(From the encyclopaedia)
Fortress and County Seat
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Bendery was a fortress and county seat in Bessarabia on the banks of the Dniester. It was annexed by the Russians in 1812 and it became an administrative county seat. The town was still then surrounded by walls.
In 1770 the synagogue was built. When the town was moved to a new location, a kilometre away from the fortress, it was only possible to attend services on Yom Kippur. In the forties of the last century, the first local rabbi, the Righteous Rabbi Leib Wertheim, authorized the destruction of the synagogue. He was a grandson of Rabbi Shimshon Wertheim from Vienna. The building had been in poor shape and the bricks were used to build charitable edifices.
The elders told several anecdotes about the building. There were no gravestones found in the ancient cemetery. (The oldest gravestone seems to have been erected in 1781). Many Jews used to prostrate themselves at the grave of the Righteous Rabbi Wertheim in the old cemetery. They had erected a special tent so candles could be lit there. Visitors would drop notes into a special container. The notes would list their problems and difficulties due to poverty and they begged the Righteous Rabbi to plead on their behalf. In 1810 Rabbi Wertheim founded the Hevra Kaddisha (Burial Society). as noted in their records.
According to the 1847 census there were 553 families in Bendery. In 1861 there were 2349 Jewish men and 2263 Jewish women. In 1897 the population reached 31797 of which 10654 were Jews.
In 1909 there were 11 Jewish Houses of Worship. (In 1861 there had only been 5 synagogues). They were the Sadigura, Talne, Ozrei Misshar (merchants), the Carpenters' and others.
The hospital was built in 1884. In 1904 Help for the Poor was established. There were also Savings and Loans Funds and two Talmud Torahs. The private one had four classrooms and one hundred and fifty students. The public one had a Trades class and one hundred students. There were twenty Heders and two private schools- one for boys and another for girls.
The meat tax brought in 9-9500 roubles. Most Jews were merchants or tailors.
In 1847 there were also other Jewish communities in the surrounding area.
(The weapons needed for self-defence of the Jews of Bendery were concentrated here)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Bendery as mirrored in Hamelitz, 1882-1898
This is a selection of articles from Hamelitz (Hebrew language journal). The articles were written by correspondents from Bendery: Israel Bendersky, Yitzhak Miller, Ben Arye, Righteous of his Generation, Shemer, Mordehai Atchkover, and the most outstanding among them- Baruch Holodenko.
This rare material reflects upon life in this provincial town as it enfolded about one hundred years ago. It was a life full of good deeds and kindness as well as disagreements and unusual events.
The transcript is given as is in order to maintain the authenticity of the material and to preserve, as much as possible, the public atmosphere of those times.
Revenge using poison (1882)
Assuming guardianship (1882)
A good deed (1883)
Launching the construction of the new hospital (1883)
Pursuit and oppression of the teachers in Bendery (1883)
Dedication of the new and enlarged hospital (1889)
A home for the Talmud Torah and Help for the Poor (1890)
Permission to study Gmara as instructed from above (1897)
Caring for Jewish soldiers (1898)
Revenge using poison
Bendery. One of the butchers, P.B., owed 100 roubles to the tax collector, L.A. The tax collector threatened that if P.B. did not pay up he would not be allowed to sell meat. The butcher was angry and he decided to take revenge. On the morning of May 9 he put poison in a samovar and brought it to L.A.'s house. When L.A., his wife, three children, his maid and a neighbour drank from it, they began to vomit and were unable to stand up. If not for Dr. Gorodensky (one of our own) who came to their aid, they would have all perished. The police and the detectives came to investigate and to find out who wished those seven people dead. L.A. told them that his neighbour is P.B. They searched the latter's house and found poison under the sink. When they asked his wife about it, she replied: Taste and you will know! The doctors knew that it was poison. The man and his wife were arrested and will be tried in court.
|Mordehai Atchkover||Hamelitz June 8, 1882|
On 15.10.1882 a sales agent of Mr. Firshtenberg, the owner of the flour mill, was travelling by train. He received a load of wheat from the village of Saidak. When he was a distance of three kilometres away from the Zholtin station, the wagon driver killed him.
It is rumoured that Mr. Firshtenberg has undertaken to support the family of the slain man until his sons reach adulthood.
A Good Deed
Shemer (our correspondent) praises Yehoshua Shivel, Kalman Fanish and others who are collecting donations. The funds were intended to assist the poor by lowering the price of flour. Some of the others are: the wealthy man ---,in spite of losing profit, as well as, Zvi Firshtenberg who sells grain at cost and mills it for free.
