbi institution had been abolished) preceded him. I put forward my candidacy, or I was put forward, as a Hebrew Gymnasium teacher; I presented myself then and stood before the Gymnasium principal, Rafael Katz. Then afterwards, I met with a representative of the school's trustees committee. He recounted to me in detail the antisemitic affair that was then raging and which found expression in the presence of a Romanian language teacher at the governmental gymnasium [secondary school] named Petra Stati; and he emphasized and reemphasized that the Zionist circles in the city, and even a General Zionist like Pinchas Levtov, one of Bălţi's important askanim [public activists], a man of culture and the owner of a Hebrew textbooks publishing house - were insistent that they would prefer me over the other candidates.
Yerachmiel Jaffe, at this introductory meeting, told of the woes of the local Jewish public arenas, the leftist leanings amongst the youth, the difficulties of the authorities, and the very onerous antisemitic movement. The conversation, which flowed in juicy Yiddish and with spot-on sentences, with the patience of hearing out the other side, with equanimity, which bordered on a certain coolness, but which did not overshadow his gentle soul and courtesy. I received the impression that before me sits a man who knows exactly what he wants, who does not yield on the tiniest detail in matters pertaining to principles, on political openness, and regarding a profound Jewish sentiment. The conversation at times spilled over onto shared impressions of his Belgian past, and the impression was that he had not gone through his stay in the West without it leaving its marks.
With that, the first making of acquaintance came to an end, and a dialogue between us started out, which continued over the course of my five-year stay in Bălţi. The dialogue continued the entire time, and it endured afterwards as well, in Bucharest and finally in Israel. What was interesting here is that, even though our acquaintance had actually begun against the backdrop of the high school, whose board chairman he was, our conversation spilled over to the broad public domain of community life in Bălţi. The life of an effervescent and animated community, mostly Zionist, with a lot of troubles characteristic of the lives of Bessarabia's Jews and Jews of Eastern Europe on the verge of the Holocaust. He was a Zionist, without any doubt, and of course he responded favorably to every initiative that derived from the essence of Zionist action-taking and operations. But he was too practical, apparently, to sink into the Zionist romanticism nourishing the activity itself, which, against the backdrop of the gray reality, at times seemed Sisyphean, especially with the fact that the gates of the Land [of Israel] were hermetically sealed.
It seems, however, that he regarded strengthening the life of Jews in the Exile as the essence of his mission and the crux of his interest, notwithstanding the rise of Hitlerism and as a consequence of the intensification of antisemitism in Romania. In the same year that our acquaintance started, began
the consolidation of the kehila in Bălţi, and through the creation of a nationalist Zionist bloc - Jaffe rose to kehila power after roundly defeating one of the public activists of stature, Elazar Gick, who was less Zionist and maintained closer ties with the left, the Communists who were undeclared officially, but who operated under the cover of the Kultur-Lige [Culture League]. The joint struggle to bring him to power in the community brought the Working Land of Israel circles, one of whose activists I was, closer to him.
An Exemplary Community Head
Three were the fundamentals of community action - organizing a national framework with an internal autonomy format, Jewish education, and constructive welfare.
