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Literature and Journalism

Researchers who study the development of Hebrew and Yiddish literature in Kishinev, that preceded journalism for many years, found that as yearly as the 1870s, few Maskilim and Rabbis explored ways to publish their works in print. The Makilim translated to Hebrew many classical authors. Although the religious literature was more abundant than the Maskilim literature, no original literary work appeared in Kishinev. Kishinev did not have a Hebrew printing house until the 1880s and the first authors were forced to go to Warsaw, Berdychiv or Poltava to print their works. In 1881 (5741), Rabbi Joseph Ben Israel Aaron from Kishinev published his book “Mevasereth Zion” (The Zion Herald) in Warsaw. This book contained a large number of topics as stated in the subtitle: “I will interpret and explain the hidden thoughts from the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud, Sifra (commentary to the Book of Leviticus), Tosefta (Mishnah supplement), Mekhilta, ADR'N (supplement to Masekhet Avot by Rabbi Nathan), TDB'A, Pesiktah (Verdicts), Seder Olam (World Order), Masekhot Ketanot (Small Tractates), Midrash Rabbah, Tanhuma and other Midrashim (Talmudic legends based on biblical verses), Zohar, Sefer Ha–Kanah.” This book was organized alphabetically in the style of a concordance. Only the letter Aleph (A) was published. Ha–Melitz of 5642 (1882), issue no. 3, writes about the importance of this book and praises the scholarly level of its author and his accomplishments among the writers in Kishinev.

Another book less known, but as important, was the book of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Preger, a judge, entitled Shema Shlomo (Voice of Solomon). The interpretation of the legal terms of Majority and Tenure in the Talmud showed the author's deep understanding and expertise in the Hebrew texts. This book was published in 5659 (1899) by the printing house of Rabbi Rabinovich, the editor of the “Ha–Peles” (The Spirit) in Poltava[1].

Because there were no printing houses and because of the censorship, many important books were left until this day in manuscript form.

In 1880–1890, the Hebrew printing in Kishinev started producing pamphlets, announcements and some books. In 5644 (1884) with the occasion of the coronation of the Czar Alexander III, Rabbi Shlomo Weinriv published the “Keter Melukha” (Crown of Monarchy) to celebrate the event.

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Title page of the pamphlet “Mishnaiot”, Kishinev, end of 18th century.

 

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In 1884, I. Shlimovich started his own printing house and hired talented printers and typesetters in order to compete with the printing houses outside Bessarabia. One of them was Rabbi Eliezer Hirsh from Fadayitsa(?), a very talented and experienced printer.[2]

Shlimovich's printing house[3] published religious books for the dissemination of Hassidism learning. In 5655 (1895), Eliezer Shevsheia's book “Eliezer Damascus” containing sermons from the Aggada (a form of Rabbinical literature) was published. The same author published in 5655 (1895) the book entitled “Ha–Shoel” (The Enquirer) dedicated to polemics between various religious groups. He also authored the book “Amudei Beit Yehuda” (The Pillars of the House of Judah). A year later, the same printer printed the book of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminer “Shnei Ha–Meurot” (The Two Lights) and many others. In 5652 (1892) Shlimovich printed the book “Ha–Measef ve Ha–Mazkir” (The Collector and the Clerk) by Shmuel Zeev Davidson from Dubroveni; “Niv Sfataim” (Sayings) by Yehuda Shteinberg in 5653 (1893); “Ha–Yareah” (The Moon) a humorous monthly publication by Israel Gelberg from Beltzi in 5656 (1896); “Ezra le–Havin” (Help with Understanding) by Rabbi Yitzkhak Meler in 5656 (1896) – an explanation of Ibn Ezra analysis of the Bible; “Likutim Mazhirim” (A Glowing Anthology) by I. Kritzman and “Ramzei Agadot” (Clues for Legends) by Rabbi David Moshe in 5655 (1895).

In 5656 (1896) there was a first attempt to publish a Yiddish collection entitled “Der Buket Blumen” (Bouquet of Flowers) edited by Gabriel Roitbard, a serious effort to collect Yiddish writings.[4]

At the same time many books and pamphlets discussing the faith of the Jewish Diaspora started appearing and received great attention from the Jews of Kishinev. One of these books was “Bein Ha–Metzarim” (The Distress) by Daniel Mordovtzov, translated by Yekheskel Levit in 5658 (1896) describing the massacre of the Jews by the haidamaks in Uman (Ukraine).

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Title page of the book “Ruah ha–Leum

(The National Spirit or the Struggle of the Jews against the Sanballat(s), published in Kishinev in 1890 by A. S. Stepanov.
(Sanballat, a Biblical personality and an enemy of the Jewish people in the time of Nehemiah, is a term used for a person who opposes the Jewish renewal and restoration. Translator's note)

 

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In the 1890s there were many attempts to publish books in Hebrew and in Yiddish, but this was difficult because of the economic conditions and the lack of writers.

Two more important books were published at the time:

  1. “Ruah ha–Leum ha–Yehudi veHa–Sanbalat, by Menakhem Mendel ben Khaim Kles, published in 1890 by the Stepanov Printing (Politziski Lane). The author intended to encourage the Zionist movement at its inception and to silence the people who stood up against the national movement. The subtitle summarizes the content of the book: “A description of the pressures, the poverty, the hard work, the hardship suffered by the heroes of Yeshurun, lovers of Zion, who desire the dust of our ancestral land, caused by their brothers, haters of Zion, the destroyers and demolishers who rise to kill and to slaughter God's people.” The book is written in a flowery style, but the author adheres to the theme of the national spirit of the people whose eyes look forward to the ancestral homeland.
  2. A poetry anthology published in 5656 (1896) entitled “The Hebrew Poetry Trove” was a collection of folk songs by Rabbi Reifman and was edited by Rabbi Eliezer Plat.
The interest in the Hebrew language and literature grew in these years in Kishinev and the Hovevei Zion encouraged the publication of Hebrew book, especially the ones with Zionist topics.

At the beginning of the 20th century, an important group of writers and poets appears in Bessarabia and it was hoped that they will form a spiritual nucleus, but it did not happen and there never was a Kishinev style or literary movement. Each writer was appreciated on his own merit and individual style.

