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[Pages 65-88]

The Great Turning Point

In Romanian modern and contemporary history, the period that begins with the outbreak of World War I, in the summer of 1914, would lead to the great turning point – the realization of the secular dream of the Great Union, the birth of the Great Romania. Those who lived in those times, even as adolescents, cannot forget them. Even the tragic events of World War II, including the racist regime, cannot erase the memory of those events that affected the entire population of the country, and aroused feelings of hope and faith in the future.

The period of active neutrality (1914-1916) marked years of a special financial and economic conjuncture for the trade and export of food, fuel, and certain raw materials.

Then Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies: France, England and … the Russia of Nicholas II. The first phase of the war was catastrophic, with great suffering for the entire population of the country of Moldavia, and of Iasi. The withdrawal brought to Iasi not only the central authorities, including the Royal Court, but also many refugees, with or without purpose. The crises of housing, food, fuel, and medicine were aggravated by the typhoid fever epidemic. The suffering of the families of soldiers and news about those fallen in the line of duty intensified the state of distress of the population. In the background of these events, the Jewish population experienced some good and some bad times.

Some of the vexing measures taken by the authorities were supportive of the anti-Semitic movement. It was forbidden to speak Yiddish, and the notion that Jews might be collaborating with the Germans was being circulated. Some synagogues had been confiscated and turned into hospitals. The legal status as Romanian non-citizens, the grave economic situation, the increased cost of living, and the decreased income of the community weighed heavily on the Jewish population. And yet, they held on to the hope that Jews might become citizens and anti-discrimination laws might disappear, that they might be able to emigrate freely, and that there might be improved conditions for commerce, trade, and a cultural life.

Universal suffrage, agrarian reform, the democratization of social relations saved the entire population of the country and justified the sacrifices made.

The joys of peace, of the reunification of Romania, and of all great hopes were in opposition to everyday realities.

“Great Romania meant a new social system and a new political system…, the passage from an undemocratic liberalism to a liberal democracy… 'radical reforms' took place… these reforms naturally upset the social equilibrium; on the basis of universal suffrage trivial political elements were elevated … In 1930 Romania had over 10 million inhabitants, … Jews made up 4% of the total population, the Magyars 7.9% and the Germans 4.4%.”[47]

The researcher Leon Volovici painted a wider picture: “From the second half of the last century antagonism toward Jews was promoted and theorized by an important direction of Romanian nationalism. After 1930 this position is projected into the center of political and intellectual life, and it becomes a litmus test of the ideological orientation of every intellectual involved in any of the options of the time: fascism, communism, democracy. The exacerbation of anti-Semitism contributed, along with other social and political factors, to the discrediting and the weakening of democracy and of parliamentary life.”[48]

In 1937 the great Romanian diplomat Nicolae Titulescu wrote to J. Tharaud about the state of anti-Semitism in the country: “This problem is poisoning us. Where would these anti-Semites want to send the Jews to get rid of them? I hope they don't intend to throw them all in the sea or to send them to you. I must confess that I don't understand these furious anti-Semites. I live surrounded by Jews and am very happy about that. They are affable, intelligent, and active. Those whom I have worked with have always proven to be very loyal…”[49]

Far from being a marginal phenomenon or the expression of the juvenile exuberance of an imaginary “Latin Quarter,” students' agitations, manipulated from backstage, had the effect of terrorizing the Jewish population of Iasi and of the entire country, a sort of unique kind of apartheid, camouflaged by a constitution that is democratic in appearance only. The students and agitators traveled by railroad for free under the pretext of anti-Bolshevik demonstrations. In 1922, some White Russians, whom escaped from Bolshevik Russia, also took part in anti-Jewish activities. The old Russian pogromist tradition!

In Iasi, the students prevented their Jewish colleagues from attending classes. Jewish female students were chased out of their dorms in the middle of the night.

