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Bendery (cont.)

Beside the grain-filled barges, Bendery also had passenger and freight steamboats, owned by the Yassky Brothers. These steamers, sailing the Dniestre from Mogilev Fodolsk, through Bendery to Ackerman at the Black Sea, used to stop also at other cities. Expediting agent for these boats was Benny Klayman, the father of Harry, Clara and Dora. Twice a week we used to have special markets for hay and other cattle-food, on a square outside the city where also horses were bought and sold, and where huge city scales had been provided to weigh all the farm-produce and cattle. An official city ticket had to be issued as to the net weight of every product. The concessionaire for these scales was Shulom Tzechoval, father of Senka the actor, Levi the art-painter, Nechemia, and Mania Bronstein.

Bendery had two large flour-mills and several smaller ones, the latter patronized by the local farmers for grinding flour for their home-consumption. Situated by the river was also a beer-brewery, and many town-people would come there either walking or by rowing a boat, in order to enjoy the beer while watching the beautiful scenery of the river and the fruit orchards on the opposite bank. There were also several factories: a soap factory, a tile-factory, several redbrick factories, and beside these-numerous blacksmiths, machinists, (like Abe Lerman), wineries, cabinet makers. The town possessed a number of ready-made men's clothing-stores and stores for farmers' wear, employing tailors for the elite as well as for the poor and the peasants.

To expand their sales and improve their incomes, some of the storekeepers used to pack up wagonloads of seasonal merchandise and travel to various farm centers, on their “market days”. This was known as a “Yarid” or a market gathering, and the merchants supplied the farmers' needs while cashing in some extra income.

The Jewish population was orthodox, but not fanatically so. We had a Chief Rabbi, two Dayonim (assistant Rabbis) and twelve Shochtim, all of them learned and pious Jews. On Shabbath, and holidays, all the business establishments would be closed and only the drugstores would stay open.


The prominent synagogue of the Rabbi and family Wetheim


Our twenty two synagogues would then be packed with parishioners. The more prominent among our synagogues was that of our official Rabbi Wertheim. It had been build by David Wertheim's grandfather, Reb Itzikel, a scion of a Rabbinic family descended from the Baal-Shem-Tov, the 18th century founder of the Hassidism. It was traditional in style; its ceiling and walls were covered by oil-colors depicting the twelve Jewish Tribes and various fruits that grew in the ancient land of Israel. The Western Wall was painted as a replica of the Western Wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that remains standing to this day, a reminder of the glory of ancient Israel. Besides his official function as the Chief Rabbi, Reb Itzikel acted, first and foremost, as a Hassidic Rabbi, receiving people in distress and praying for them to the Almighty to ease their lot. The needy would then leave a donation for the synagogue. The Gabbai, or the President of the synagogue, was Reb Meir Fein, the father of Isaak Fein, Katia, Jack Fine, the secretary of the Benderer Society, and Donia Orlinsky.


Rabbi Shimon Shloime Wertheim Rab Itzikel the father of Shloime
Wertheim of Rabbinic family
descended from the Baal Shem-Tov


Other synagogues served every class and layer of our population, whether rich, poor, artisan, laborer, merchant, etc. Most young men used to come with their parents to pray in the synagogues, keeping thus up the tradition of the Jewish ethics and learning.

Upon leaving the synagogue, a parishioner would take with him along a stranger, who would be standing quietly near the door, indicating that he wants to be invited for a kosher Sabbath-meal. Beside the stranger, we would also have at our tables Jewish soldiers from the local regiment. These soldiers, who came from distant cities, were glad to find themselves in a warm Jewish home whenever off duty. Our Sabath meal would last a good two hours. Between courses we would sing the prescribed songs, as well as songs from the cantorial liturgy, Hassidic songs, and even the Jewish theatre songs. The Sabbath used to be a day of joy and relaxation.

During the first World War Bendery received an additional influx of soldiers. The newly arrived could not be adopted by the Jewish families, who were already “overloaded”. But before long there was formed a committee, headed by Reb David Gurfel (the father of the Garfield brothers, Louis, Leon and Paul), which provided for the establishment of a free kitchen in the vestry of the old Beis-Medrash (synagogue). The kitchen was there to feed all the Jewish soldiers on Friday-nights, Sabbath-noons and all the Jewish holidays. Some of the food and chalas were donated, the rest was bought. The womenfolk cooked the fish, the soup and the chickens and kugel, condiments and wine were also served. The tables were usually covered with clean white cloths, tableware was provided and the members of the committee themselves were the waiters and also helped along with the rituals. The soldiers, away from home, were happy. So was the committee and all who helped.

The name David Gurfel stood for love and kindness in our city. He worked hard, managing entirely voluntarily the free kitchen. Very often we kids used to help Reb David carry kosher food for the Jewish political prisoners to the 'Ostrog' prison.

The “Nye Shil”, our newest synagogue which took a long time building, used to attract many people from other cities thanks to its interior, decorated in the style of the Italian Rennaissance. Its President (Gabbai), was Reb Chaim-Moishe Fishov, father of Rose Fine.

Naturally, we pride ourselves upon the scholars, the renowned musicians, painters and other artists of our city, but we also remember the homage we owe to yet another group of our Benderer Jews, namely, to the drivers of the horse-drawn vehicles, who stoutly protected their Jewish honor. To illustrate: when a group of antisemitic truck-drivers would start a fight with our Jewish boys, our boys would grab an oak pole used for rolling up barrels of wine or oil and swing it as if it were merely a whip. Those hit by it would be either dead or have their bones crushed. Those boys were so strong that with one stroke they could kill a man. Even the police would be frightened and in order to prevent any further disturbances, they would exact from those truck-drivers a written promise to abstain from any further fights. Here is also the place to mention that during the World War I new contingents of Kossacs were brought into the military baracks of our town. These Kossacks used to get drunk at night and beat up the defenseless Jews in the streets. And it was the butchers, (whose President-Gabbai was Zeidel Markman, the father of Betty Lerman and the Markman brothers), which formed a group of vigilants to take care of them.

In the times of the Bolshevist Revolution (1917-1920), there appeared in Bendery Sholom Shwarzbard (born in Izmail, Bessarabia), who came from Ukraina and started to organize the butchers and other boys into a self-defence group by training them in combat. This same Shwarzbard had also been active in the defence of the Ukrainian Jews during the Ukrainian pogroms led by the Atamans Machno and Petliura. 50 thousands Jews were killed in those pogroms. The list of the Ukrainian atrocities is long and inexhaustible. On May 26th, 1926, Shwarzbard recognized the General Petliura on a street in Paris, and killed him on the spot. Shwarzbard had been tried in a Paris court, but was found innocent.


Shwarzbard's self-defence group


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