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[Pages 40-64]

Walking Through the Centuries

The history of Romania in the period 1859-1918 took a decisive path towards a modern economy, within the framework of European democracy and stability. The unresolved problem of the peasantry, deficiencies in the electoral system, remnants of a xenophobic mentality ably used in political life, brought about difficult times in the development of the Jewish community. The politics of Romanian governments justified the conclusion of a modern-day researcher, Leon Volovici: “…After 1880 anti-Semitism in Romania becomes a current social and political phenomenon… For foreign observers, Romanian society gives the impression, from here on, of a generalized anti-Semitic environment…”[40]

According to the Great Geographic Dictionary of Romania (vol. 4, 1901, p. 25), in 1899 the city of Iasi had a population of 59,427 inhabitants, of whom 33,141 were “Israelites.” Two thirds of the Jewish population worked in commerce and trades (tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths…). In the industrial domain Jews owned several factories – one umbrella factory, one cardboard factory, two soda factories, one chair factory, several for manufacturing candles and soap, one beer factory, two steam flour mills, and several horse-driven flour mills.

The development of the Jewish community was reflected in its demographic growth. According to the last census of the 19th century the Jewish population in Iasi numbered 39,441 people, almost 51% of the total population. By 1910 the number had decreased to 35,000, due to years of economic crisis, discriminatory laws, and emigration.

Demographic growth after 1866 was not only the result of natural progression. The Jews that had been driven out of villages went to Iasi, where the misery of these pillaged refugees could be somewhat alleviated with the help of the urban Jewish community, which was somewhat better off. Even after the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which strongly recommended, although inefficiently, the emancipation of Jews, the anti-Jewish politics continued and even intensified, underlining the above-mentioned process.

Economic congresses organized by xenophobic nationalists aimed to destroy the Jewish commerce – not through lawful competition, but rather through abusive measures. In 1890-1892 stronger measures were taken against Jewish tradesmen. Nevertheless, in 1906, 3048 Jewish artisans worked alongside 2150 Romanians and 1125 foreign citizens. There were 3404 Jewish merchants and 836 Orthodox Christian merchants. In 1909 Jews were 77% of the total craftsmen of Iasi, a strong indication of the Jewish contribution to the development of the city.

The governments were neglecting the “Jew town,” affecting its general development. Anti-Semitic turmoil was promoted by some university professors – from the time of S. Barnutiu (1806-1864), and to an even greater extent by the philosopher Vasile Conta (1846-1889), whose works were published by the well-known editors and printers of that time – the brothers Saraga. Only Titu Maiorescu did not involve himself with university pogromism, despite the fact that the majority of the Junimists (ed. note: members of the cultural, literary and political movement of the second half of the 19th century, arising from the “Junimea,“ “The Youth,” society of Iasi), with the exception of P. P. Carp, were active anti-Semites.

Between 1890 and 1899, student demonstrations took place inaugurating the “glorious” decades of anti-Semitic brutality in institutions of higher learning. It is known that in this period even Nicolae Iorga was associated with A. C. Cuza; later N. Iorga denounced Cuza's methods.

In the beginning of the 1920s the University of Iasi became a turbulent, devastating center of anti-Semitism. Extremists formed the “Iron Guard,” a source of many assaults. It is not surprising that in this atmosphere, the humiliating, absurd medieval type oath named “more judaico” was not abolished until 1911. Anti-Semitic activity is also seen during the war of 1916-1918 (World War I), even though 22,000 Jews served until the end.

The Community Organization

After the abolition of the tax on kosher meat, in 1863, the community organization lacked stability. A central leadership was no longer chosen for the community of Iasi. Some institutions became autonomous, although they were not recognized by the authorities, thus not legalized. The only legal Jewish institution, which was entitled to possess sums of money and income from donations and even lands, was the Jewish Community. These rights were based on old charters. An item from the Iasian newspaper Progressul (Progress) of February 23, 1866[41] informs that “The trusteeship of the hospital and of the Israelite community of Iasi invites a bid for the tax on kosher wine that is brought into the city; guarantee: 100 galbeni (gold coins).” The announcement is repeated twice. The lease began on September 1, 1866.

The Community encountered many difficulties when purchasing the land for the Pacurari Cemetery, because it was located on territory belonging to the rural community of Tg. Copou, where Jews were not allowed to own land. The cemetery land was purchased in the name of the Israelite Hospital.

The leadership of the Community was held by the printer Hers Goldner, devoted community activist, and Wolf Wasserman. They succeeded in buying the land for the cemetery for 40,000 lei.