Launching the Construction of the New Hospital
The honourable wealthy man Yitzhak Nissenboim has donated to the building fund of the hospital by buying a large lot for 2450 roubles.
Pursuit and Oppression of the Teachers in Bendery
The provincial minister has demanded from the appointed Rabbi a list of all the teachers who run Heders not sanctioned by the authorities. He threatens to prosecute the perpetrators and to severely punish them.
Our Salvation depends on Education and Nationalism
Israel Bendersky, a medical student, published an article entitled Our Salvation Depends on Education and Nationalism. He begins thus: The true intellectuals of our generation are those who actively engage in the rejuvenation of our nation and our future. It is thanks to them that our people have begun to discuss the resettlement of the Land of Israel while they sit with their families around the dinner tables or when visiting their friends on the Holidays.
The assimilationists, on one hand, want to throw away everything we (not they) have achieved with blood and sweat. They are prepared to caress the feet of those who trample us and to kiss the hands that oppress us. On the other hand, the intellectuals of our generation worry about our people. They ask: How can we help the Jews? Some say that only when civilization embraces us will the Jews be safe and Isaac and Ivan, Jacob and Johann or Jean will dwell together.
In every generation our persecutors are prepared to annihilate us. It does not matter if the reasons are religious, national or economic. There are cases of respected doctors who cannot obtain positions even after they have cured famous Russian leaders. Professor Mandelstam- an ophthalmologist- was shunned by his colleagues because he was a Jew. This writer feels that knowledge and education will liberate us from difficulties. He ends by talking about an episode that happened on the fiftieth anniversary of the University of Kiev. Professor Benedict was elected as a Fellow at the university. The administration of the university was distraught when they discovered Benedict was a Jew.
|Hamelitz 81, page 1334||published 22.10.1884|
Yosef Immes writes from Bendery that on Monday, 30.7.1884, one of the citizens, an honest man, went to market to buy something. He stumbled and fell on one of the peasants. The peasant began shouting that the Jew wanted to steal his money. About two hundred peasants heard the shouting and attacked the poor Jew. They beat him severely and he is now close to death...
Signed: Righteous of his Generation
Hamelitz, Bendery. Avraham Rabinovitch writes in Hamelitz 5 of 18.1.85 about the rift between the Talne Rabbi and his followers and the local Rabbi who refuses to add a ritual slaughterer to the seven already employed. Those on the side of the ritual slaughterers informed on the Rabbi saying his house was built without a permit. The Rabbi was exonerated at the trial. Then they spread rumours that the Rabbi's house was a meeting place for criminals. A provincial representative investigated and the fighting and bad-mouthing increased.
Editorial comment: If this is true, then it would be necessary to mourn our brethren of this town. It could be considered a place for exiled idol worshippers like Sodom and Gomorra.
|Hamelitz 62, page 998||16.8.85|
Dedication of the New Hospital
(B. Holodenko wrote on 6.11.89 in great detail about the dedication of the extension of this new hospital. It seems that the following article was also written by him).
Bendery (Bessarabia) 6.8.85. Today the Jewish community celebrated the dedication of the new hospital built thanks to the efforts of Y. Nissenboim. The funds used were left by his late father-in-law Blank as well as donated by community leaders.
At noon all the guests were assembled fifty people including military personnel, doctors, pharmacists and other leaders. Everyone stood in a circle in the courtyard. The famous cantor Pinie Maherson (specially invited for this occasion) accompanied by a choir sang the El Melech Natzor. It commemorates the death of Moshe Montefiore. They also sang a Dedication Song and toasted the Kaiser and the Director of the hospital. Everyone cheered and sat around a beautifully set table. The Rabbi praised all those who worked on behalf of the building of the hospital and all were elated.
Following my report about the dedication of the hospital, I cannot lie. Unfortunately, the in-fighting in our community has not stopped. What one builds another destroys. Even when it came to the building of the hospital, some wanted an accounting on all the funds collected and the expenses incurred. Who knows if the building will survive these fights?
Hamelitz 68, page 1103, 9.9.85
Ben Gershom denies the accusation. He claims Nissenboim bought the house and the lot in 1883. He then collected 2000 roubles from the town and 1800 roubles from the meat tax. He used these funds to renovate the house. Dr. H. Gorodetzky (a doctor who did not receive a prize in his hospital) bought all the equipment. The community leaders were grateful to Nissenboim.