The H. Goldner printing house, an important agent in disseminating Romanian culture and printing newspapers to which Jewish journalists contributed, was destroyed. It was forbidden to present on the stage of the National Theater plays by certain well-known playwrights, by reason of their ethnic Jewish origin. Hitlerism to the letter…

The picture of the suffering of the Jewish population of that period incorporated other elements. In the beginning of 1920 there was a movement called “The League for the Protection of the Christian Population,” led by Prof. A. C. Cuza, the renowned C. Sumuleanu, Ion Zelea Codreanu, General Tarnowski, and others. It is known that in August 1923 there was great devastation of Jewish houses and stores, as well as measures against Jewish students: beatings, humiliations, demonstrations. C. Z. Codreanu succeeded in assassinating Manciu, the prefect of police in Iasi. A lawsuit was staged and the assassin was acquitted. He became a national hero; in fact he was the pioneer of subsequent legionary crimes, among others. In 1928 a synagogue in the Pacurari district was destroyed. Admission of Jewish students to state universities was halted; in 1929 there was something called “numerus nullus”, effectively a quota of zero for Jewish students.

All these lead the Jewish community to take a series of measures. In 1920 a Jewish student hostel with 120 spots was created, as well as a cafeteria with about 300 tables. In 1922 Jewish merchants closed their stores in protest of student hooliganism. The press of the time recorded other manifestations of the resistance of the Jewish population in face of all these acts of discrimination.

The Jewish population suffered economically as well. There were trade restrictions and some stores were boycotted. Craftsmen had to adjust to a reduced sphere of influence, which had an effect on the national economy. The masses were reduced to a state of poverty. Consequently, in the district Socola, known for the poverty of its inhabitants, a cafeteria for 400 destitute Jews was created.

Even the Ministry of Justice and the Orthodox clergy supported xenophobia. The following years of the Goga-Cuza government constituted the first peak of extremist nationalism. The Iasi Legal Association, led by Ionel Teodoreanu, the idyllic romantic writer in whose prose we find Jewish characters, decided not to receive Jewish members for a period of ten years, even though there were Jewish lawyers of utmost professionalism.

For the time being, the “Romanization” contemplated by Al. Vaida-Voivode, former democrat from the Ardeal region, grew in scope. In 1938 the issue of Jewish citizenship – a cause of abuses, corruption, and high-handedness – was revised.

The royal dictatorship flirted with the Iron Guard, then took anti-Semitism seriously with tragic consequences that are known and about which much has been written lately. One small step separated the royal dictatorship from the racist regime. The premises were the pogrom of Iasi, deportations, and forced labor.

The Organization of the Community

In the years 1916-1919, a group of representatives from the synagogues carried out, with some small limitations, their role of leaders of the Community. In the summer of 1919 a commission for the reconstruction of the Community was convened… The statute of the new committee was approved by the Ministry of Worship in accordance with the Law of Worship. Democratic elections took place, but not until 1930. Aside from the leadership committee, a series of sections were created for the purpose of improving the style of leadership and to extend the sphere of activities. Closer attention was paid to the problems of education, social assistance, and culture.

In 1937 the budget of the Community was 7 million lei, a sum that proved to be insufficient. Some institutions of the Community asked to become autonomous, in order to achieve greater mobility and better organization.

In 1939, the president of the Community was the great industrialist Ilie Mendelson, assisted by 25 other members of the “representation.” The sections were led as follows:

  1. The cultural section was led by the engineer Ghetl Buhman, originally from Podu Iloaiei. The members of the committee were doctors, pharmacists, and lawyers.

  2. The president of the socio-economic section was Dr. D. Fruhling.

  3. The president of the section of worship was S. Petrusca.

There was an atmosphere of willingness around the Community with respect to the improvement of the social status of the Jewish population. The Community receives important donations of cash, property, etc. The heirs of I. L. Rosenstein donated one million lei for the construction of an industrial school. Important donations were also made by the families Smil Waldman, Bercovici, and others.

The rabbinate was reorganized; every rabbi or haham needed the approval of the Community, in order to stop certain abuses, fraud, and quarrels. In 1939 there were ten active rabbis in Iasi, some with their own synagogues. The official rabbi of the Community was Dr. Joseph Safran. The hahams were employed and paid by the Community with money resulting from the taxes levied on the slaughtering of meat according to ritual religious practice.