Most writers, with the exception of Eliyahu Meitus who was born in Kishinev, came from small towns and hoped to expand their horizons in the big city. (Eliyahu Meitus Sonnets translated by Sheli Fain in : A Grandniece's Book About a Hebrew Poet, Ella Romm, Michael Romm and Sheli Fain, San Diego, 2015). They did not find in Kishinev the prospects they expected and therefore joined the group of writers in Warsaw and Odessa. The ones who stayed in Bessarabia loved the nature and the green fields and lived in their small towns instead of Kishinev. Shlomo Hilleles writes in the journal “Ha–Tekufah” (The Epoch) 30–31, New York, about his conversation with the writer Yehuda Shteinberg, z”l:

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Title page of the book “Shtei Meoroth

(Two Light Sources) written by the great scholars of our generation, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh and Rabbi Shmuel Kaminsker –
a book about the Oral Torah or Oral Law (Torah she–be–`al peh), Kishinev, E. Shliomovich Printing, 1896.

 

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“I met with Yehuda Shteinberg in Kishinev in 1901 at the bookstore of Rachel and Baruch Ostrovski and I asked him why he does not leave his little town (Leova). He tapped his foot on the ground and answered: Look, he said, how is it possible to live in a big city where the earth is covered with big stones that smother every fresh grass root and it does not give it a chance to grow and lift its head! How can I leave the blessed field, the garden and the vineyard and all this beauty and come live in these high stone buildings? Even our Jewish life, our traditions and holidays have left the big city! And you want me to come here? No, I will return to my native little town and stay there.”

Many writers couldn't pass this test and one by one they came to the centres of Jewish culture such as Odessa and Warsaw.

It is very disheartening to see that in the 1905–1906 there was no one to organize the writers in Kishinev, even if Shlomo Hilleles, a school teacher, Yacov Pikhman, secretary and assistant of Dr. Leon Cohen, Eliyahu Meitus and other writers who came from small Bessarabia towns lived there.

The writers who were active in Tzeirei Zion and the Second Alyiah and the group who belonged to the Bund paved the road to the development of the literature and journalism in Bessarabia. There were also plenty of Hebrew and Yiddish readers in Kishinev and Bessarabia as Yacov Pikhman reports in his book “Bessarabia,” published in Tel Aviv in 5701 (1941). He writes: ‘When I came to Warsaw in 1903, I was surprised to learn that the majority of subscribers to the “Ha–Tzfirah” (The Siren) and “Ha–Tzofeh” (The Observer) came from Bessarabia. I also learned that Bessarabia had the greatest number of subscribers to the “Hebrew Library.”

The absence of an organized group and the failure to bring together the isolated individuals into a greater organization may have influenced the Hebrew literary scene in Kishinev. Kishinev did not create the stage where all writers and journalists would come together under the leadership of Sh. Ben–Zion, Yehuda Shteinberg, Yacov Pikhman, Elyiahu Meitus, Shlomo Hilleles, Sh. L. Belnek, and others and create a Kishinev romantic style inspired by the love of the surrounding fields or receive help from the writers from over the Dniester.

During 1905–1910 a new tune coming from Odessa and Warsaw was heard by the writers and poets of Kishinev, but it did not have a great impact because of the lack of a literary group. The political conditions after the annexation of Bessarabia by Romania in 1918 also influenced the literature. In the 1920s the writers from Kishinev and from the entire Bessarabia faced a very difficult situation, first they became isolated from the rest of the Russian writers and second, for the next 10 years there was not one important literary work created.

The Second World War caused a total cessation of literary activities.

Works that are worth mentioning here:

In 1914 the collection of stories for youth “B'Ohaley Shem” (In God's Tents) by Israel Berman was printed in Kishinev by M. Shokhet and D. Weisman printing (Harlamby Street, 58). This 90 page book was a courageous attempt to publish youth literature.

In the period between the two wars there was a great initiative to develop the Hebrew and Yiddish printing. Printing houses appeared in Kishinev and among them were: Schechter Brothers, M. Averbuch, Teknik (M. Doktor), Sh. Rosenshtruch and B. Libman (printer of prayer and religious books for synagogues and some secular books).

There were small printing houses that published some Hebrew books and some in Romanian and Russian.

In 1920s Tarbut published a series of school books in Hebrew that were used in Bessarabia and in Romania. In 1919, I. Reznikov published school manuals for math in Hebrew and in Yiddish and in 1920 the Schechter Brothers published a Geography Manual by Tz. Shwartzman, “Yediat ha–Teva” (Knowledge of Nature) in two volumes by A. Rabinovich (the teacher), the Latin Chrestomathy (for studying Latin), General History in 3 volumes by A. Gurin.

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These quality books were used for long time in the Hebrew schools in Romania and, after Gitlin press bought the rights to these books. they were also printed and used in Poland. All these books were printed with accurate Hebrew diacritical signs (niqqud).

Israel Berman, a renowned teacher, published the Ancient History in 3 volumes. The first 2 volumes were printed by I. Schechter in 5681 (1921) and in 5683 (1923) B. Liberol printed the last volume.

Rabbi I. L. Zirelson authored many books that were printed in Kishinev. In 5689 (1929), M. Averbuch printed “Hegyon ha–Lev” (Heart's Logic), a collection of exhortations; and in 5696 (1936) at the printing house Teknik (M. Doktor) printed “Lev Yehuda” in 2 parts. Part one Halacha (Answers) and part two Exhortations.

In the middle of 1930s a group of writers and poets, active in Tarbut, started publishing their works. In 5694 (1934) there was an effort to bring together the writings of the Hebrew authors in the anthology entitled “Prudot” (Molecules). This publication influenced other works such as the collection of poems by M. Goldenberg entitled “Reshafim b'Arava” (Sparks in the Desert) in 5699 (1939) and a collection of poems by K. Bertini entitled “Tmol Dehaa” (Yesterday is fading away). In 1940, Weinshtock–Gafni published the second edition of his Memoirs.

The publisher “Escola” and the Tarbut society had an important role in the development of the Hebrew books in Kishinev. They published a number of school books on various subjects written by A. Belnek, V. Kutcher, such as the important history book “Amenu” (Our Nation) for elementary and for secondary Hebrew schools. A. Belnek published a Geography Manual and together with I. Schwartz and M. Koblanov a series of mathematics manuals. These books immensely helped the students of the Hebrew schools in Kishinev, who after 1918–1920 were cut off from the Russian Jewry and were left without any educational tools.