The Israelite Hospital became a top-ranking institution in the life of the Jewish community. In 1903 it sent its new charter to the Ministry of the Interior for approval… In 1916 Moritz Wachtel, the trustee of the hospital, was in fact the president of the Jewish Community of Iasi.

In 1914 the tax on kosher meat was reinstated, with the resulting income going to the hospital and the community. After the Law of Worship of 1923 the hospital became a community institution. (In 1891 the hospital had seceded from the community because of the disputes between the Hahams.) Its leadership represented the Jews of Iasi until 1919, when the representatives of all synagogues and Jewish institutions convened to name a provisionary counsel. The new statutes of the community were approved at a general assembly.

The abolition of the Hahambasha post did not necessarily signify the end of the influence of the Iasi Rabbinate. The changing times called for people who understood the necessity of adopting suitable measures in line with the new economic, socio-political, and cultural situation of the entire country. Unfortunately, the majority of the rabbis of Iasi, overwhelmed by personal problems, did not contribute sufficiently to the consolidation of community institutions. There were some noteworthy exceptions.

The learned rabbi Iosef ben Menachem Landa, who held office in the years 1837-1853, was the author of the collection of rabbinical thought Birhat Iosef, printed in Lvov in the year 5628 (1869). He was the inspiring force behind rabbinical studies in Iasi.

Another erudite and prolific author was Aharon M. Taubes, who was rabbi in the years 1837-1852. Of great significance was his collection of thought (Sheelot u Teshuvot) Carnei Roam.

Then there was Shmuel Shmelke Taubes, rabbi in 1852-1865, author of the popular book Haiei Olam. His brother, Iacov Taubes, was rabbi in 1868-1890 in the Podu Ros district. He was followed by the son of Shmuel Shmelke, Uri Feivel Shraga Taubes. They were both Chief Rabbis of Iasi. The latter was rabbi for four decades and published Uri veieishi – rabbinic thought (Lvov, 1887).

Ieshaia Shor, a partisan of strict ritual practice, lived over 100 years and published numerous theological writings. Remarkable among them is a cabalistic commentary on the Pentateuch.

Among the supporters of the Habad movement was Rabbi Berl Rabinovici Berlader, who died in Iasi in 1914.

Among the more modern rabbis were Armand Levy from Alsace, well-known rabbi of Temple Neuschotz, as well as the eminent man of culture and thought, Dr. Iaacov Nemirower – who was Chief Rabbi of Romania between the two World Wars, senator and the true leader of the Romanian Judaism.

The calligrapher Shmuel Laivand, deceased 23 Kislev 5641 (1880), left behind a treatise on the subtleties of sacred Hebrew calligraphy, a mystical Hassidic commentary.

In 1915 the rabbi of the Iasi community was Dr. Meir Thenen – who was also known for his religious publications.

Other rabbis of this period were Meir Gotesman, deceased in the winter of 1916, and Dov Ber Rabinovici, also known as Folticener Rebe (rabbi of Folticeni), deceased January 1, 1865.

The descendants of the tzaddik Bardicever distinguished themselves through their moral stand and their extensive knowledge. Israel Gutman (1820-1894) is the author of the book Beit Israel, published in Iasi in 1910. His son, Shalom, continued the religious work of his father. In turn, Shalom's sons, Israel and Menahem, were rabbis in Iasi after WWII, until they made aliya.

The Jewish educational institutions

The development of the economic life in Romania required of Jews a better knowledge in writing and reading, natural sciences, history and geography. The Governments were striking against the Jewish “competition” through discriminating laws and orders to hinder the efforts of the shopkeepers and artisans to survive this difficult period.

The instability of the organization inside the Jewish community was also contributing to the gravity of the situation – but the Jews of Iasi still participated in the development of the city and of the localities in the neighbourhood of Iasi. There was a noticeable progression in the organization of social, cultural and public institutions.

"The Jewish school was one of these institutions that turned more and more to the track of modernization. It had to include in its program the subjects approved for the public education system by the respective Ministry. The religious education was taught in 1895 in 46 Talmud Toras. New schools were required to continue the traditional religious teaching as well."

The School of Tg. Cucului, famous in the cultural life of Iasi, later called “Junimea,” continued even after 1864-1866. Between 1870 and 1875 they bought a suitable building for 2,000 gold coins. The building was improved in 1896 with the support of the Society I. C. A., a philanthropic society from Paris. This society had an important role in the improvement of Jewish education in Romania – during many decades.

