by Mordechai Haas and Meir Shafrir
Translated by Moshe Devere
A village near Schotz whose Jewish population was known for their piety. For good reason, they called Bălăceana the Little Land of Israel because in the village, despite being a minority, the Jews stood out when compared to the gentiles.
About 50 Jewish families lived in Bălăceana. They engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding and commerce. Among them were wealthy Jewish realtors and prominent merchants. Rabbi Joshua Pelenboim, head of the Pelenboim dynasty, lived in Bălăceana at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. He owned forests and fields in the area, employing gentiles to manage the properties. The landowners would lease the fields to gentiles for a share of the crop. Reuven Tennenhaus was also active in agriculture. His son Moshe lived and died in Haifa. Yeshayahu Haas was a renowned merchant who owned a tavern and liquor warehouse in the center of the village. He managed the business with the help of his brothers and partners, Ḥaim and Leibo. Ḥaim would travel to Odobeşti in the vineyard region of Moldova, and would ship 40-60 tons of wine by train in 700-800 liter barrels. The only train station was in Comăneşti, so the barrels were brought to Bălăceana in wagons. Ḥaim Haas later married Jetti Alter and left for Schotz, where he started his own wine business.
Among the merchants in Bălăceana was Menashe Haas, the owner of a grocery store where he also sold the gentiles Opinci shoe soles (a sort of shoe sole tied with laces around the leg instead of shoes), and wood nails. Wolf (Velvel) Haas also had a grocery store, while Mendel Pelenboim, Yeshayahu Pelenboim's son, had a textile shop.
Until World War I, under Austrian rule, the Jews, despite their small number, were the most prominent population in the village, and most of the gentiles, lived in their shadow and depended on them financially. After WWI, when the region came under Romanian rule, the atmosphere changed and the gentiles began to riot. As a result, some Jews left for Schotz in the 1920s, and only a fraction later returned to their businesses in Bălăceana until their final deportation to Schotz in 1939.
As it was already noted, Jewish life in Bălăceana had a distinct religious character. The children learned in ḥeder by teachers brought in from Maramureş. Mordechai Haas remembers himself at the age of four as a full-time pupil in the ḥeder. Among the pupils, he remembers Levi Yitzchak Fuhrer, Michael
Fuchs and others. As he got a little older, his commercial instincts motivated him to sell notebooks, pencils and erasers to pupils in the ḥeder.
Children from nearby villages also studies at the ḥeder in Bălăceana. Israel and Selig Haas, from Părteşti de Jos, came to study there. They were the sons of Eliyahu Haas, the owner of a flour and sawmill in the village. There was a synagogue in Bălăceana where two quorums prayed every morning. During the holidays, Cantor Leibish Rand led the prayers. He was married to a resident of Bălăceana, JuttahFeige, daughter of Joshua Ze'ev Haas. Leibish Rand left Bălăceana for the nearby village of Arbore and then moved to Dorna. There was a small Jewish community in Arbore. The Haas family went there for Shabbat and were able to pray with a quorum. Sometimes they went to another village, Luizi Humorului, and completed the quorum there. Prayers took place at the Yitzchak Merling home.
Bălăceana also had a mikveh [ritual bath for ritual purity]. The butcher was Naḥman Held. After Held left for Schotz, another butcher came to Bălăceana or the people were assisted by a butcher from Comăneşti or Ilieşti. Jewish life in the small community in Bălăceana was self-evident. Among them were scholars who were knowledgeable in Gemara and its commentaries, such as butchers Naḥman Held and Mona Faism, a man famous for his integrity, sitting whole nights in the synagogue studying; Meshulam Fuhrer sat next to Kanetzel at night and studied; Joshua Pelenboim and his sons, and others.
The men were followers of the courts of the Rebbe of Vizhnitz and the Rebbe of Antonia. Idl Kopel, a Vizhnitz ḥassid, would travel every holiday to the Rebbe. In 1935, Mordechai Haas traveled from Bălăceana to Rădăuţi when the Rabbi, Damassek Eliezer of Vizhnitz, visited there. Jacov Rosenblatt of Bălăceana, owner of orchards, fields and forests, requested the Rebbe's blessing because Esther (née Wagner, daughter of Yitzchak of Todiresti, who had 17 children) his wife had pregnancy problems. On the rabbi's advice, the family moved in from Bălăceana to Iţcani in 1930, where the two children, Fugue [Feige?] (now Foreman) and Yitzchak, were born. Both now live in Ashkelon.