From an organizational standpoint, Yerachmiel Jaffe succeeded in turning it into an example and model in all respects. He did not make do with fulfilling the limited religious services of Chevra Kadisha [burial society] or regard the kehila just as an institution for organizing the shechita [ritual slaughter] and for baking the matzahs. First of all, he was very punctilious about bureaucratic institutional form. During this period, the kehila moved twice to new accommodations, each time to a new, more spacious, more comfortable one. The services were expanded, the bookkeeping and treasury were reorganized. As for himself, he set regular hours each and every day when he received the public. The community's council plenum convened often and was conducted publicly, and any Jewish resident could be present. The debates were sometimes tempestuous, inasmuch as the reforms that he would introduce each time were not received favorably by several of the gabbai'im on the right, either. The left certainly was not pleased; nonetheless Yerachmiel Jaffe would treat them with tolerance and democratic considerateness. When he would open the meetings, there was not an opening in which he would not customarily mention some pan-Jewish, -global, -national Zionist event, countrywide-political, or regional and even municipal, in order to respond thereto. The same was the case regarding the passing of Jewish eminent persons. This alone imparted to the official kehila a defined status as a grouping which had relevancy for all of Jewish life, going beyond the narrow bounds of a provincial community. In this sense, he found enthusiastic support in the Po'alei Zion [Workers of Zion] and Tze'irei Zion [Youth of Zion] group, and afterwards in their amalgamation, which represented them in a slate in the community, albeit always concurrent with procedural and substantive disagreements, as we did not always agree with him, inasmuch as he always wanted to maintain the generality of the community and recoiled from any chance of arousing suspicion of factional leaning. He wanted, and even managed, to remain objective, though the opposition to him was sharp, sometimes ferocious and although ostensibly progressive, did not shy away from repressive efforts on the part of the group that held the loan and savings bank, which was in the hands of the opposition, and that waged there its repeated attacks, not always in the most up-and-up manner. The most acerbic oppositionist to Jaffe, who headed the bank's directorate, was a person of means for various benefits for the purpose of buying votes and influence, and this was not entirely uneventful. Jaffe, for example, strove for a centralization of institutions in order to prevent duplication. This was a good idea - and I am mentioning my transgressions - that I did not support him in the matter of the libraries out of a design to keep the big library named after Shalom Aleichem, which belonged to my faction. There was a second library in the city in the framework of the bank, the richest library in town. Jaffe's thought was to unify all the libraries into one central library. At the time, I came out against the unification in an article, but admittedly what was said was not free of partiality. Thinking back, though, the whole argument after two years seemed Sisyphean-like due to the bitter ending. But the idea was right from its inception. He instituted new arrangements, too, at the Jewish cemetery, in the synagogues, for the baking of matzahs, for shechita, for organizing the holy vessels and seeing to a regular and graduated salary, for organizing the rabbinate and the teachers union. There is no end to the good ideas and deeds that he saw to.
As for the schools: First and foremost, regarding two dreams which he did not manage to realize. The first thing. He strove for a sort of people's university and would encourage any classroom experience, even of those that were courses, even for the study of Hebrew or Yiddish. Likewise, we dreamt together, as per my proposal at the time, and he was prepared to back me, to organize a kind of modest seminar for teachers and thereby utilize the Hebrew Gymnasium graduates, the pupils of the higher grades, to organize for them an evening seminar, for teacher training both for the elementary schools in Bălţi and for the public Hebrew schools in the region.
The bitter internal debate concerned the two public elementary schools, the Great Talmud Torah and the Small Talmud Torah. These were not at all Talmud Torahs by the archaic notion, and their nature was truly plebian. Sent here were all those children whose parents were unable to afford sending to the Hebrew elementary school adjacent to the Gymnasium.
The Small Talmud Torah school, which for a time also was under my management, was an assemblage of children from large families and the nutrition question was one of the school's attractions. Y. Jaffe strove, in this area, too, to remove these schools from the meal-a-day custodianship of all sorts of volunteer bodies and to arrange a central kitchen. (He, of course, wholeheartedly supported the kitchen, which was a kind of people's restaurant, founded by the local Po'alei Zion.) But the crux of the problem was that of the Romanian authorities, who took action to make their demands more cumbersome and narrow the curricula as much as possible in terms of the language; the leftist circles had set their sights on inculcating Yiddish in all ways and so it was no calamity and the opposition was not great. And at the Great Talmud Torah, Yiddish studies were conducted - informally. The apprehension was great because the Yiddish teachers who were undeclared Communists - and it was clear that they were liable to even further poison the Jewish youth, the youths turning into leftists the closer we drew to the explosion point and Bessarabia's restoration to the Soviets. As chairman of the education and culture committee, I was forced to endure a bitter and hostile argument, and everyone knew that this was not, in fact, about hating Yiddish or an over-devotion to Hebrew. And the Communist circles in Bălţi gave me credit for that, and, as was later conveyed to me, this served as a subject of inquiry by the local NKVD, which investigated many and wanted to elicit from them where I had disappeared to. Admittedly, despite the contrast between our different worldviews, we found a common language on many issues. He supported Shurot [Lines] - as well as the Yiddish weekly by the name Dos Belzer Vort, which I published and edited in Bălţi. This was a weekly, which, in addition to its internal orientation to serve the Bălţian populace, was supposed to function as a kind of public and Zionist opposition to the established central bodies at the time in Chişinău. Nonetheless, the Bălţian public arena cooperated and obeyed, generally, with the Zionist and nationalist lines of action that were delineated there, whether via direct contact with the Zionist and nationalist centers worldwide or via the policy that was set in accordance with the central institutions in Bucharest. Matters would be determined, both in terms of policy and in terms of representation and the inclusion of askanim, only at Chişinău's metropolitan echelon, without meeting at the least with authorized representatives of large localities, the biggest of which was Bălţi. This weekly under my editorship bore the mark of this rebellion. Which, by the way, also bore fruit. In this respect, I found in him an enthusiastic supporter for independence and the province's uprising. The level of the people, Zionist activity, and community organizing left no room at all for feeling inferiority vis-à-vis the center.