The School for girls belonging to the “Congregation of the Israelite Women Society” – founded in 1867 by the same Parisian society – had a curriculum quite similar to the Romanian public schools. Supported by the wives of affluent Jews – the school imposed itself into the spiritual life of the city. It is known that Fanny Neuschatz made a donation of 1,000 gold coins, money used to renovate the school. In 1890 the Rabbi Dr. Nemirover and Dr. Carpel Lippe were leaders of a commercial business school. The teachers were: Scherzer, Nesker, Geiger, Weisselberg, and Brandmark.

In the same year was founded the Society “Cultura.” The provisional steering committee had Leon Daniel as president and Dr. Haiman Tiktin, the great Romanian philosopher, as vice-president, and N. Weisengrun, famous supporter of the Jewish school, as secretary.

In October 1894 the Committee reported that 6 months after the founding of the school there were 600 students in 5 sections of the 1st grade class, 4 sections of the 2nd grade class and one section each of the 3rd and 4th grade classes. There were 6 Romanian and 7 Jewish teachers. On Saturday the students went to the Synagogue. Hebrew was taught with translation to Romanian, not to Yiddish as it usually was before. The poor students received their Romanian and Hebrew manuals for free.

The School No.1, located at 15 Strada Alba, had 230 students. The School No.2 (15 Palat Street) had 155 students. In the 1st grade class were 47 girls and 34 boys.

The schools of the society “Cultura” were still functioning even in the pre-war conditions of 1940, demonstrating a long and prestigious activity. To help the budget of the schools, the Jews of Iasi organized fundraising balls.

There were also other known schools in Iasi. For example in 1915, the school “Steaua” (The Star) was founded by the lodge “Bnei Brit.” The higher grade religious schools were functioning as a continuation of the elementary schools named above.

In 1909 Talmud Tora was closed down by the authorities because it didn't teach the students in Romanian. The measure was taken in spite of the fact that the children were also going to a Romanian elementary school – as required by the Law of the Education.

A Jewish high school was founded by “Moritz Wachtel” during this period. In 1913/1914 the high school had 140 students: the next year 197. It is important to note that all these students passed the examination for entry into a Romanian public school. The building of this school was renovated in 1918; the following years the curriculum was improved. The compulsory study of the Hebrew and Jewish History were introduced in 1920. The school became very well known.

After WWI the Jews obtained the right to become Romanian citizens and were allowed to attend the public schools; the Jewish schools could also issue certificates recognized by the authorities. This new situation had a large influence on the structure and number of schools.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish schools were fighting to survive. In 1903, a committee of intellectuals, Rabbi Dr. Nemirower, Dr. Steuerman-Rodion, engineer, Finklestein, Dr. Blumenfeld, and lawyer Con-Dracsaneanu, supported the society “Cultura” and its schools.

The school “Junimea” No. 2 was threatened with being closed down because the building was not adequate. Other Jewish schools were in danger of being closed, however they continued to exist under very difficult conditions until after WWI, when they became officially recognized.

The Economic Life

The economic status of the Jews from Iasi was concentrated in crafts, commerce, industry, transportation, insurance and credit, because they couldn't have a public job. Also they were not allowed to work in State industry (Railroads, Post Offices, State Education). Some of these serious problems were solved by massive emigration, especially after 1900.

The official demographic data were contested many times. The population of Iasi in 1871 was estimated by “Curierul de Yassi”[42] to include 36,000 Christians and 39,000 Jews. In 1876 others estimated that in Iasi there were 30,000 Christians and 46,000 Jews, figures evidently biased. The author of the article from the above mentioned newspaper indicated that the large number of young marriages, a higher birth rate, a higher degree of hygiene, and a small number of alcoholics, were factors in the large number of Jews.

But the fundamental problem was the economic status of the Jewish population in relation to the growing Christian population of the town. There were anti-Semitic movements and discriminatory legislation against the Jews –measures that led to unfair competition.

In the last decades of the 19th century, economists, politicians, and prominent citizens from Iasi, insisted upon the modernization of the handicrafts and the creation of a national industry. Mainly, a food industry and handicraft branches like: furniture manufacture, clothes manufacture, industry for metallic items, and tools for domestic use. The oil industry started to develop. The results are seen in the “Ancheta Industriala” (Industrial Investigator) in 1901-1902. The 1906 Exhibition – at the 40th anniversary of the King Carol I – shows the country's developments in the mentioned industries. At this exhibition Jewish craftsmen also participated. Some products received prizes. However the economic status of the Jews from Iasi remained precarious.

Sometimes, emigration was the solution. Between 1899-1914 more than 62,813 Jews emigrated. The beginning of the intense emigration started in 1881-1882, when the first Jewish Emigration Society was founded.

In the mean time, the Romanian Authorities made up special registers for the Jewish emigrants who left Romania for America.