Among the most important Yiddish writer, Z. Rosental, authored “Fun Mein Heim” (From my Home), a collection of short stories describing the life in the small Bessarabia towns, which was published in 1936.

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The same author published a book of travel notes from his travels in Eretz Israel entitled: “Undzer Land” (Our Land) in 1938. I. Weinshtock, who was a satirist, published “Shmeicheldik” (With a Smile) in 1935. A collection entitled “Oif der Fuher” (On the Coach) published in 1939 contained the renewed correspondence between the folk characters Menakhem Mendel and Sheine Seindl.

Among the Yiddish writers popular at the time was B. Tuchinski, a young critic who published his reviews on Yiddish writers in the Kishinev press. In 1935 Tuchinski published at Teknik “Unter der Hack” (Under the Ax) a study on H. Leivik, and in 1939, H. Kleiman, a young theatre critic, (published at Yiddish Publishing, M. Urbach Printing) “Dos vigel fun Yiddishen theater” (The Cradle of the Yiddish Theatre).

It's worth mentioning the important study on economics written by M. Sharand “A Dritel Yarhundred Yiddishe Cooperatzie in Bessarabia, 1901–1933” (A Third of a Century of Jewish Cooperative in Bessarabia); this book was printed by Rosenstreich Printing, in 1934.

In the same period a number of Yiddish translation were published: “In Farshprachenem Land” (In the Promised Land) by Gala Galaction, a Romanian priest, translated by A. Rabinovich and “Mentchen, Shteiner” (People, Stones) by M. Blecher in the translation of I. Braushtein (Teknik, 1938).

In 1940 all activities of the literary centre of Kishinev stopped, although there were many more projects to be published. When this book was written there was no contact with the Soviet Kishinev, therefore there is no information about the literary tradition and the Zionist spirit of the Jews of Kishinev in Soviet Russia.

 

Mikhail Gershenzon (1869–1925)

Many Kishinev Jews played an important role in the Zionist movement, in the public life and the literature and arts in Russia. Many participated in the revolutionary storm and many played an important leadership role in the cultural life in Russia. One of them was Mikhail Gershenzon, ideologist, writer and historic. He was born in Kishinev in 1869 in a religious family and was influenced from his childhood by Jewish traditions.

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After overcoming many difficulties, at the completion of secondary school, he decided to go to university. There, he started to study Russian thought in order to better understand the developments of the 19th Century. It did not take him long to become an expert in Russian philosophy inspired by the Slavophile movement. In 1908, he published his book on the life and work of Pyotr Chaadaev, in 1910 he published a book on the History of New Russia and after that he published a book of his correspondence with the Russian poet, Vyacheslav Ivanov. In his letters he expresses his believes about the return to nature and to the emancipation from the European intellectual tenet. In one of the letters to Ivanov he writes:[5] “From my childhood, I was inspired by the European culture. I absorbed its spirit and I loved many of its aspects; I loved the hygiene and all the comforts, the sciences, the arts, the poetry, Pushkin. –––But at the bottom of my self–consciousness, I live differently. For many years already I hear in my ears another very strong voice; “this is not the way, this is not the way!” My internal desire is leading me in an opposite direction, against culture, against everything that was done and said around me. In this voice I recognize my real inner voice. I will fight with devotion for their happiness, I will ache when they hurt and I will be happy for their happiness, but I know this is not I, my spirit desires a homeland, with springs and with fragrant flowers and people. Where is my homeland?”

This deep calling for a homeland is the call of a Jew who, because he does not have a material homeland, could not find his spiritual place. In 1922 Gershenzon wrote a critical book on the European culture entitled “Gulfstream” and a book on the History of the Jewish Destiny. He was proud to be Jewish and decried all attacks against the Jews.

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Portrait of M. Gershenzon by Prof. Posternak

 

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He did not devote a lot of his work to the Zionist movement. He considered Zionism a movement that contradicts the determination of the people. He thought that Nationalism causes hate and enmity among people and is the basis of wars. His conclusion was that the Jewish people should escape from this narrow nationalism and give it the freedom to be light upon the nations.

Now, 25 years after his death (February 1925), we can easily say that he was wrong in his support of the scatterings of the Jewish people in the world. In his essay, Dr. Tzvi Vislavski[6] is criticizing Gershenzon of his wrong approach about the future of the Jewish people. It is a shame that a giant of thought like Gershenzon did not find his place in the liberation movement of the Jewish people, and did not attempt to enlarge or enrich it.

He was impressed with Bialik, whom he considered a great poet and in a letter to his mother he quotes his wife Marusia comparing Bialik to Shakespeare and Kant. He did not agree with Bialik's philosophy considering it unfounded philosophy. Gershenzon also admired Pushkin.

Gershenzon searched for a way to combine his Jewish existence in the world without renouncing his spiritual and physical independence, but at the end he did not find the way.

 

The Press

The Jewish press started developing only after the WWI,[7] although there were some attempts before that time. In 1912, a weekly publication entitled “Evreiskaya Cronica” (The Jewish Chronicle), edited by I. Rozomovsky was published in Russian. It was devoted to Zionist topics. In

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1913 it was replace by “Evreiskoyo Slovo” (The Jewish Word) also edited by I. Rozomovsky. The “Bessarabskaya Zsizny” (The Bessarabia Life) another journal that appeared at that time, published articles regarding the Jewish problem in Bessarabia and the struggle against the anti–Semitic gangs that terrorized the Jews of Kishinev during the years 1903–1905.

Only in 1920, a daily, non partisan, newspaper entitled “Der Bessaraber Leben” (Bessarabia Life) was published for a very short time. Also short lived was the paper entitled: “Der Morgen” (The Morning).

The Zionist movement published “Der Yidd” (The Jew) in 1920. This newspaper played an important role in the dissemination of Zionist ideas and gave special attention to the problem of the Ukrainian refugees. The Tseirei Zion weekly “Erd und Arbet” (Land and Work) started in December 1920 and continued publishing for 15 years. In the first years of publication, “Erd un Arbet” published numerous articles about matters of the Zionist party and Zionism and dedicated many articles to the question of self determination of the Romanian Jewry and to the democratization of the Bessarabia Jewish community. After the union of Tseirei Zion with Poalei Zion in 1936, Erd und Arbet became the publication of the united party. This was a very serious journal and an educational tool for the young Jewish generation. In the first issue of this journal of December 5, 1920, we read in the opening editorial:

“Erd un Arbet”– Land and Work are the two slogans that Tseirei Zion gave to the Jewish street. These slogans are not new. “Land” symbolizes the dream of the Jewish people who were uprooted from their land. It is a material and spiritual symbol. The farther we were displaced from our land, the greater our longing became and the stronger our will to prevail. “Work” is the effort of each of us to produce value and sustenance; these two symbols come together in one place, in Eretz Israel.”