Regional Convention of the Communities' Representatives
So, too, was born the idea of convening the communities in Bessarabia's north, which took in two districts, Soroki and Bălţi, in which almost a third of the Jewish population in Bessarabia was concentrated. In the middle of the hard times of antisemitic frenzy, Yerachmiel Jaffe initiated the convention idea and it immediately gained enthusiastic responses. And, indeed, the time was set for the days of Christmas vacation in 1939, when the Goga-Cuza duo had risen to power. The decrees came one right after another. In Bessarabia, printing the square letter was banned at that time and, in a special telegram from the Minister of Interior with a copy to the district governor (the prefect), the closure of Shurot and Belzer Vort was reported. Speaking Yiddish on the street was prohibited and fines and penalties were even imposed. The attorneys were banished from the courts and Jewish families were forbidden to have a Christian maid. Novitsky and his associates in Bălţi would convene gatherings of large numbers of peasants from the surrounding area and were preparing to seize power. They would lead the peasants through the streets and point out entire streets which they promised to the villagers when the time comes, and it was not far-off. To be community head in those days was very hard, inasmuch as the economic situation was worsening, too. Commerce partially went silent and the Jews were very disconcerted. And then, on a cloudy and chilly winter Sunday in the Gymnasium auditorium in Bălţi, the representatives of the twenty and some communities, along with Bălţi's representatives, convened and heard lectures. The main topics were maintaining Jewish character. The possibility of observing
the Shabbat in commerce, at the institutions, and in the schools, maintenance of the Hebrew schools in the region, and, the most important thing, preserving the kehilas as kinds of hubs of public self-defense against the severe decrees that rained down on the heads of the Jewish community day after day.
The naïve Jews, the faithful public activists, who came dressed in winter clothes, ungainly and introspective, recounted and reported about their communities, listened to lectures, and took part in debates over the course of an entire day. The center of interest and the one who had orchestrated this whole operation was Yerachmiel Jaffe. Although this was an internal assembly, without permit of the authorities, it nevertheless was conducted with all the manners of a conference. Registration, participation card, protocol management, seeing to meals, a presidium, and complete parliamentary stewardship. But inside and inwards, it was a gloomy, sad gathering, to see the representatives flummoxed and at a loss, they from whom the strains of optimism and faith, faith and devotion, had always played.
In the personal relations between us, prevailed true friendship, which did not involve, though, the mannerisms of sensitivity, nor special interests, except for those of a shared belief. It was a custom in Bălţi that, on Shabbat afternoon, many Jews would stroll on the major street, Nikolaevskaya... it was a sort of wandering clubhouse, like a promenade, which is common in big cities. It was once a very accepted custom in the cities of Russia. Almost every Shabbat at eleven o'clock, I would wait for him in the yard in the large open area of the Jaffe house, where the family's synagogue was. This was approximately between twelve and one in the afternoon, after the end of prayers, and taking him for the traditional stroll. This was also a pretext for seeing and encountering all sorts of people. Jaffe did not like the public meeting places, generally being a homebody, outside of meetings and the office. But we would stroll nevertheless, and, upon this occasion, we would divert northward beyond the promenade to the quiet part of the city. Conversations of this sort were more general. By contrast, on top of our meetings, he would, from time to time, pop by my house at a certain time, for the most part this was between two to three o'clock in the afternoon, when I would be returning home from the school and he at the same time would be going back from his lunch to the flour mill. As per the way of someone distinguished, as well as on account of the great distance, he would ride in a private carriage, with the status of a living Cadillac of those times. The carriage would stop next to Roizman's house on Petrogasdaskaya Street - 12 Carol St. where I resided on the second floor. These were not mere visits, but rather real work meetings. And we would, at that time, resolve many things in common...