In 1887 a law against the peddlers destroyed the businesses of 5,000 Jewish families and emigration increased. On 5 Aug 1884 a 2nd group of 2,022 Jewish emigrants left Iasi, most of them craftsmen. In 1889 the 3rd group of 1,393 left the town. In 1900 the number increased to 6,683 and in 1914 to almost 7,000.

A dramatic episode occurred in 1900-1901, when the Jews started to emigrate by foot, a hopeless action with unbelievable results. This dramatic episode started in Barlad, where the poor Jews walked toward the border with Transylvania. They had only a few wagons with luggage. In some villages the peasants helped them. This movement became known by artistic manifestation like amateur shows and distribution of leaflets, written in Yiddish and Romanian. In this way, Jews from all the corners of Romania walked to Hamburg, where Jewish philanthropic organizations helped them reach America.

The emigrants from Iasi spread 4 kinds of leaflets: 1. JEWISH BROTHERS (goodbye), May 1900; 2. THE TRAVELERS FROM IASI, in Yiddish, 30 May 1900; 3. THE WANDERERS SOCIETY Lev Echod, July 1900; 4. THE JEWISH CRAFTSMEN APPEAL (354 family heads and 1,500 family members) June 1902.

To better understand the gravity of this situation, we mention that in this period, the number of the Jewish craftsmen was 4.5 fold higher than the other nationalities in Romania. In Moldavia, the Jews represented 90% of the total craftsmen; tailors, ironsmiths, slightly less being shoemakers, in transportation, commission, watchmakers, dairy products, hatters, greengroceries, masons and stove makers[43]. In the former Iasi district (judet), 75% of the merchants were Jews. This was illustrated on the Stefan cel Mare Street in 1890, based upon a list written by Rudolf Sutu[44]. Starting from the Gh. Asachi monument toward the center of the city there were: 1. The haberdashery shop Schwan; 2. The house of Albert Daniel; 3. The old firm of manufacturing Lupu Carniol; 4. The shop Berman; 5. La ville de Bucarest. The textile shop of the brothers Polinger, who had a subsidiary in Piata Unirii; 6. The Cahane textile shop (still existing in 1930); 7. The jeweller Iosefsohn; 8. The Neuschatz bank (still existing in 1930); 9. The second-hand bookshop Cuperman; 10. The Daniel bookstore (later he moved to the City Hall street; 11. The brothers Schwartz – in the Braunstein houses; 12. The haberdashery Cornfeld, in Piata Unirii; 12. Photo Weiss, street Lapusneanu; 14. The jeweller Guillaume Nahowski; 13. The Tiktin houses (near Banu Church) – with the Music shop Hirsch and Finke; 14. The wine storehouse Mos Berl; 15. The bakers Itic Ber and Albert Moscovici


In the period 1870-1916 one important challenge was, aside from economic ones, the civil and political emancipation of Jews born and raised in the country, Jews who had completed military service, some of them in the war of 1916. The status of “foreigners not subject to any foreign state” had to be resolved.

The lack of civil rights had a negative influence on the economic life and was humiliating from the social, cultural, national and political points of view. The Jewish intellectual circles had started the struggle for emancipation early. They brought proof of the length of time the Jewish population had lived in Iasi, indicated the role of the Jews in the economic development and underlined their own tendency for assimilation, which, for some, did not exclude baptism.

The most active of these groups was “The General Association of Native Israelites” from Bucharest, people who had completed their military service. Branches were founded all over the country. Through the press and public debates, a large popularization of the need for Jewish emancipation was achieved, despite the government's harshening of the laws and measures concerning the situation of the Jewish population.

The fever of assimilation remained limited to a small circle, but it would indirectly and involuntarily contribute to the intensification of the consciousness of ethnic and social belonging.

Zionist ideas existed in Iasi as early as the 19th century. The influence of Dr. Karpel Lippe is known starting in 1860 until 1913. In 1878 B. Schwartzfeld, M. Braustein-Mibashan, and N. Frenkel promoted the Hebrew culture and language. Around 1880 an E. Frankel was known to be active on a national level.

In the year 1882 the first committee of “The Association for Eretz Israel” was elected in Iasi, with a membership of 3,000. Its president was Dr. Karpel Lippe, who in 1897 opened the first Zionist Congress in Basel (Switzerland). In 1899 there were several Zionist organizations in Iasi: “Mevasereth Zion,” “Nachom Zion,” “Ezrath Zion,” “Bnoth Zion” (a feminist organization).