The journal published from time to time important articles on the realities of the community. In 5689 (1929) they published a pamphlet about the brutal riots in Eretz Israel entitled: “Di blutige tag” (Days of Blood). In 1938, just before the journal was closed by the Romanian authorities, they published another series of pamphlets with political information.

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One of these pamphlets was written by Dr. M. Kotik and had information about the World Jewish Congress and the 18th Zionist Congress.

When the daily newspaper “Der Yidd” (The Jew) closed in 1922, Tseirei Zion party sought permission to publish a new daily entitled “Unzer Tzeit” (Our Time). This newspaper was published until 1938, when all press in Hebrew language was banned in Bessarabia. For a short while this paper was owned by a group of business people under the leadership of the lawyer M. Landau. The editor was Z. Rosenthal. Yacov Fichman contributed to the paper during 1923–1925 and attracted writers such as A. Shteinman. Under the strong leadership of talented journalists this paper became a tool for educating the Jewish public in Bessarabia and influenced all the Zionist circles in the rest of Romania. This paper served all the Jews of Romania and attracted a generation of young Zionist writers. These writers published their work in the week end and holiday issues. Z. Rosenthal, the editor, preserved the progressive spirit of the paper which was expressed by the issue no. 4000 that appeared on January 30, 1936.

The Zionist organizations Tarbut, Maccabi, “Hanoar” also published periodicals and special brochures. In 1925 the Cooperative Union started publishing a bi–weekly entitled “Das Cooperative Vort” (The Cooperative Word) that became an important tool in the dissemination of information and publicity for the Jewish cooperatives in Romania. At the beginning it had a circulation of 800 copies, but during the economic crisis in Bessarabia the circulation dropped by 50 percent.

Z. Rosenthal published two monthly journals for youth education: in 1925 he published in Yiddish “Foren Yiddishen Kind” (For the Jewish Child) that appeared for a period of 12 years and was distributed to the elementary schools, and in 1927 he published in Hebrew the journal “Eshkolot” (Compilations), published by Tarbut.

In 1924, N. Huberman tried to publish a non–affiliated weekly

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The editorial board of the journal “Unzer Tzeit” (Our Time)

Standing from right to left: I. Weinshtein (Idel Melamed), M. Bubis
Seating: M. Landau, M. Weisman, I. Lerner, Z. Rosenthal, Shlomo Hilleles

 

“Der Punkt” (The Point) that was short lived. There were also some weeklies published by the various parties dealing with internal party issues: in 1927 the Revisionist Party published “Oif der Vach” (At the Guard). The same year Agudat Israel Party published “Di Voch” (The Week) and after that “Der Shtub Jurnal” (The House Journal), edited by Rabbi B. Appleboim. The “Kultur–Lige” (Culture League) writers also tried to publish a monthly journal in 1930 – “Der Shtram” (The Current) dedicated to literature and journalism; only a few issues were published. The decrees of 1938 stopped all publications and the readers were left without their spiritual sources. After a period of silence, the Zionist leaders tried new ways of communication with the masses. Since the decrees were only directed at newspapers and journals, they started publishing books. In September 1938 the union “Binian veAretz” (Building and Land) which was the new name of the united party, started publishing every month pamphlets entitled “Tzeit–Fragen” (Questions of the Time), “Tzeit–Problemen” (Issues of the Time), “Actualen Problemen” (Current Issues). The new titles were: “Tzeit” (Time), “Fragen” (Questions). This group was not deterred by the fact that their activities were punishable by arrests, if the police ever found them. [Pages 184-185]

 

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Mastheads of the Jewish newspapers and magazines. Collection of M. Davidzon

Left side: from right to left:
Dos Basaraben Leben, Der Punk, Keren Kayemet le'Israel, Oif der Voch, Evreyskoe Slovo,
Di Voch, Ha–Noar, Eshkolot, Evreyskaya Khronika, Folk und land, Shavuah He–Halutz, Tarbut.

Right side: form right to left:
Undzer Tzeit, Cooperative Vort, Yiddish Kind, Undzer Veg, Arbet, Yidd, Min Ha–Tzad,
Ha–Iveri (monthly), Zionistishe Problemen, Bulletin – Zionistishe Organizatzie in Bessarabia, Undzer Veg.

 

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The events of 1939 which started the destruction of the Jewry of Poland influenced the Jews of Bessarabia to undertake the role to inform and explain the events to all Jews of Romania and consequently they published the monthly “Tzeit Fragen” (Questions of the Time) for this purpose.

In 1939 Tarbut tried to publish its own journal entitled Min Ha–Tzad (From the Sidelines) edited by K. Bertini, D. Vinitski and L. Rosenthal. Only one issue was published, the second one was stopped at the printer when the Romanians invaded Bessarabia. Other publications such as the bulletin of the Zionist Union ceased in 1939.

 

The Jewish Theatre

The attraction of the Jews of Kishinev to the theatre started as early as 1870 when the theatre began to develop. There were pre theatre development in Kishinev and other communities such as: amateur actors, singers, comedians, Purim actors who performed in the Hassidic style of the time. The elders of Kishinev told wonderful stories about the entertainer Yosil Mastel, the clown who appeared at all important community functions and celebrations in the 1880s. He knew how to appropriately entertain at each happening and make use of the current events in his performances. And there were many others like him.

A few amateur actors groups started to organize at the end of 1870s and appear especially before workers and craftsmen in restaurant basements in far away neighbourhoods. At the beginning these amateurs were ridiculed and mocked. The actors were modest and had difficult bohemian living conditions and attracted only a lower class audience.

In 1877–1878, the news about the success of Abraham Goldfaden in Jassy (Iaşi) at the “Pomul Verde” theater reached Kishinev. It encouraged more theatrical initiatives and attracted many actors from abroad.