by Yerachmiel Yaffe
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Dr. Westerman arrived in Bălți as a young doctor, before the first Russian revolution in 1905. His aim was to fight diseases and epidemics that erupted from time to time in this town. He was a typical member of the JewishRussian intelligentsia progressive, halfassimilated, but informal and unpretentious, close to the simple people. His influence on the town affairs was remarkable, due to his good nature, his complete honesty and his devotion to his work. Soon after his arrival he was appointed chief doctor of the Jewish hospital in place of Dr. Halberstat and besides his work at the hospital he became involved in the public life Jewish and nonJewish and general affairs of the town. He established contact with Jewish and Russian public figures and had a close relationship with the leaders of important Jewish institutions like ORT and others. He was a member of the Russian K.D. party (the Kadets) and collaborated with them in general political matters as, for example, in the elections to the Russian parliament, the Duma, and participated in the periodical consultations concerning local, regional and national Jewish affairs. In all these matters he had no rival in town the revolutionary parties did not dare yet, at that time, to act openly. The Jewish population respected him since, contrary to the other members of the intelligentsia, he did not ignore them but took part in all public Jewish matters and devoted time and energy to help the local Jewish institutions. He was tolerant and kind, and although he did not participate officially in Zionist activities, he was not among the opponents or interferers. Dr. Westerman was liked and respected by the nonJewish population and officials as well, since he spoke excellent Russian, was a very good speaker and was kind and sociable. The idea of establishing cooperative institutions appealed to him; he regarded it as the beginning of liberation of the simple folk, craftsmen and lower classes. It was no wonder, then, that he was given the position of head of the small Jewish bank that had been established. The little man has found in him reliable support against the assimilated intelligentsia and the rich people who forced him out of the positions that they managed to occupy.
Dr. Westerman not only had an effect on the Jewish life in Bălți, but was influenced by it as well, and at the end of his life he became friendlier with the Zionist groups, although he did not join officially.
He was a true craftsman, a plumber, a man who had no formal education but a sharp mind. He had a great influence on the working class and for a long time he headed the Society for the Aid of the Craftsmen
and the Little Bank, as well as some other institutions, and he would help needy people to obtain much needed loans. Although he was no great speaker, he knew how to explain matters and convince his listeners, at the meetings and assemblies, of the urgency and legitimacy of his arguments and demands. Very often he succeeded and obtained what he was asking for, to the benefit of the craftsmen's class. Itzkowitz lived by the labor of his hands, and although his own earnings were not great he devoted much of his time to the working people. Contrary to his friend Hick, who was somewhat hottempered and liked hot arguments, Itzkowitz was much calmer and did not raise his voice when a disagreement arose at a meeting or assembly. However, he was not a man of compromise; he knew how to defend his views when he was convinced that he was right. On the other hand, having a logical mind and good common sense, he was strong enough to concede when he understood that his opponent was right.
by R. Ioffe, President of the Community
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The Jewish Community in Bălți was established legally in 1935. The Community Council was elected by the entire Jewish population in town, abiding by the elections statutes and regulations approved by the Ministry. Nine lists competed, four of them won and became members of the council: the Young Zionists with 10 mandates, the Craftsmen 12, the Workers 11 and the United Zionists 8 mandates. Thus the Council numbered 41 members, who represented all the important sections of the Jewish population.
The council was divided into six departments, namely: administrative, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, finance and control. The executive committee consisted of Eng. R. Ioffe president, P. Lertov and H. R. vicepresidents, M. Neiman treasurer and K. Grinberg secretary general; together with the presidents of the departments Messrs. Gd. Lipson, A. Dobrushin, L. Itzkowitz, M. Gulco, Sh. Burd and Lapsher, the council represented the Community and constituted its supreme executive organ.