Hamelitz 104, 10.5.1887: B. Holodenko reacts to the article in Hamelitz 92 in which the Talmud Torah of Bendery was praised together with other schools in Odessa. We were amazed because we knew that it is not praise-worthy since it is a dark, damaged house. Its windows cannot be opened. Every year 3000 roubles are spent on it. It is not economical. This is the seventh year of its founding, but how can it set an example to larger cities?
I wished to tell the author that it is improper to lie or to repeat rumours and to deceive the readers.
Dedication of the New Extended Hebrew Hospital
Bendery, Bessarabia, October 1830.
Yesterday, our town celebrated the dedication of the new Hebrew Hospital with great pomp and ceremony.
In 1884, our brethren, headed by Yitzhak Nissenboim, realized a hospital was needed in our town. They began the work and the new hospital was opened on August 6, 1885. I reported about it, at the time, in Hamelitz. As time went on, the directors saw that the hospital was too small and could not accommodate all the patients. Six more beds were needed in addition to the twenty permanent ones. They sent a letter to the provincial authorities. The amount of 21.111.18, collected as the meat tax, was already in the coffers of the government. The directors wanted to use this money to build a second Hebrew hospital. The government agreed. Nissenboim donated the lot near the existing hospital for the second one. He worked hard to bring the project to fruition.
In a few months we will see a large, two-story building. I do not exaggerate when I say that this hospital will be equivalent to hospitals in bigger cities. In addition to its physical appearance it also will have wonderful facilities inside. Nothing is missing. Water from the Dniester is piped in to all parts of the building. Dirty water is removed.
This building, a tribute to its founder, Y. Nissenboim and the other directors, was dedicated on Sunday, October 29.
This is the agenda of the dedication:
10:00 am. The hospital was filled with people- Jews and gentiles alike. No one was absent from the spacious gathering place. The famous cantor, M. Shchanovsky, a native of our town, sang beautifully, accompanied by his choir. They chanted Psalm 118: 19-23 and a Psalm about dedicating a building. His wonderful voice pleased the crowd. This was followed by Dr. Bernstein's reading the history of the first hospital from its inception to this day. He then declared the official opening of the second hospital. Although the official name is Hospital for Hebrews, no one, Jew or Christian, will be refused medical attention.
The District representative read a telegram sent by the Provincial Minister. In it he expresses his congratulations and his thanks to the founders of the hospital. He apologizes for not being able to attend. Afterwards, the special guests congregated in one location and everyone else went to different rooms. There tables were set with food and drink.
Telegrams and letters from important government ministers from Odessa and other big cities were read. Everyone cheered and all were delighted. The founders were praised. One of the speakers was Dr. Bloomenfeld from Kishinev. Another was the Priest who said the gathering reminded him of what was found in Jerusalem- patients from many lands. He hoped peace would prevail among the healthy as well.
The mayor, V.A. Vlasenko added: Let us drink to the ancient nation who is constantly wandering, but is still able to serve as a model to us. I do not wish to say one word against these wonderful people and their good deeds. They are always the first when it comes to performing charitable work, while, to our shame, we are the last to do it. Sometimes we even do nothing. Imagine this, my friends: we received a permit to build a hospital so many years ago. We even had the funds. Our Hebrew brethren managed to build, at their own expense, not one, but two hospitals. We are still thinking about it. Don't think this is the only reason I admire these people. As mayor I know our citizens and I know I speak the truth. Let us take the bathhouse as an example. We remember that last summer the Hebrew bathhouse burned down. The smoke had barely disappeared and we heard construction sounds. These people are great and their deeds are wonderful.
If an honourable Christian could utter these words without fear in front of important politicians, what can we add? May we have more people like him!
The celebration continued till evening. People came and went and Nissenboim ordered his workers to serve more wine. Everyone was very happy.
Nissenboim donated 100 roubles to provide shoes for the barefoot Talmud Torah students and 25 roubles to the Municipal school. All this was done in honour of the great event of the day- October 17, 1888. Everyone was grateful.
Finally here is the list of income and expenses and the number of patients in our hospital:
1885 67 patients (53 Jews, 14 Christians); 62 cured, 5 died. Expenses 5405 roubles
1886 201 patients (151 Jews, 50 Christians); 174 cured, 27 died. Expenses 6861 roubles
1887 282 patients (210 Jews, 72 Christians); 258 cured, 24 died. Expenses 5822 roubles
1888 302 patients (218 Jews, 84 Christians); 272 cured, 30 died. Expenses 6408 roubles
1889 306 patients (217 Jews, 89 Christians); 272 cured, 34 died. Expenses 5500 roubles
Regular income: `meat tax`4000 roubles each year. Membership- 1300 roubles on the average Patients paid 9 roubles per month.