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Although A. Goldfaden's plays were among the first to be presented, the first to bring a professional theater to Kishinev was Aba Scheigald. In 1881, M. Geler organized a group of young men and women to play on the Jewish stage. M. Geler wrote and directed a play entitled “Metchke der Shadchen” with Leib Badalski in the role of Metchke the Matchmaker and David Kessler in the role ha–Hovev (the lover). The play had great success and a glowing review in the newspaper “Basarabski Vedomosti” (The Bessarabia Post). Following this favourite publicity, Geler became famous and was invited to tour in Dubasari, where they performed for a number of weeks. In the same time Abraham Goldfaden's brother, Naftali, toured in Southern Russia. When they arrived in Kishinev they invited David Kessler, L. Badalski, the singer M. Haimovich (Heine) and Berl Grudberg to join them. They performed the plays “Kishefmakherin” (The Witch), “Breidele Kazak” (Breidele, the Cossack), Di Rekruten (The Recruits), “Di Beide Kuni Lemel” (The Two Kuni Lemels) and other plays. The acting was not very professional and did not attract a lot of spectators. In his memoires, the actor Ytzkhak Libresco (1930–1950) recounts about the troupe that played at the Grossman Theatre (Michaelovsly Street, corner with Nicolaevsky). Next to the theatre there was a hotel for the actors. The actors did not bother to learn the roles because they spent all the time playing cards. The public reacted immediately and that served as a serious warning to other theatre groups who came to Kishinev from Odessa and Jassy to behave professionally.

The Jewish theatre had difficulties from its beginnings. On September 14, 1883 the Tsarist authorities banned performances in the Yiddish language. This influenced the theatres all over Russia and in Kishinev. This decree caused many actors to flee to Romania, Austria or even to London and from there to the United States, which at the time was a shelter for the Yiddish theatre. One of the most successful actors who fled Kishinev was David Kessler (1860–1920).

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David Kessler was born into a very religious family and his father was ashamed of his son's choice of profession. Once when he returned from Dubasari, his father did not let him in the house. Only at the pleas of his mother called “Sarah di Longe” (Tall Sarah), he was spared sleeping outside that night. His talent was known among many theatre groups around Bessarabia and he was invited to join many of them. He was a Goldfaden style actor with a fiery personality which sometimes got him in trouble. When the authorities prohibited the Jewish theatre, he went to Romania in 1883[8] together with Sigmund (Zelig) Mogulesko and Sh. Finkel. More than three years he suffered and wandered from town to town until finally the troupe of Mogulesko came to America in 1886. Here, his talent started to be appreciated and he was recognized as a star of the Yiddish stage.

The great actor, Boris Thomashefsky wrote in his memoires about the first appearance of D. Kessler at the “Romanian Opera House” in New York: “I have never dreamt of seeing on the Jewish stage a more talented actor than D. Kessler. I stayed a few more days in New York and saw Kessler in many roles and after each performance I was impressed by his acting.” Kessler, the young man from Kishinev conquered the stage and became the darling of the public. He played the role of everyday men such as: Shlomke Charlatan (Shlomke the Swindler), Yankel Shepshovich in “God of Vengeance” by Sholem Asch, Yankel Boile in the play by Leon Kobrin, Yankel Shamir (“Yankel the Smith”) by David Pinski, Hershele Dubrovner in the play “Got, Mentsh und der Taivl” (God, Man and Devil) by Yacov Gordin and many more roles. He could not stand performers who did not give hundred percent to the role and that caused much friction in the troupe,

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but in the same time he appreciated great talent. When he saw the great Sarah Bernhardt on the stage, he was so impressed by her talent that he refused to appear on stage because he felt inferior to her. He was also sensitive to the public reception of his roles and the lack of their connection with the play. He said: “how can I play when the audience in the theatre has tin faces?” Despite his “quirkiness” he was loved and excused by the public. He demanded only good plays and he managed to assemble a repertoire of the best and most serious plays of the time. The last years of his life were marred by personal sorrow and the fact that he was forced to appear in mediocre plays. These problems shorten his life. During the rehearsal of a play in May 13, 1920, he collapsed on stage, but insisted to perform that evening. In the middle of the performance he collapsed again and he died the next morning. Tens of thousands attended his funeral. In his eulogy, Sholem Asch said: “How can we recompense D. Kessler? We are a people who do not forget our artists and when in Eretz Israel we will build a theatre and the names of all the great wandering Jewish actors around the world will be carved on its walls, we will not forget to carve David Kessler's name there.”[9]

One of the actors who kept in touch with Kessler was Leon Belnek, a native of Kishinev (born in 1867). He published the memoires of Kessler, Mogulesko and Horovitz. Belnek was also born into a religious family and his parents also opposed his attraction to the theatre. He performed in Romania with various troupes and when Mogulesko came from America to find talent for his theatre he joined him and went to America. At the beginning he struggled, but when one of Mogulesko's actors got sick he was asked to replace him. When Kessler got sick and L. Belnek was asked to perform, the audience did not like it and he was showered with rotten potatoes. The same happened when he was asked to replace the famous Thomashefsky in the role of “Prince Alexander”. Despite all this “warm receptions” he did not give up and became after a while one of the great actors on the Yiddish stage. He interpreted the role of Hershele Dubrovner in the play “God, Man and Devil” by Yacov (Jacob) Gordin,

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Malkhiel Gerber in “The Wild”, Boris Stavropolsky in “Safa” Shmuel Ashkenazi in “The Unknown” and other plays by Kobrin and Livin.

The Yiddish theatre ceased in Russia and in Kishinev after the Yiddish Theatre ban of 1883. They were some isolated attempts to stage some plays, but they were not suited to the needs of the Jewish audience. More than 15 years the Yiddish theatre was silent. Only at the end of the 1890s when the tsarist authorities lifted the ban, the managers of the theatre troupes approached the police in order to get permission to perform. The actor Benzion Palefade recounts in his memoirs how difficult it was for the troupes to get permissions to perform. They were allowed to play in German, but not in Yiddish and the police were checking the theatres to see if they complied. The actors had a lot of difficulties to play in German, a sort of “distorted Yiddish”. The policeman (pristav) was not satisfied with attending the plays he also wanted to see all the written play books to make sure they were written in German. Palefade recounts that the troupe was saved by the singer Raysa Medvedievna who had her song book written with Latin characters because she did not know Yiddish. And that satisfied the policeman.