The community was the formal supervisor and inspector of all civic Jewish institutions: the hospital, the home for the aged, the elementary and vocational schools, the highschools, the people's soup kitchen, the medicsanitary institution, Oze, the orphanage, the public bath and others. Another number of institutions were under the direct administration of the community: the dispensary, the library, the kindergarten, charity lodging (hospice) etc.
The community was very active in all areas of social assistance distributing medicines to the sick and firewood in the winter; financial help before Passover and other holidays; free meals for the unemployed. The schoolchildren enjoyed special care they received money to buy books and pay school tax, were given clothing and shoes, as well as food through the school cafeteria.
The community was in charge of the cultural condition of the residents of the Jewish faith, administration of the synagogues and prayer houses, religious services etc.
The activity of the community depended, obviously, on the material resources at its disposal, which came mostly from indirect taxes paid by various state institutions, as the ministry of religion, the municipality, the chamber of commerce and others. These contributions, however, did not match the needs of the Jewish institutions or the proportion of the Jewish contribution to these state and municipal institutions. While the budget of the community and its institutions amounted to six and a half millions, the total contributions reached merely about 10% of that sum.
With the increase of these contributions and the contributions of the members of the community, the social and cultural activity of the community will hopefully develop, as is appropriate for the Jewish center Bălți, for the benefit of all residents of our town.
by Z. Heinichs
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The struggle against a Jew by the name of Tzimbalist, the renter of the Korovka, was a long and stormy affair.
The Korovka or Taxa as the Jews called it, was a very old institution, from the time of the Russian rule. Its purpose was to collect money a sort of tax from the Jewish population, for the license to perform kosher slaughter. The money was used to support charity and religious institutions, education and religious officials (rabbis, judges, slaughterers etc.).
In order to facilitate the collection of taxes, the Russian (and the Romanian) administration rented the korovka to a Jew for a period of several years. Usually it was a wealthy Jew, who would collect the money for the kosher slaughtering by distributing kvitlech (notes, slips of paper), which the Jews would buy for a fixed sum and present them to the slaughterer as payment for his services. Mr. Tzimbalist was a clever businessman and regarded the korovka as a business that can help him get rich. He befriended the municipal and state administrations and the two important korovkas, that of Kishinev and that of Bălți were rented to him.
Tzimbalist's interests did never match those of the Bălți Jewish community, obviously. Tzimbalist always tried, on one hand, to obtain more and more payments from the Jewish population and on the other hand to minimize his expenses, by making smaller and smaller payments to the religious officials and to the Jewish institutions.
On this background, the arguments and friction between Tzimbalist and the various institutions were endless. The annual budget of the korovka was established by Tzimbalist after consultation with several of the leaders of the community, in particular those who were approved or appointed by the local municipal authorities with whom Tzimbalist had always full understanding… Misunderstanding was indeed between him and the Jewish institutions that were in need of his support, but he pursued his goal: to collect more, to pay less, and to become rich.
Our war with Tzimbalist continued for years and we did not let him rest. From him we asked for greater support to the Jewish institutions. From the authorities we asked to dissolve the korovka altogether and establish an elected Jewish community that would take care, among others, of the financial matters. The Jewish and Russian newspapers, which realized that the korovka was exploiting the Jewish population, joined our struggle. In 1933, with the approval of the bylaws concerning the Jewish communities in Romania, the korovka institution was cancelled and in Bălți, as in other towns, an elected Jewish community was established, to handle all matters concerning Jews and Jewish institutions.
by M. Gafter
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The public health of the Bălți population was handled by the central state hospital, the Jewish private hospital, two private sanatoriums (Chatchkayantz and Gurfel), one state dispensary and two municipal dispensaries for social insurance, as well as many other organizations of social aid: the Red Cross, OZE, orphanage, home for the aged, home for children, home for the handicapped, oldpeople's home etc.