Income and expenses were almost equal.
|Hamelitz number 241||6.10.1889|
Building for the Talmud Torah and Help for the Poor
Reported by B. Holodenko 20.2
Changes in the administration of the Talmud Torah.: The elderly Zeev Rabinovitch donated a large spacious house on the outskirts of town to be used by the Talmud Torah. He will be only paid 200 roubles per year for the rest of his life. Upon his death, the sum will remain in the treasury of the school and will also be used for other needs. The price of the building has increased to 5000 roubles. It had been rented until now for 600 roubles annually.
Zeev Immes donated 200 roubles to the Talmud Torah and also added a trades workshop for the students for next year.
The cries of the miserable poor dying of hunger and cold have touched the hearts of our wealthy leaders. Last week they held a meeting where 500 roubles were collected. They are prepared to give more. The funds will be distributed among the poor. When spring arrives commerce will resume and the poor will find work.
(We are reminding our town leaders and our Rabbi to make proper arrangements for the distribution of Matzos and funds at Passover. Last year there were some problems).
Permission to study Gmara as Instructed from Above
Yitzhak Miller reports:
A government supervisor, in charge of the schools and the Heders, forbade the teaching of Gmara since it had not been included in the original permit. After some tumult and confusion, Rabbi Shimon Shlomo Wertheim, the school director, appealed to Rabbi Zvi Rabinovitch of Kovno. The latter sent Rabbi Sh. Sh. Wertheim the circular in the original Russian. It was shown to the government supervisor. He thanked Rabbi Sh. Sh. Wertheim for his input and he then apologized.
|Hamelitz 22, page 3||27.1.1897|
Worrying About Jewish Soldiers
Ben Arye reports that the town leader Mihel Immes looked after the Jewish soldiers stationed in our town (Kosher meat).
Bendery (Bessarabia). We give many thanks to our leader Mihel Immes. Out of the goodness of his heart he took care of the Jewish soldiers. He canvassed and received donations from everyone. The money will be used for Shabbat and Holiday meals. This year, at Passover, he worked diligently to find homes for the soldiers where they could eat and drink.
May he be rewarded by the Almighty and may the soldiers and the poor souls he helped be blessed.
|Hamelitz, number 110||29.5.1898|
Translated by Ala Gamulka
A. They love the Rebbetzin...
Bendery (Bessarabia) August 10, 1887.
A new event a woman fools the people!
Our readers were previously disgusted upon reading about the deception of our foolish brethren. They follow holy and righteous people who, in turn, use them. The more they are misused, the more they follow. We have also shown that our writers have attempted to point the correct road, but to no avail. Still, I find it necessary to inform the readers about the new affliction.
For some years, the daughter of the Talne Rabbi has been visiting Bessarabia. She is accompanied by a group of assistants and handlers who dance to her tune. She first went to Kishinev where she amassed 1500 roubles. She then came to our town where she stayed at the home of the wealthy widow M.B. for eight days. These were busy days for those of our locals who hate work and love the Rebbetzin. They spent their time eating, drinking and celebrating. They also held Shabbat services. Many people attended her as one would a righteous person. She dispensed food and drink. While she was here she travelled in a fancy carriage when visiting the homes of the rich. They gave her donations in order to obtain her blessings. Many followed her from house to house, singing and dancing. As she left she was accompanied to the train station by twelve carriages and many people on foot.
When I first saw this performance I consoled myself by saying that it was a unique event. I was astounded to discover I had been wrong. The Rebbetzin returned several times. It became a must for her to visit us.
In those days we had another visitor. It was the daughter-in-law of the same Rabbi, the mother of the Tzadik of Talne. She followed the same path as the first visitor. She collected 200 roubles here.
As the prophets said, our townspeople fell under the spell of these women. Shame on you, my brethren. You jump to give your money to these women without thinking. Know that I am aware of these events and I have fulfilled my duty by writing about them.
B. Magicians and Soothsayers
Yesterday, when our people came to visit the cemetery, as they usually do, they discovered the following:
A gravestone was toppled and broken. Among the broken stones a human hand was found. Everyone ran back to town to inform the Burial Society and the police. When they checked the burial plot it seemed that it had not been disturbed at all. When they dug out the body they found one hand missing and the other one tucked underneath. There was no doubt that a human being was involved in this event since no animal would have moved the heavy stones or would have come back to refill the grave.