The Savsey troupe performed at a theatre named Berlin, a very small venue, but the Jews of Kishinev came to see “Mishke–Mashke” and “King Lear” and support the actors who really struggle to play in German. After a few months of touring the towns of Bessarabia, the Savsey Company returned to Kishinev and played “Kishefmakherin” (The Witch) at the Blagadarnie Sobranie a much larger venue. The governor and his entourage attended the performance and that gave a lot of publicity to the play. The actors made an effort with their “Germanish” (a language that could pass for German in order to satisfy the authorities, yet still be understood by Jewish audiences) and the performance peacefully ended.

Kishinev was an important stop to all theatre groups from Odessa and other centres. The company of A. Fishzon from Odessa came to Kishinev and

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together with Spivakovski they attempted to keep the Yiddish theatre alive in Russia.

At the end of 1890s the ban was lifted[10] and they were allowed to perform in Yiddish. The repertoire was brought from America via Romania and Galicia. Most of the repertoire was light weight operetta, but after 1904 they started to stage more serious plays.

The development of the Yiddish theatre in Russia was felt also in Kishinev during 1900–1910. The renewal of the persecutions of the Yiddish theatre in 1910 put a stop to performances in Yiddish and the actors returned to play in German. During the WWI all Yiddish theatre ceased in Russia and only in 1918 there were attempts of revival. At that time Kishinev was geographically isolated from the Russian Jewry. The changes in the cultural life, in the society and education did not allow the creation of an important Jewish theatrical centre. After 1920 most of the performances were done by touring companies from outside Romania.

A few troupes attempted to stage important theatrical works on the Yiddish stage. In 1920 the actor Benyamin Sadigorsky organized a troupe that played in Kishinev, Beltzi and Jassy and at the end joined the Itzik Goldenberg Company in Bucharest. In the same period Misha Fishzon played at his “Muster Teater” (The Model Theatre) and tried to present a serious repertoire due to the talent and artistry of his company. One of the members of this company was Shmuel Eiris (born in Kishinev in 1889). He also stared at the Russian Maly Theatre. In 1919 together with Yehoshuah Bertonov (now at Habimah in Tel Aviv) he established a Yiddish Arts Theatre in Odessa. Moshe Lipman, Misha Fishzon, Vera Zaslowsly and others played at this theatre.

Zalman Zilbertzweig mentions in his book a number of famous actors from Kishinev among them Clara Henigman (1890). Clara went to Odessa at an early age, finished high school and in 1908 went to Philadelphia, in the United States. After a while

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she started performing in the choir of the Colombia Theatre managed at the time by Mark Thomashefsky. She played in main roles together with the greatest Jewish actors in America. She also played at the Second Avenue Theatre.

Another Kishinev native was Paulina Weiss, born in 1884. She performed in the choir in Cleveland and then at the Vaudeville Theatre in New York. She retired after a short career.

Regina Simovich (1881) went to Romania together with her mother. She was invited by Mordechai Segalescu to perform with his company in Bucharest. She also performed with other companies in Romania.

Everybody in Bessarabia was familiar with “Leibele Zinger” because of his beautiful voice. He performed all over Bessarabia. He was born Leib Eizerman in 1875 into a religious family. He studied at the Old Yeshiva in Kishinev. After he finished his studies at the Yeshiva, he went to Odessa where he met the musician Leib Naz and together they appeared in restaurant basements, at weddings. When he returned to Kishinev he joined the wandering troupe of Tzipcus and performed the roles of Hatzmah in “Caldonia” and Avshalom in Goldfaden's “Shulamit.” He wandered around in Austria and Romania and at the end he came back to Kishinev where he became known as a folk singer.

Pinkhas Izvescu was born in 1879. He went to Heder and then to public school and starting in 1914 he managed amateur theatre groups. In 1918 he invited the famous actress Esther Rachel Kaminsky (Ester Rokhl Kaminska) to come to Kishinev. Her performance impressed the entire city. Izvescu managed various Yiddish theatre groups in Romania. Yefim Zlatagorov also performed with theatre groups in Romania.

Another famous actor was Oscar Ostroff (1904). In 1918, he was hired by Khaim Segalescu to work as a stand in for Misha Fishzon and in 1923 he went to America. He wrote the play “Ven du Gloibst” (When you believe).

Daskal Shmuel (1886) was a playwright who worked mainly for the Yiddish theatre in the United States. He was an apprentice with many craftsmen and at an early age he joined the revolutionary movement. He was wounded in the first Pogrom of 1903. After that he became a revolutionary activist in Odessa, in Nikolaev and other places. He contributed to the journal Bassarabskaya Ziszni (Bessarabia Life) in Kishinev. In 1931 he went to America.

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The tour of the Vilna Theatre (Vilner Trupe) in Kishinev was a great event. From 1923 to 1926 the Vilna Theatre educated the Kishinev audience to appreciate good theatre and to value the role of the theatre in the cultural life of the community. This company built the road to serious theatre as each of their performances was an intellectual feast. When other Jewish actors came to Kishinev during 1925–1932 they found an educated audience who knew how to appreciate good theatre. Most famous actors came to Kishinev.

Paul Bertonov appeared in “Heinkomen” (Home bound), “Get fun Nekume” (Divorce from Revenge), “Mashke Hazir” (Mashke, the Pig), “Shmates” (Rags) and astounded the Jewish audience. Other big stars such as: Ludwig Zatz, Lidia Potatzkaya, Celia (Tsili) Adler, Sigmund Turkov, Ida Kaminska, Molly Picon, Neli Kastman, Vera Kanevskaya added pleasure to the experience of the Kishinev theatre goers.

It's worth mentioning the theatre work of the writer Jacob Sternberg (Yacov Shternberg) in Bucharest in establishing the Yiddish Theatre Studio (“BITS”). He produced works by I.L. Peretz “Beinacht oif alten Mark” (At Night in the old Market) and Shalom Aleichem's “Dos Farkishefte Shneiderel” (The Charmed Tailor) which were successful in Kishinev.

The masses did not understand the new cubist and formalism staging in the Yiddish theatre and stayed away from these productions forcing Sternberg to return to a more realistic style. The productions of “Rojinkes und Mandles” (Raisins and Almonds) and “S'katzel kumt” (The Cat is coming) were stage more realistically.

When Sidi Tahel founded his troupe, Sternberg continued to produce plays such as: “Der Geler Sutn” (The Yellow Devil), “Corpus Delicti,” (The Body of Crime), “Der Oytzer” (The Treasure), and at the Revue “Ha–Tiatron b'Lechavot” (The Burning Theatre). These productions stopped as the war approached.