But not all the Jews were ḥassidim. There were also scholars and God-fearing people who opposed the ḥassidim. So, a sort of confrontation was created between the ḥassidim and the mitnagdim (dissenters). Meir Shafrir describes an occurrence that characterizes this conflict. R. Meir Pelenboim's grandfather obm (after which he is named) was the son of the head of the Joshua Pelenboim dynasty, an eminent scholar but to say the least, not from ḥassidic circles. However, when he lay on his deathbed with a serious illness, and when Rabbi Israel, the Elder of Vizhnitz, visited Schotz, associates of R. Meir whispered a request (or by a note) to the Rebbe to pray for his recovery. When he heard this, R. Israel OBM asked to order a piacair (carriage) for him and went to visit the sick R. Meir. The ḥassidim were shocked: Not only was the Holy Rabbi not used to visiting the home of the ḥassidim, not even in such a case, but
how was it possible that the Rabbi make a visit to the sick when it was a mitnaged such as Rabbi Meir Pelenboim?! Indeed, the Rabbi appreciated the greatness of the man regardless of his views. Such was the glorious community of the Jews of Bălăceana, which ceased to exist after 1940.
And Meir Shafrir continues his story:
Yankel the melamed (teacher) of very young children. For the older boys they brought in excellent scholars who taught them Gemara and poskim (arbiters), all privately engaged in the village but their level was no less than higher yeshivas in Eretz Israel. Yankel the melamed fulfilled his post with the children from morning to evening in his home. When he was given his meager wages and many gifts such as leftovers, sometimes some unsuccessful chicken or some dish sent to him with a boy or girl, and of course he did not receive from a girl's hand, even the youngest, but by a boy who was called out of the ḥeder or by his wife. Yankel the melamed only had daughters. May the Creator have mercy on him and his daughters. Who would take them as wives? After all, a scholar's son will not make a match with the melamed even if he is from a noble family. Usually, Torah and ancestry would go together, but only among melameds this combination did not exist. Although there was Torah was in his house, but would there also be scholarly son-in-laws…? Usually Yankel the melamed failed to receive such, apart from one case, associated with another Jew in Bălăceana, none other than Mona Faism the butcher.
Mona Faism was assuredly a scholar (was it otherwise possible for a butcher in Bălăceana?). With this occupation, it was possible to succeed in this significant village, but his integrity was his undoing in this world. His great works would bring him reward only in the afterlife. Mona was known for the famous story that characterized him as Mona mitt dem Lemel (Mona and the sheep), a story that was a joke all over Bălăceana; trade based on honesty is difficult. How is it possible without cheating!? Of course, no Jew was cheated… But cheating of a gentile… that was how to make a living… Mona would purchase the sheep and yearlings from the gentiles. One time, a gentile who wanted to sell him a sheep for slaughter, this innocent gentile asked little for the sheep. Immediately, Mona stood amazed and replied to the gentile, What are you talking about? This sheep is worth much more. God forbid I should deceive you! and spent twice as much as he asked for and paid him.
Like the other families in the village, they sent my late mother, who was a dutiful little girl at home, to buy meat at Mona's, with money in hand. In winter, it was freezing and her hands with the money froze by the time she reached Mona. The first thing, Mona grabbed and rubbed her palms until she warmed up while all
the women stood and waited. Only then did he give her the meat and then to the women. When he weighed it, the scales would always go down toward the equivalent meat. Still, he would add another chunk, lest the scales were inaccurate, saying God forbid I will not sell my soul! And when the buyer was missing money… it was of no account and he was satisfied with that. He also sent packages with end-pieces of meat to the poor, to Yankel the melamed, and others… Could such a Jew have been rich?
The Holy one blessed be He (KBH), the Creator, sought to bring comfort and succor to poor Yankel of the melamed, and heard his wife's tears, who wept tears all night worrying about daughters, who had no redeemer. One night, Mona Faism's wife's grandfather came to her in a dream and told her that she had to arrange a marriage between her son and the daughter of Yankel, the melamed. Mona Faism's wife did not delay, immediately got out of bed, woke up her husband Mona and told him about her dream. Mona immediately jumped out of bed, ordered her to get dressed, and that night they went out to Yankel the melamed and knocked on his door. Yankel and his wife were very alarmed. Mona turned to Yankel the melamed, hugged him, kissed him, and told him: Yankel, we are in-laws! and they told him about the dream. In his astonishment, Yankel did not know what to do. There was not even a morsel of refreshments or a glass of brandy in their house, but Mona and his wife had also taken care of this: They brought cake and drink with them and the in-laws sat and drank leḥaim until the morning. When morning arrived, they both came to the synagogue, held back until after prayer, and immediately after the prayers, Mona pulled a bottle of brandy from his pocket and a piece of cake and proclaimed, Gentlemen! This night, I did something. the crowd panicked slightly, but he immediately reassured them by saying, I made an arranged marriage with Yankel the melamed, and told them about the dream and its fulfillment. Joy and happiness laced with ridicule prevailed throughout the village. Indeed, as it is said, He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the refuse heap… [Psalms 113:7]
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