The Mirovski Zemske state hospital was situated on the road to Făleşti in the suburbs of the town, 23 kilometers from the center. Perhaps this was the reason that the Jews used very little this hospital. Here worked the doctors: Mirovski, Vasiliu, Nicolov, Lubinetzki and others.
With the help of philanthropic contributions, the Jews erected a Jewish hospital. A committee of volunteers was in contact with the korovka (from the Jewish community) that supported the hospital, and support was given also by the charity organizations Ezrat Holim [help for the sick] and Bikur Holim [visiting the sick]. Whenever and wherever they could, members of the community collected money for the hospital. They would organize Cultural Evenings on the Purim and Chanukah holidays, on NewYear and other important dates, with the slogans:
For a medicine to really heal, we must help with charity, without getting tired.
For a medicine to work, we must pay all year long.
The Ezrat Holim organization would address its supporters with the following call:
Support our needy sick brothers and sisters, buy Purimnotes with Purimmoney. The notes are sold by the Angel Rafael, we appeal to your generosity.
By all this, as well as by other means and on many occasions the members of the community supported the hospital, to help the sick and to protect the health of the Jews in Bălți.
The Jewish hospital was located almost at the end of the town area, on the Nicolayevski Road.
The hospital comprised several sections: internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, children's medicine, epidemics. There were separate rooms for men and for women.
The chief physician of the hospital was Dr. Westerman. He performed administrative functions, managed
fund raising and supervised the normal functions of the hospital in all respects.
Physicians at the hospital: Doctors Polski, Gurfel, Ribakov, Datz (1928). For difficult cases, consultation was arranged with doctors from the central hospital: Drs. Frenkel, Benderski, Paverman, Vasiliu, Imas and others, or specialists were invited: Drs. Kotlyar, Krasiuk, Chatchkayantz and others. In the course of 20 years, about 20 physicians have worked at the hospital.
Recommended dentists were: Drs. Broitman, Turkenisch, Lenkovskaia and others. The hospital was well staffed with nurses in every department.
The Jewish students from Bălți would work in the hospital during the summer, or spend their internship there. Among them we remember: Mekler, Palarye, Podgoyetzki, Gafter and others.
There was also an ambulatory division in the hospital, where patients from the poorer parts of the population were received for consultation and hospitalized, when necessary.
A medical laboratory performed the necessary medical tests. Some of the special tests were sent to the laboratories of the municipal hospital.
The pharmacy of the hospital was managed by pharmacist Sazhman. Jews who were not able to pay would receive medications, even in the private pharmacies, through some of the charity institutions in town.
The wealthy part of the population would seek medical aid at the private doctors and specialists in town.
There were also two barbersurgeons, who had medical experience and gave medical aid: Yehoshua Roffe [doctor] and Yosl Feldscher [barbersurgeon], who performed medical procedures prescribed by the doctors. Both were known as goodhearted men, who knew all families and were aware of their diseases and the help they needed. They never refused to help a sick person.
The medical personnel in town also represented the intelligentsia of Bălți, which influenced the social life and the development of the population.
Since we are not able to place flowers on the graves of the former medical personnel, who cared for the health of the Bălți population, treated them with great devotion, cured their diseases, eased their physical pain and in many cases saved their lives we would like to express in these lines our memory of the medical angels and say May their Memory be for a Blessing.
by Blume (Malamud) Gafter
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
|Blume (Malamud) Gafter|
In 1923 I worked in the Faraianu pharmacy.
At that time, in Bălți pharmacies was located in the Zemsk Hospital and in the Jewish Hospital, and there were also six private pharmacies in town: Begon, Zalevski, Faraianu, Doianu, Corneal, Milbroit. Apart from these, there were several drugstores: Roizman, Singerman Deposit and some others. These drugstores provided the population with various medical remedies as well as patented medicines. For this reason, the drugstores were demanded to employ a pharmacist Mandelblum, Roizman and others as aide to the manager. The system of keeping drugstores beside the pharmacies helped to ensure the health of the population, especially the poorer layers. This was very important from the social point of view and also for prophylactic reasons facts that had great value in the Jewish life.