Cattle were slaughtered at the city slaughterhouse. For poultry there were modest ritual slaughterhouses in several Jewish neighborhoods.

The synagogues were autonomous but their activity was observed by the Community. 112 Iasi synagogues were listed in the work of H. Gherner and B. Wachtel Evreii ieseni in documente si fapte (The Jews of Iasi in documents and facts) (Iasi, 1939). In 1944 Avram Hahamu, president of the Community noted 142 synagogues, without naming them. Corroborating the first list with data from the Iasi Community records, with press news and with documents from the State Archives in Iasi, a list which is close to reality can be constructed. For easier reference the synagogues are arranged in alphabetical order. Since some synagogues did not have a name, only their address is indicated. Hebrew names are given in Sephardic phonetics; Yiddish ones are given in local pronounciation. We remind the reader that the synagogues list compiled from the above mentioned sources reflects the situation of 1939:

  1. Azilul de Batrani (Old Persons Home), 20 Crucii Street. In 1892 it was also an association for elementary studies of the Talmud, “Chevra Mishnaiot.” In 1947 its register was in the possession of Rabbi Roller of Buhusi. The ornamental graphic work on its cover had a great artistic value. The synagogue was also named “Beit Israel.”

  2. Babad, also known as Herman Rosenstein, 65 Ghica Voda Street.

  3. Babad, also known as Moise Idel Vecsler, Marzescu Street. “Babad” was the name of a special Hassidic movement which had many followers in Moldavia.

  4. Baalshem, 24 Broscariei Street. Israel Baalshemtov was the founder of the Hassidic movement. In 1849 a house in the Brosteni slums was bought for the foundation of a synagogue with the same name.

  5. Balter, 12 Apelor Street. It also had a “Chevra Mishnaiot,” a “Bikkur Cholim,” and a “Leviat Hamet,” a brotherhood for assistance to the sick and for participation in funeral ceremonies.

  6. Hana Berarita (Chana the Beer House keeper), also known as Meir Simha, 52 Cucu Street. This synagogue was functioning in 1862 and was active until 1939. A new synagogue by the same name existed before 1912 – under the management of Rabbi I. Askenazi.

  7. Moise Bercovici, also known as David Shoil, 79 Socola Street.

  8. Beit Hamidrash (The House of Prayers), 19 (25) Socola Street.

  9. Boccegii ( Musicians), 6 Calaina Street. Mentioned in various documents dating from 1831 to 1865.

  10. Broder, 72 Smardan Street. Mentioned in documents as existing and functioning in 1860, 1887, and 1892.

  11. Buhusher Clouz, 70 Socola Street. A “Shos” association – for indepth studies of the Talmud – was active in this synagogue in 1877.

  12. Butnari (Coopers), also known as Torat Chaim (= The Teaching of Life), 35 Cuza Voda Street.

  13. Calarasher Rebe, Aqueduct Street.

  14. “Dinspre Calcaina” (“Towards Calcaina”) synagogue, mentioned in a document dated 1798.

  15. Caldarari (Braziers), 2 Semnului Street. Idel Braunstein donated this synagogue in 1920. In this synagogue was the brotherhood “Ner Tamid” (Eternal Light).

  16. Cantarski, 87 I. C. Bratianu Street. A donation by Meir Canter in 1825. Renovated by the congregation after a serious fire. The altar graphics (“Keviti”) date from 1848. The synagogue had traditional murals of great beauty.

  17. Caramidari (Brick Makers or Sellers), also known as Haim Taitler, 9 Morilor Street. It is mentioned in documents from 1833, 1841, and 1844.

  18. Alter Catemberg, 82-84 C. Negri Street. The building was donated by Catemberg to the Community in 1897.

  19. Naftule Caufman, 39 Rosetti Street.

  20. Ceprezari (Shmuclers – Gimp Makers), 50B Procopie Street. An 1869 document mentions this synagogue.

  21. Cherestegii (Lumberjacks), 6 Trantomir Street.

  22. Cizmar (Shoemakers), also known as Finkelstein, 16 Cizmariei Street. Founded by Avram Cizmar, aka Finkelstein, in 1871. However, it was also there in 1829.