In 1900 other groups became active: “Max Nordau,” “Shivath Zion,” “Dr. Gaster,” “Dr. Nemirower.” In 1910 all of the sections merged. A “Poalei Zion” organization also appeared which resonated with the ranks of the working class.

B. Ellman wrote[45]: “Romania is the only country in which the old philanthropic and colonizing Zionism has signed a fraternal and durable pact with the new political Herzelian Zionism, fighting side by side for the good of the movement.”

In 1906, the enlightenment association “Teynbehalle” was created, supported by Rabbi Dr. Nemirower, Dr. Nacht, A. L. Zissu, Moti Rabinovici, I. Gropper and I. Botoshansky. Jewish literary experts from abroad, such as Shalom Aleichem and M. Sokolov, lectured at some literary meetings. In time lectures in Yiddish were also given.

Socialist ideas also penetrated among the Jewish masses. In 1887 the group “Lumina” was founded, having its own press organ. The magazine resurfaced in 1895.

The Jewish social democracy also addressed the rights of the small Jewish bourgeoisie. Following the model of the Bund party in Russia, Der Veker was being published in Iasi to support the struggle of political ideas. Der Veker reappeared in 1916 – edited by M. Isac Moscovici, a socialist and community activist. Moreover, the Yiddish and Hebrew press of Iasi reflected the social and public life of the local Jewish community.

The emergence of the Jewish press in Iasi was tied to a moderate internal Jewish reform and to the efforts for emancipation. The events of 1877-1878 were also contributing factors.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the creation of modern Jewish schools and the growing command of literary Romanian language favor the creation and development of a Romanian language Jewish press. In the beginning, the Yiddish and Romanian language press covered news and current ideas. Following the example of the famous Yiddish newspaper with the Hebrew title Hajoetz (the Advisor), published in the years 1874-1913, Iasi created in 1882 the Naie Yiddishe Zeitung (the New Yiddish Newspaper), printed by the N. Frenkel printing house, no.10 Primariei St. In the same year, the Hersh Goldner printing house printed Der RumenisherIisraelit – a newspaper that was particularly treating the problem of emigration to Eretz Israel.

The same problem was found in Der Yiddisher Folksfreund (the Friend of the Jewish People) (1887), a newspaper that competed with Der Folksfreund – edited by M. Braunstein (Mibashan). Unfortunately, the latter produced only three issues.

In 1895 Di Yiddishe Post was published. Many articles were dedicated to the “Chovevei Zion” movement. In 1896 Di Hofnung was published.

Special attention has to be given to the social-democrat periodical Der Veker. The editors Max Wecsler, Dr. Litman Ghelerter and Leon Gheler, well-known personalities of the time, were not familiar with literary Yiddish. In the beginning they wrote the articles in Romanian, leaving the translation in the hands of the popular teacher and rhapsodist Zeidl Helman. Later they began to write in Yiddish, leaving Helman the task of correcting and improving the style. An organ of the Social-Democrat group, the periodical Lumina appeared between May 1, 1896 and September 27, 1897. The 400 subscribers were not paying their subscription fees regularly, therefore the Marxist oriented weekly ceased to be issued for financial reasons. Twenty years later, we witness the reemergence of this periodical under the editorship of N. Isac Moscovici.

Der Yiddisher Geist, created by Gershon Cohn, with a pronounced Zionist orientation, was short-lived, as were many of the periodicals mentioned thus far. The attempt to publish a daily Zionist paper titled Die Yiddishe Zunkunft was also unsuccessful. Only a few issues were published…..

Hamevasser, Z. Helman's modest magazine, was published in 1903. The same year, Ticvei Israel, a Zionist propaganda publication, was published both in Yiddish and Romanian. In 1907, Die Yiddishe Zunkunft – the third periodical with the same name – was published in Iasi, under the leadership of the popular orator Ira Kreish. Der Yiddisher Geist was published between the years 1898-1901. The newspaper Talpiot, edited by G. Rockeach between 1898 and 1899 also deserves to be mentioned. Among these publications the Licht magazine, which appeared in 1915, holds a distinct position as the voice of the first modern Yiddish literature group in Romania.

The Romanian Language Jewish press reflected the vital preoccupations of the Jewish population in the land. Vocea Aparatorului (1872-1873) was militating for the emancipation of the Jews and tried to fight with energy the anti-Semitic accents existing in local newspapers like Trompeta Carpatilor and Curierul de Yassi. The first literary creations in Romanian of several young Jews appear in its columns: the high school student Elias Schwartzfeld, the law student Goldenthal (who was studying in Brussels), the university student I. Brociner (who was studying in Berlin), the university student M. Brociner (from Leipzig) as well as B. Labin from Botosani.