 

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The Cantors in Kishinev

The Jewish Kishinev full of nationalism and Hassidism was one of the important centres for Jewish liturgical music in Central Europe. In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century it was an important educational centre for cantors who then went to other communities all over Russia. Liturgical music (hazanut) was an indivisible part of the community life. Great cantors worshiped and performed at the Great Synagogue (built in 1816), at the Chor Shul (Choral Synagogue), the Zovkhei Hesed Synagogue, the Tailors' Synagogue and others.

Kishinev, like Odessa, Berdychiv, Vilna and others centres was considered a centre for the religious music that followed the ancient traditional melodies unlike the music of Western European cities. Kishinev was famous for preserving the “oriental” style against the “western” style and that made her important in the world of liturgical music (hazanut). Kishinev was considered a sort of Conservatory for sacred music. The choirs of cantors in Kishinev attracted many cantors who wanted to learn this style of hazanut.

In 1850s the famous cantor Yerukham (Blindman) Hakatan (1798–1891) marveled with his singing the congregation of the Great Synagogue in Kishinev. In 1861 (5621), Yerukham went to Berdychiv and became more famous after the congregation signed him as cantor for life. He died at age 93 and was considered a sensation in the field.

Another famous cantor was Nissan Spivak, also known as Nissan Beltzer or Nissan from Kishinev, depending on the towns he sang. The writings of that time mention that although his voice was not very strong, he could bring tears in the congregants' eyes with his heartfelt interpretations. He conducted a choir of young talented people who aspired to become cantors. He was very strict in selecting the choir members. One of the choir singers was

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the famous cantor Pinechas (Pini) Minkowsky (1859–1924). He was one of the best singers of Nissan Beltzer and he became the cantor of the Great Synagogue of Kishinev after Nissan went to Berdychiv.

Minkowsky wrote in his memoires: “After eight weeks of hazanut at the synagogue in Belaya Tserkov, Ukraine, I disappeared from there; I went to Kishinev, where Cantor Nissan was located. He was very famous, but very modest. His beard was pointed and had just a few dry hairs. His voice resembled the noise of a “comb brushed over teeth” and his throat was totally dry, but he was all a ball of fine. He had a very sharp ear and could hear every sound from each singer.”

Pini joined Nissan Beltzer's choir and in no time he learned all the tunes and became one of the best singers. Nissan could not stand when his singers became too successful and liked to reprimand and insult them. Pini did not get spared. One Shabath when Nissan was away from Kishinev, Pini was invited to sing at the Prokupetz–Shul. His singing was loved by the congregation and he became the talk of the town. When Nissan returned and was told about Pini's success, he became full of anger and made fun of him at each rehearsal calling him “black cripple”, etc. When Nissan went to Berdychiv to replace Yerukham (Blindman) Hakatan, the people of Kishinev remembered Pini's singing at the Prokupetz–Shul and invited him to be the cantor of the Great Synagogue.

Pini was very close to a group of Hassidim from Talnoe, one of the biggest Hassidim groups in Kishinev. He was often invited to sing at the court of the tzadik, Rabbi David from Talnoe. The Talnoe Hassidim were very proud of Pini, but the relationship came to a bitter end when Pini was appointed cantor at the Chor Shul (Choral Synagogue) which was founded by the Maskilim.

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When Dr. Levinthal an important member of the community and a Maskil activist passed away, the community wanted to have a funeral in the style of Odessa with Pini and the choir leading the procession through the city streets. The city Hassidim became enraged hearing the news and even threatened Pini. Pini did not give up but he was boycotted in the city by many groups except for the Maskilim. When it became difficult for him in Kishinev, he moved to Kherson and then to Odessa. He composed a lot of liturgical music and taught history of Jewish music at the Conservatory. He contributed many articles on music in the press. (see also: Kishinev Yizkor Book, pages 52–53).

In 1884 the Great Synagogue invited the famous cantor, Rabbi Zeidel Ravner (Yacov Shmuel Maragovski), to be their cantor. Zeidel was a student of the renowned Cantor, Moshe Shpilanski and got his training at the “Makarover Kloiz” in Kiev. The famous violinist, Aharon Fardhartzer paid special attention to Zeidel, taught him to read music and Zeidel excelled in his singing. He came to Kishinev (1884–1896) after he sang in Zaslaw and Rovno. He instructed a generation of cantors and many sang in his choir. He composed many songs and wrote about liturgical music. He went to Berdychiv in 1896.

A well known cantor in the communities of Eastern Europe was Efraim Zalman Razumny. He also sang at the Zovkhei Hesed (Tzedek) synagogue (Heker Shul) a number of years. His music impressed the congregants who flocked in great numbers to the synagogue until it was impossible to keep the order at the entrance. People forced the doors of the synagogue in order to get in and the ones who could not get in through the doors, broke the windows so they could hear him sing.

Abraham Bercovich, also known as Abraham Kalkhanik sang many years in various Kishinev synagogues. He started at the Great Synagogue; after that he was the cantor of the Tailors' Synagogue and then he went to the Yavneh Synagogue. He was a successful singer and sang with Nissan Beltzer and Yerucham Hakatan. He learned music and Jewish liturgy and was a fine singer. He founded a choir that became famous in the entire country. He published

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his compositions for Shabat and holidays in a book entitled “Tzluta Dabraham” which was used by many cantors to study liturgical music. He died in Kishinev in 1927.

The famous cantor David Moshe Shteinberg, a Kishinev native, sang at many synagogues in Russia. In 1918, during the Russian Revolution, he left Russia and came to Kishinev and from there he went to the United States. I. Vinitzky wrote: “Shteinberg was renowned for his improvisation and recitative style in the Hassidic and folk traditions he inherited from his father, Rabbi Abraham, z”l, a beloved cantor in Kishinev and from other great cantors like Zeidel Ravner and Efraim Zalman Razumny, the last of the great improvisers. Shteinberg had a tenor voice able to produce high notes, coloratura and falsetto and to produce sounds that moved the audience to tears.”

There were more cantors who prayed in front of the Kishinev synagogue arks such as: Yehuda Leib Kolomnik, Kalman Zaslask (at the Tailors' Synagogue), Aikt, Rabinovich (at Zovkhei Hesed) and Leib Glantz.