  23. Cojocari (Furriers), Sinagogilor Street. The building was bought in 1847 by Iosub Leiba sin Iancu with 100 1/2 gold coins.

  24. Cotiugari (Carters), 34-36 Ipsilanti Street.

  25. Cotiugari, 2 Semnului Street (?). From another source, 60 Broscari Street.

  26. Covrigari (Pretzel Makers), 56 Socola Street (or 160 Melcului Street?)

  27. Crasmari (Publicans), 7 Ticlaul de Jos Street.

  28. Croitori (Tailors), 1 Sinagogilor Street. Renovated in 1824 following a fire in 1822. Belonged to the Tg. Cucului tailors' guild (“Poalei Tsedek”). It was founded with this name in 1847. The building was converted to a different use in 1978.

  29. Croitori, 30 Sf. Teodor Street. Renovated in 1907. Rabbi Dr. S. Rabinovici and the cantor S. Solomon were officiating here in 1914.

  30. Croitori, 12 Broscariei Street.

  31. Croitorii tineri (Young Tailors), 8 Basota Street. The building was converted to a different use after 1970.

  32. Cusmari (Fur Hatters), Pantelimon slums. The synagogue was in existence in 1849 and belonged to the respective guild. A list compiled in 1939 does not mention it anymore.

  33. Daniel (The Heirs), 8 Rosetti Street.

  34. Ilie David, 84 Lautari Street. The building was bought in 1902.

  35. Dulbergher, 26 Aqueduct Street. Documented as established before 1883.

  36. Zalmina Feighelis, 3 Sinagogilor Street. Z. Feighelis was a leader of the community about 1840-1860.

  37. Ghitl Fichner, also known as Tichler. 71 (or 79) Sf. Lazar Street.

  38. Reb Haimke Focsaner. The street is unknown. It is known that it was built before 1824 and renovated in 1924.

  39. Tipre Goldstein, 11 Crucii Street.

  40. Goldstein, also known as Mordhe reb Ioskes, 12 Nemteasca Street.

  41. Gutman (Lazar Rapaport), 8 Hagi Lupu Street. The building was bought by Rabbi Gutman in 1912.

  42. Heller (Lupu Pascal), 115 Nicolina Street.

  43. Herscovici, 8 Armeana Street.

  44. Haim Hoffman, 7 Sinagogilor Street. The building was bought in 1880.

  45. Reb Iancole (Katz), 40 Aron Voda Street.

  46. Reb Ihil, 39 Armeneasca Street.

  47. Reb Ioinole, 20 Arapului Street. Beside the synagogue there was a Hevrat Mishnaiot.

  48. Iosek reb Mordhes, see no. 40.

  49. Jurist (Beit Slomo), 3 Gh. Lascar Street.

  50. Juratori, Juratori Street.

  51. Kahana, 30 Stefan cel Mare Street. Founded in 1864 by banker Leib Kahane. The building was converted to a different use after the 1960's (?).

  52. Katz, see no. 45.

  53. Litiner, 8 Pomir Street. Documented as existing in 1847. Rabbi Litiner was commissioned by Moise Ghersen Packer.

  54. Lumanarari (Candle Makers), 33 Sarariei Street. The building was bought in 1907.

  55. Macelari (Butchers), 3 Aron Voda Street.

  56. Reb Meirl, 8 Pomir Street.

  57. Meirkes, 3 Stinca Street.

  58. Sloime Mendels, 4 Mlastinei Street. In 1856 it had a “Hevra Mishnaiot” – whose register could still be studied until 1955.

  59. Menike, 7 Sinagogilot Street.

  60. Merari (Apple Merchants), 17 Labirint Street. The building was bought in 1866 with 400 gold coins.

  61. Moisa sin Haim, 7 Broscariei Street.

  62. Muzicanti (Lautari –Fiddlers), 37 Pantelimon Street. It existed before 1844. The synagogue register was dated starting in 1853. For another “Muzicantii” synagogue – see no. 9.