The five issues of the assimilationist Ecoul Tinerimii (the Echo of the Youth), which was disconnected from Jewish reality, did not find support and had to be discontinued.

The periodical Lumina, voice of the Israelite youth, was a very important publication. It was written and edited mostly by Stefan Stanca (Stein), a brilliant personality of the intelligentsia of the time. The magazine focused on several fundamental issues: the economic situation, the inertia of community activists, and the elitism of the leadership of the Jewish community. The five issues of the magazine were not well received by the rest of the Jewish press in the country and received a lot of criticism.

In August of 1889 the young publicist Max Caufman began the publication of the newspaper Propasirea (The Progress), which also appeared in 1891. He criticized the activities of the community and popularized in his articles the history of the Jews and the current problems of Judaism. Assimilationist tendencies, especially those propagated by certain elements from Bucharest (who had at their disposal a newspaper such as Asimilarea), were combated through the articles of Dr. K. Lippe.

Between July 1, 1895 and January 1896, Socialist groups – which parted ways with ex-colleagues that had become liberal – published the magazine Lumina, which addressed the working class in general. Issues of relevance to Jewish life, such as naturalization, history, and workers' ideology were also addressed. Lumina was published for two years and earned itself a place of distinction in the history of the press of Iasi.

Jewish publications in Romanian during this period had a strong Zionist emphasis. Rasaritul (Sunrise) was the voice of the Central Zionist Committee in 1889. Darabana (The Drum) espoused the anti-Jewish activities.

Rasaritul was edited by Dr. Steuerman-Rodion, who lent it a high professional standard. It featured articles referring to the acceptance of the (Christian) Orthodox religion and even the baptism of certain prominent local personalities like L. Shaineanu and H. Tiktin. The paper was published for two years and contributed to debate and the knowledge of the important issues of the time.

The Jewish press of Iasi, however, was unable to survive for a prolonged period of time. The Bucharest centralism and the scarcity of financial resources silenced the Jewish press of Iasi by 1918.

The Theatre

A permanent professional theater created by Avram Goldfaden, spoken in Yiddish, the language of the Jewish population of Moldavia, enjoyed great success in the city of its birth. The Jews of Iasi were known to be great lovers of the theater – which blended the pleasant with the practical.

After 1880 one can discern a certain American influence over traditional theatrical concepts. The repertoire changed, there were new actors, and stage music took on a different quality.

The repertoire included Viennese operettas (such as “Pericola” – in 1900) and plays on topics of current events (like Horovitz's play about peddlers who were barred from practicing their profession). Successful plays, such as Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Two Orphans – a tearjerker, were also staged in the Romanian theatres.

A. Goldfaden's tour through Romania (1892-1893) was a very special event for the Yiddish repertoire. Various well-known plays were staged, some of which were written by this famous playwright. In 1894 “The Life in New York” was played.

During this time the Yiddish theater repertoire also included plays by Carmen Sylva, the queen of Romania (such as “Master Manole”). Plays by Shakespeare, Gutzkov, I. Gordin, and Lidin were also present on the theater's billboards.

Despite these successes, an actor's life was a difficult one. The theatre could not pass an “artisan” period and achieve a significant material well being. There were, however, some significant events: Clara Young – on tour from America, had a tremendous success and received a great welcome from the people of the city.

With the passing of years, the example set by the Yiddish theater of Iasi brought about the appearance of similar theaters in Bucharest, especially during the period of the German occupation of the capital.

The Literature

In spite of the fact that the city of Iasi had an outstanding literary life in the Romanian language, the literature in Yiddish is of modest proportions. Zeidl Helman (1848? – 1938), of the Lumina magazine, was active in Iasi after his return from America. He became a popular writer, actor, singer, composer and performer of his own songs and sketches. We know that he was also a cantor, teacher and editor of some publications; he also translated numerous works. In 1903 he helped to issue the publication Hamevaser in Iasi – where he published verses of biblical inspiration. He also published flyers, on the occasion of various events. Among those we can cite: Iontev Bleter, Kitvei Hazman. Some of his plays were performed on stages. Helman, through his entire activity, was a picturesque figure in the Jewish Iasi.

Israel Orenstein (Iampol, Poland 1862 – Iasi 1905) published pamphlets targeting the leadership of the Iasi (Jewish) community.

Alongside those two there were other writers, journalists and pamphlet writers illustrative of that period. History has preserved a few names: Moise Birnbaum published verses between 1888 and 1911. His known volume is Poezii (Poems) (published in 1893). Haim Zeilig Drucker published, among other works, the historic novel Der alter vald-bavoiner (The old forest-dweller). M. N. Litinski (1855-1900) was the editor of the Iasi magazine Shabes oibst (Sabbath fruits). In 1907 Leivi Segal edited the magazine Di rihtike idishe tzucunft (The real Jewish future).