Leib Glantz came with the refugees from the Ukraine and stayed in Kishinev for 8 years. He was a great cantor with impressive interpretations that pleased the audience. He was an activist with He–Halutz, Tarbut and Tzeirei Zion. The combination of cantor and Zionist activist was unique and added to his immense charm. He accompanied many groups of halutzim (pioneers) who were making their way from Kishinev to Eretz Israel and sometimes he contributed to their travel expenses. He used to say: “Do not worry, in the morning we will continue.” The people of the Bessarabia towns where he passed with the halutzim would flock to hear him pray the evening prayers, Minkha and Maariv, or give a concert. He gave all the proceeds to cover the travel expenses of the halutzim until they arrived at the port.

Shalom Katz, who is now in Washington, sang in Kishinev before the Holocaust.

The last great cantor at the Chor Shul was Haim Tzifris. In 1941, he perished together with thousands of congregants on the way to Transnistria.

Kishinev had an important place in the history of Hazanut in Eastern Europe. During the flourishing Hassidic period, Hazanut contributed to determine the Hassidic spirit of the Jewish people.

 

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Painting and sculpture artists

The Jewish artists of Kishinev made important contributions in the plastic arts beyond the borders of Bessarabia and their names were famous in most world capitals. The Patlagean (Patlajan) family from Kishinev became famous all over the world. The three Patlagean brothers Alexander, Numa (Naum) and Gabriel became famous as sculptors and painters.

Alexander was a caricaturist humorist and painted many portraits of contemporary personalities. At 17 he participated at a competition in Paris and received great revues. After that he became appreciated by the art lovers and many newspapers in France printed his work.

Numa, the sculptor, was born on January 6, 1889. From a young age he started painting.

 

kis198.jpg
Shalom Aleichem
Sculpture (Bust) by Numa Patlagean

 

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kis199.jpg
Blind people from Morocco
Sculpture by Numa Patlagean

 

In 1905 the two brothers Alexander and Numa were forced to stop their studies and return home to Kishinev. Numa was shaken by the Pogrom; his father was wounded during the riots. His rage was translated into a sculpture showing a murderer holding the head of a Jewish victim in his hands. This sculpture was copied numerous times, distributed all over the world making the young artist famous. Baron Ginzburg helped Numa continue his studies in Geneva. From Geneva he went to study in Paris, first with private teachers and then with the national arts school. From 1908 he exhibited his work at various exhibits and shows. In 1911 he met with Shalom Aleichem in Switzerland and made the famous sculpture of him. Numa studied the science of forms (morphology) and became a lecturer at the Sorbonne and other

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universities in France and the United States. The French government appreciated his contributions to morphology and arts and in 1934 sent him to the French colonies in North Africa to study sculpture and native art. He stayed in Africa a few months and in some locations he was the only white European man.

His studies have not been published yet. His sculptures are appreciated all over the world and his exhibits were well attended by critics and public. In his sculptures in stone, bronze and marble, Numa depicted everyday people and situations, the fight for social justice, the revolt against oppression, the suffering of the oppressed. Numa Patlagean lived and worked on his estate in the South of France.

The third brother, Gabriel (changed his name to Spat) studied at the public school of art in Kishinev and after two years he went to Austria to complete his studies. During the WWI he was on the front in Iran. Even during the war he did not neglect his painting. He painted the landscape, the life and the legends of Iran. After the war he went to Paris where he continued to study sculpture and painting. He sculpted the statue of the socialist revolutionary Matteotti, who was murdered by the fascists of Mussolini. This work brought him fame in France and the United States. His works were exhibited at numerous galleries and exhibits. The Paris newspapers of 1943–1944 published a series of his works and the New York Times also published his series entitled “The Germans in Paris.” where he presented the attitude of the French towards Hitler's soldiers in Paris. His personal revulsion towards the Germans can be sensed in these paintings. Now, Gabriel Spat is preparing an album containing 40 lithographs on the topic “The Jewish genius in modern times.”

Gabriel Spat produced a series of watercolours depicting the Paris landscape and life, showing the romanticism of the life in this ancient city. In 1937 he exhibited at the Carroll Carstairs Gallery in New York a number of these watercolours. The exhibit had a resounding success.

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kis201.jpg
Gabriel Spat and the bust of Matteotti

 

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kis202.jpg
Paris landscape by Gabriel Spat

 

He was named the painter poet of beautiful Paris. In the illustration we publish here we can see a wonderful corner of the French capital. By painting the happy life in the city, her landscape and the romantic life, he paid back Paris for hosting him so many years.

 


Footnotes

  1. Despite its importance, this book was not distributed widely. Rabbi M. Gutman (from Leova) tells that this book was not distributed in Kishinev and Bessarabia because of the internal strife between the author and the Central Rabbinate. Return
  2. Mr. H. D. Friedman from Cracow, now in Tel Aviv, the author of the famous bibliographical book “Beit Eked Sefarim” (The Library), met with Rabbi Hirsh from Fadayitsa (?) in 5650 (1890). Rabbi Hirsh presented him with a letter of recommendation from the Kishinev printing house outlining his excellent work. Return
  3. The history of the Hebrew printing houses in Bessarabia can be found in an article written by M. Davidson in “Hed ha–Defus” (The Printing Echo), Tel Aviv, issue 3–4, page 24–25. Davidson also wrote an article about Journalism in Bessarabia in the publication “Bessarabia,” Tel Aviv, 5701 (1941) Return
  4. This collection and many others were not saved and therefore it is very difficult to ascertain their spiritual value. Return
  5. Corner to Corner Correspondence” by V. Ivanov and M. Gershenzon. Translated by I. Zemura, Tel Aviv. 5703 (1943) Return
  6. Dr. Tzvi Vislavski, “Eruvei Reshuiot” (Divers Authorities), Tel Aviv, Yavneh, 1944, pages 150–178. Return
  7. The first Jewish journal that appeared in Benderi, and not in Kishinev, was Ha–Yona (the Dove). Ha–Yona was edited by Rabbi I. Wertheimer and Rabbi I. L. Maimon (Fishman) and had a religious content. Only a few issues were published. Return
  8. See details in M. Oshrovitz's book about D. Kessler, New York, 1930, page 46–70 Return
  9. M. Orshovitz: David Kessler und Moni Weisenfroind, page 124–139. Return
  10. B. Garin: Di Geshichte fun Yiddishen Teater (The History of the Yiddish Theatre), vol. 2, page 190–197 Return

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