In Bălți there were about 30 pharmacists. As the town developed, more were needed. Among the more famous of them were: Begon, Eugenstein, Krostchiak, Golovorskaya, Pishof, Kalichman, Feuerstein Shanya, Kuppersmidt, Bozhar, Sashman, Bolvotchian Jack, Weinberg, Warser, Gershenson Zinya, Malamud Bluma, etc.
In 1928 I worked in Begon's pharmacy, which was considered first-class and was quite famous. The group of pharmacists grew yearly, representing in Bălți, together with the engineers, the doctors, the attorneys, the teachers, the students etc., what was called the intelligentsia of the town. Many of the sick, however, would still go to the barber-surgeon and a smaller number would seek real medicinal help in the drugstore.
Folklore is, in essence, a consequence of the simple, primitive lives of the people who were distanced from progress and civilization. Bălți, in this sense, was not unlike Yehupetz, Kasrilevke etc. [places in Shalom Aleichem's works]. This reminds one of an event concerning a narcotic medicine.
The pharmacists, naturally, worked carefully, with precision and a strict end even pedantic accuracy. It happened once in the Begon pharmacy, that an old woman was waiting for an
emergency medicine, like morphine. She was watching the pharmacist work, preparing the drug. She observed that his hands were unsteady while weighing the stuff. She then addressed the pharmacist saying: You must be a very stingy person. Your hands are shaking when you are weighing the centigrams. Are you afraid to put one gram more?
by I. Mazor
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
R'Chanina Halperin or R'Chananya son of R'Israel Galperin. Chananya Halperin was one of the descendants of the founders of the Bălți Community. We do not have biographical details about him, but it seems that he was one of the big land owners in town; rumors said that half of the town belonged to him.
He assigned land for a cemetery, which was named after him. This was the new cemetery the old one was situated within the borders of the old settlement in Bălți. When a Jew died in Bălți, people would say He went to Chananya.
R'Chananya Halperin died on 28 December 1887 at an old age. This means that he was born at the beginning of the 19th century or even at the end of the 18th century. Since it is known that Bălți was founded by Jews in the eighties of the 18h century, it is clear that R'Chananya was born in town, perhaps the first generation.
He became famous for his charity he was one of those people who dedicated their lives to giving and helping the poor. He had no children; therefore he left a will in which he bequeathed all his wealth to charity, except for some large sums for the members of his family. His wealth was estimated at hundreds of thousands of Rubles.
According to the Hamelitz newspaper from 27 January 1888 he left to his family and acquaintances about 200,000 Rubles. He left 1,000 Rubles for the Jewish Hospital and the same sum for the Christian Hospital, 1,000 Rubles for the reparation of the old Bet Hamidrash and 1,000 Rubles for the Talmud Torah. R'Chananya considered the education of Jewish children a lofty aim, and in his will he stated clearly: This money is intended to appoint new, well-educated teachers for the children, to teach Torah and the language of the country. To the new bathhouse he left 599 Rubles.
R'Chananya was the owner of a large estate. In his will he stated that the yearly income from the estate, estimated at 7,000 Rubles, should be divided as follows:
2,333 yearly for food supplies to the Jewish Hospital and the same amount for the Christian Hospital. The rest of the money was to be kept for the support of his relatives, in case they stumble and become desolate.
But the main part of his wealth he entrusted during his lifetime in the hands of a trustee, a Christian friend who was a loyal spirit as he was called by the Bălți reporter of the Hamelitz newspaper Mr. Aharon Yavelberg, who wrote that everybody was convinced that he would loyally execute the will of the deceased.
In 1936, some 50 years after Halperin's death, we find in the newspaper Unzer Zeit a report, containing details about the balance of the Halperin Fund on that year.
The fund, called The Fund of the Deceased Chananya son of R'Israel Galperin was established in 1922, some 40 years after his death; the income from the interest alone (interest of 5%) served to support the public institutions in Bălți. The income of the Fund was nearly one million Lei that year, a respectable sum in those days. In the financial reports of the Fund we find details about the institutions that received help that year: The Big Talmud Torah, Social Aid, Help for the Poor etc.
Among the trustees of the Fund are mentioned: Messrs. B. Fischman, Rav Golka, Wallach, Dabroskin, Kalichman and Bronstein.
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