  63. Nahman Botosaner, 39 Bucsinescu Street. In 1830 a “Hevrat Mishnaiot” is mentioned. The founder, Nahman, died in 1849. The synagogue was still existing in 1960.

  64. Tempel Iacob Neuscholtz, “Beit Hadash.” Built in 1865, it was a modern building in the city center. It was bombed in 1944 and had to be demolished when the neighborhood was reorganized.

  65. Packer, also known as reb Saikes, 60 C. Negri Street.

  66. “Pe Ulita pescariei jidovesti” (“On the Jewish Fish Shop Alley”) synagogue. Existed in 1852.

  67. Pietrari (Masons), also known as David Rabinovici, 2 Taietoarei Street.

  68. Pietrari, 33 Rufeni Street. Established in 1853. Courses of Talmud Torah were held within its premises.

  69. Pietrari, 11 Sipote Street.

  70. Pietrari, 24 Ipsilante Street. Existed in 1886. It is possible for the expression “pietrari” to be the “literary form” of the Moldavian “chetrar” = mason or bricklayer. Formerly the city of Iasi had many Jewish masons.

  71. Podu Albinet, 26 Marfa Street.

  72. Poporenilor (Teasatura – The Fabric), 3 Tutora Street.

  73. Rubin Rabinovici, also known as Scoala Unita (The United School), 160 Bratianu Street. David Rabinovici, see note at no. 68.

  74. Iacob Raises, 28 (or 86) C. Negri Street. Existed and is mentioned before 1928. Lazar Rapaport, see note at no. 41.

  75. Ratsi Iacob (Beit Iacob) Goldenberg, 86 C. Negri Street.

  76. Eli Meir Reichemberg, Panaite Stoica Street. The building was donated to the community by the philanthropist Reichemberg in 1860.

  77. Rabin Raines, 66 C. Negri Street.

  78. Retiv ahava, 118 Nicolina Street.

  79. Roite Sil (The Red Synagogue) or Descalecatoare, 43 Nicolina Street. It was still functioning after WWII.

  80. Michel Rosiesiva, 12 Sinagogilor Street.

  81. Sadagura (Tverski) (Risiser rebe), 11 C. Roseti Street.

  82. Salhana, 35 Salhana Street.

  83. Sararie, Sararie Street … Built in 1864 by Saim Horenstein and the Jewish Community. Under the synagogue there are basements rented as dwellings. The rent made up an income for the synagogue. It is a brick building and it has a fence.

  84. Sarata. Building built in 1816, next to the Jewish bath.

  85. Lupu Schwarz, 90 Socola Street.

  86. Solomonica, 31 Stefan cel Mare Street.

  87. Spitalul israelit (The Israelite Hospital), 43 Elena Doamna Street.

  88. Stoleri (Carpenters), 62 Arapului Street.

  89. Stoleri, 44 Cuza Voda Street.

  90. Strul Aron, 24 Pacurari Street. The building was converted to a different use after 1975.

  91. Piata Sturza, 13 Sarariei Street. Sinagoga Mare din Pacurari (The Great Synagogue of Pacurari – In the 19th century the term SCOALA [School] was meant to denote a more important synagogue. The present list mentions several places of worship named SINAGOGA MARE). See Strul Aron Synagogue, no. 90. Purchasing documents from 1852 exist; a contract from 1855 was preserved; the documents mention it functioning in 1898 as well.

  92. Sinagoga Mare pe Podu Lung (The Great Synagogue on Podu Lung). Existed even before 1865 – according to a preserved stamp.

  93. Sinagoga Mare din Podu Ros (The Great Synagogue of Podu Ros), founded by Rabbi Iehosua Hesil, also known as Apter Rav. He held rabbinic office in Iasi between 1803 and 1811 and signed the purchasing document of an armchair, a fact mentioned by I. Kara in an article in R. C. M. (Revista Cultului Mozaic, The Mosaic Cult Revue – the organ of the Romanian Jewish Community) of July 15, 1974. The purchase certificate was resigned two years later by the Zvolver Rabbi, who held office in Iasi between 1803 and 1837. The synagogue was renovated in 1864. The building was demolished due to the reorganization of the city.