Also interesting to mention is the fact that before WWI verses and prose from Iasi were published in the Yiddish press of some European countries, countries – showing the quality of this poetry on one hand and on the other hand demonstrating the fact that Iasi writers, modest as they may have been, were trying to make a name outside their country.

The Licht epoch constituted the first modern literary Yiddish trend in Romania. It started in Iasi in 1914.

The cultural organization “Toynbeehalle,” founded at the beginning of the century, was active in Iasi, offering lectures and literary programs on Jewish and non-Jewish subjects. Gradually, the circle of participants grew, lectures in Yiddish and popular songs were presented. Beside the renowned lecturers Rabbi Dr. Nemirower, Dr. Karpel Lippe and A. L. Zissu, the youngsters Iacob Groper, S. Lazar (Lascar Saraga), Moti Rabinovici, the student Efraim Valdman, and Mates Fridman collaborated. B. Fundoianu, G. Spina, Brunea-Fox wrote memories about “Toynbeehalle”.

Youngsters, who valued the language of the people, edited in the autumn of 1914 the first issue of the planned monthly magazine Licht (“The Light”). It was the first platform of an authentic Yiddish literature in Romania. The inspiration for the magazine came from the student Efraim Valdman, devoted to the literary movement, gifted and tireless. He died on the battlefield in WWI.

Moti Rabinovici – who “distinguished” himself after moving towards secularity – was an analytical person, a good organizer and a gifted orator. He remained in the memory of his contemporaries as a remarkable community activist.

Aharon Matatiahu Fridman, the son and presumed heir of the Chassidic Rabbi of Adjud, had a stormy and tragic destiny. After a period of deep social unrest, he became a rationalistic intellectual, without denying the traditional values. His life in his rabbinical family and the early marriage to a girl from the religious medium were in tragic conflict with his philosophical concepts. His studies, published in the Licht magazine, are interesting and profound. He died of the flu in 1917, at the age of 25, and his death was a big loss for the modern Jewish culture in Romania.

The Musical Life

The Jewish musicians played an important role in the artistic life of Iasi, whether as preservers of the Yiddish and Romanian musical folklore or as performers and composers. Especially remarkable was the Lemesh family. Zeiling Itzic Lemesh was in 1846 already a member of the Iasi National Theatre orchestra. His son Milo conducted a folk music band that played Moldavian folk music in Bessarabia and was therefore banned from singing in the Moldavian areas across the Prut River. He conducted the Jewish theatre orchestra in 1878 and 1882. He also composed pieces of his own.

H. Lemesh was active between 1892 and 1895. Berl Lemesh was member of the Iasi National Theatre orchestra with Avran Volf Lemesh. Another family of musicians was the Bughici family. They also distinguished themselves as composers. In the third generation, Avram Bughici, of the third generation, sang at the Iasi Jewish State Theatre until 1960, when he was eighty years old.

Berl Segal, who later distinguished himself as a conductor, made his debut in 1914. He lived from 1897 to 1958 and worked as conductor of the Jewish State Theatre orchestra until his death. His father, nicknamed Livik (because he was left handed), lived between 1868 and 1927 and was a close collaborator of A. Goldfaden. The musical tradition of this family continues in our days through Iosif Sava, the son of Berl Segal.

An important place in the field of music is occupied by Ch(aim) I(srael) Bernstein, born in Falciu in 1875. He was music teacher at the Iasi Military Secondary School for 20 years. He conducted the National Theatre orchestra and composed over 100 romances, songs, marches and theatrical music pieces. He was known and popular during that period but died in 1929, forgotten and poor.

The Iasi musical life knows other forms of artistic manifestations. There were mixed ethnic folk bands, which performed on various occasions (family feasts, festivals, Purim); an orchestra of the Jewish theatre also existed.


The Jewish community life has brought about the appearance of some distinct personalities in Iasi, people who distinguished themselves in very different domains and entered the city awareness. We content ourselves in this chapter with a brief, incomplete list which can be continued and improved. In any case, the activity of these personalities will be described in a future chapter showing their contribution to the development of Iasi.

For a more didactic treatment we will try to compose an alphabetically arranged list.