Why would anyone perform this vile deed? No one knows. Some people think that thieves were involved. However, why did they take away some fingers and not the whole hand? Others believe that the bones were taken by magicians or soothsayers. Why was the hand outside while the grave had been refilled? Many people decided that it was a sign from G-d to point out a sin committed in town as discussed in the Talmud. Since I am not involved in the investigation and I am not interested in mysteries, I will not decide on any of the choices. Let us leave it for now and I will inform the readers as soon as a decision is made.
Translated by Ala Gamulka
(Dr. T. Herzl, - Yitzhak Yaakov Raines Shimon Shlomo Wertheim)
Lydda, 17 Kislev 1903
Yitzhak Yaakov Raines
Mizrahi Office #2252
Our greetings to our famous, honoured, hard-working and devoted Rabbi Shimon Shlomo Wertheim and to all his followers,
His letter reached me and I was delighted to read his wise words. I am pleased he is reacting positively to our ideas. Not only is he happy about them, but he is truly working on behalf of those living in our Land. I am hopeful his effort will not be in vain and our thoughts will be blessed. Let us hope G-d will strengthen him and help him in all his deeds. May he be blessed for his holy work.
I wish to be informed about the results of his trip to Paris. He went there to intervene on behalf of fifty families wanting to settle in Eretz Israel. Was he successful? Did the Baron* listen to his suggestions? Does he hope to execute his plan? I really want to know the results.
I hope that when you return to your town you will work on establishing an organization of Orthodox Zionists and that you will continue to disseminate Zionism in the Province. I am waiting for your reply regarding the methods to use and the routes to follow in order to plant the seeds of Zionism in the hearts of the religious followers in Bessarabia and other places. I know you have an excellent reputation and you can achieve a great deal. I have also written to the Rabbi from Manzir.
While I await your kind words, I send you greetings from the depth of my heart.
Your friend in Jerusalem, who respects and cherishes you,
Yitzhak Yaakov Raines
Shimon Shlomo Wertheim
25 January, 1904
Dear and Respected Dr. Herzl, Great Jew, Spokesman for his People. May he be praised throughout the world!
I have a request on behalf of my people. Here, in Bendery, there are fifty families who must leave because they are being persecuted, even more so lately. They are mostly young, honest and capable of physical labor. They are prepared to do their share and to overcome any obstacles on their way to the Land of their Forefathers. Their hopes will be dashed if they do not receive help from any organization. I am afraid these precious souls will be lost in the plains of Argentina.
I undertook to go to Paris to plead on their behalf and ask the Baron* to help these families to settle in Eretz Israel. I was unsuccessful. I was promised that they would be allowed into Anatolia after the land in question will have been purchased. After all these promises I realized that all is in nought and they would only be able to reach Argentina.
After I consulted our friend, Rabbi Raines, the head of Mizrahi, we decided to turn to you. Dear Sir! Perhaps you can find a way to help these people. They are prepared to travel to Eretz Israel at their own expense. They will endeavour to obtain a permit for settling even if they have to become Turkish citizens. Between them they can come up with 10,000 roubles.
Please try to come up with a solution to save these young, fresh people we need so badly in our Land. You, dear sir, are the heart of Israel and you will surely solve this issue. We will follow your advice.
With great respect for you,
Shimon Shlomo Wertheim
Reply to Rabbi Shimon Shlomo Wertheim to his letter to Dr. Herzl.
7 Nissan 1904
Dear and Respected Rabbi and Precious Friend,
We received your heartfelt letter and we are rushing to answer. Just before Shabbat, we received a reply from Dr. Herzl about the fifty young people from your town who wish to settle in the Land of our Forefathers. They have 50,000 roubles at their disposal. These are his words: I will send my recommendation to the manager of the Treasury in Jaffa, Mr. Levontin. I will seek his opinion on how to satisfy their request. If it is possible, we will do all we can to bring them to their destination.
After this message we feel that if the bank in Jaffa can do anything for these dear people, it will. We know Mr. Levontin to be an enthusiastic Zionist who is keen on resettling our land. It would also be a good idea for you to address Levontin himself and to give him all the details so he can assist his brethren.
His address is:
Direktor des Anglo-Palestina Compania
Herrn M.D. Levontin, Jaffa, Palestina
We greet the Rabbi and praise his work. We wish him a Happy and Kosher Holiday.
With respect and honour,
* Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild (August 19, 1845 – November 2, 1934) was a French member of the Rothschild banking family. A strong supporter of Zionism, his generous donations lent significant support to the movement during its early years which helped lead to the establishment of the State of Israel.
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