The BROCINER family – we mention Iosef B. Brociner, born in Iasi in 1846, deceased in Galati in 1919. He was the author of some fundamental works regarding the history of the Jews in Romania, used as an argument for their right to emancipation. He published Cestiunea israelitilor romani (The Romanian Israelites Question) in 1910 and Chestiunea evreiasca (The Jewish Question) in 1911. Marco Brociner was born in Iasi in 1852 and died in Vienna in 1942. He was a jurist, graduate in German philology, and journalist. Colonel Mauriciu Brociner fought in the War of Independence. He also had activities at the Royal Palace.

Journalist Max Caufman – DAN died in Iasi in 1944 at the age of 90. He was very appreciated in his profession.

Carol (Haim) DRIMER, son of a Rabbi, born in 1899 in the district of Hertza, was killed in the Iasi pogrom (1941). He had an extensive traditional and universal cultural education. He mastered several languages. He published numerous articles on Jewish subjects, some of them contentious. Some of the articles referred to Jewish writers from Iasi and the German literature in Romania; he was passionate about the local cultural activities and remained in the memories of his acquaintances as a distinct intellectual. The volumes of Studii si critice (Studies and criticisms) (Iasi, 1923-1928) revealed a distinguished analysis of the literary phenomena, which he also treated with the passion of a missionary.

The writer with the pseudonym JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS was active around WWII until not long ago.

The poet Enric FURTUNA (Dr. Peckelman), born in 1881 in Botosani, died in Tel Aviv in 1964. He made his debut in Iasi with the anthology Versuri si proza (Verses and prose) (1914) – followed by the volume De pe stanca (From the rock) (1922) and by Privelisti si impresii (Views and impressions) (1926). He also translated Bialik, Groper, and Birnbaum.

GIORDANO (the pseudonym of Berman Goldner) – 1861-1929. Epigramist and lampooner, he published the volume Epigrame (Epigrams) (1893) and Stihuri si Epigrame (Verses and epigrams) (1925).

The brothers Jean and Alfred HEFTER lived during the period 1887-1979. They were dedicated to journalism and critique. They are also known as editors of some periodicals.

Karpel LIPPE (Natan Petahia L.), descendant of Rashi, distinguished himself as a physician, specialist in Middle East and as a Zionist activist. He was an important personality in all the domains of the Jewish life and spirituality. Arriving in Iasi as a youngster (1860), he was active here until 1913. He died in Vienna at the age of 83. He published in German a series of works about the Talmud and the Bible. In other works, he fought against the anti-Semitic libels and distortions of the epoch.

O NEUSCHOTZ DE JASSY was an original poet who wrote in French, contributing to the knowledge of the national literature. He published several prose volumes in German. He was born in Iasi in 1889.

Eugen RELGIS lived between 1895 and 1978. He was a distinguished personality in literature as well as politics. He was known as essayist and novelist. He was an “inspiring person” for the movement “Umanitarismul” (The Humanitarianism), fighting for peace and understanding between nations.

C. SATEANU (Carol Schonfeld) lived between 1878 and 1940. He was a journalist at the local liberal newspaper Miscarea (The Movement) for over four decades. He was a supporter of the arts and culture in Iasi. He made his debut in literature in 1903 with the volume Viforul (The Snowstorm). Many of his works of history and literary critique are known. He translated from Shalom Aleichem.

SCRUTATOR, the pseudonym of Dr. Clement Blumenfeld of Iasi, was editor of the Iasi newspaper Opinia (The Opinion). He frequently published on literary and theatric in other newspapers as well. He was naturalized in 1905.

A(DOLF, AVRAM) STEUERMAN-RODION lived between 1872 and 1918. Physician by profession, he is also known as poet, essayist, cultural animator, supporter of the Iasi school and journalist. His literary activity is found in the volumes: Saracie (Poverty) (1903), O toamna la Paris (An autumn in Paris) (1897), Lirice (Poetry) (1899), and Spini (Thorns) (1915). The following volumes were published posthumously: Frontul Rosu (The red battlefield) (1920), Cartea baiatului meu (My boy's book) (1920), Indreptari (Corrections) (1930). He put his name on numerous volumes of translations from German and French, put together anthologies and wrote critical studies.

Adrian VEREA (Max Vecsler), the physician of the Iasi Opera, is also known as a poet and playwright. He was born in Botosani in 1878. He made his debut in 1914 with the volume of verses Sa nu-ti faci idoli (Thou shalt not make idols for yourself). In 1917 his Iasii was published. He published a lot in the local press.

Moritz WACHTEL is known as an important manufacturer and banker with wide financial knowledge. He was an animator of the Jewish communitarian life. He died in 1929 at the age of 68.

Dr. YGREC (Glicsman) made a name for himself through his articles in the local press. He had columns of literary critique, but also tackled other themes. He died in 1938.

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