  94. Sinagoga “Scoala” Mare (The Great “School” Synagogue), 43 Smardan Street.

  95. Sinagoga Mare din Tg. Cucului (The Great Synagogue of Tirgul Cucului), 1 Sinagogilor Street. At the present the oldest synagogue in Romania. The Great Synagogue, preserved to this day, was built in the late Baroque, Polish style on land bought in 1657. The structure is brick and stone. Rabbi Natan Nata Hanover (who held office in Iasi as well) insisted that the synagogue construction be completed by 1670. The current structure dates from 1762, when the building was renovated, as shown by the inscription on the outside on the southern wall. It was renovated after a fire in 1822. It was also renovated in the interwar period, a dome being added. After WWII additional repairs were made. A small museum of the Iasi Community operates beside the synagogue.
    Sinagoga reb Saikes, see note no. 65 (Packer).

  96. Smuses, 61 Nicorita Street. Scoala unita (The United School), see note no. 74.

  97. Stefanester Clouz, opposite the “Sinagoga Mare din Tg. Cucului”, 8 Elena Doamna Street. Established in 1907. The building, furniture, and religious objects were funded by the donations of the Hassidim.

  98. Lupu Tailer, 3 Funducal Nitescu. The land was donated by the couple Avram and Mara Finkelstein in 1875.

  99. Taietorii de lemne (Woodcutters), 6 Brudea Street.

  100. Talmud (!), 3 Micsunele Street.

  101. Talmud Tora, 8 Sipote Street.

  102. Tapiteri (Upholsterers), Rapa Galbena.

  103. Lazar Tapiter, 127 Elisabeta Boulevard.

  104. Rabi Taubes, 5 Cucu Street.

  105. Telali (Old Clothes Dealers), 37 Aqueduct Street.

  106. Toiras Moise, 12 Pacurari Road.

  107. The synagogue of 70 Toma Cozma Street.
            Tverski, see note no. 82.
            Tikers, see note no. 37.

  108. Sinagoga din Ulita Teatrului vechi (The synagogue in the Old Theatre street), cited in documents from 1830 and 1851.

  109. Faibis Wahrman, 51 Sf. Lazar Street.

  110. Sinagoga “La zid” (“At the Wall” Synagogue). Donated by the congregation members Alter Meir Leib and Azriel Hers. The synagogue belonged to the Community.

  111. Ziberari, 13 Blondelor Street.

  112. Zidarilor (Builders') (Sraibman), 28 Arapului Street.

  113. Zisu Herman. 10 Labirint Street. Functioned until 1979 when it was demolished due to the reorganization of the area.

  114. Zugravi (House Painters), in the Muntenimea da Mijloc slums. The construction lot was bought in 1856.

  115. Zvolver vechi (Old Zvolver), 16 Horia Street.

  116. Zvolver, (?) Cucu Street. This synagogue was known as a center of Talmudic studies. The congregation members were engaged in 24-hour studies, the synagogue being open 24 hours a day.

Information on the other 24 synagogues which operated in Iasi was not found. However, the figure of 140 worship houses was confirmed in 1944 by the President of the Jewish Community.

The Bombings during WWII, emigration, and the urban reorganization of the city in the last 20 years caused the large majority of the synagogues to disappear… Along with the buildings some of the furniture and religious books disappeared, despite some measures taken by the Community.

In 1975 there were 4 synagogues in Iasi: two of them are still functioning and the Community makes efforts to keep them going.

The Jewish Educational System

The period between the two world wars began with great hopes for the Jewish population. Naturalization and the free access, with full rights as citizens, to all the Romanian state schools at all grade levels, should have raised the general level of culture, instruction, and education. At the same time, the Jewish school system of the period prior to 1920 should have disappeared. Reality, however, was different. It is true that aside from the “Wachtel” Gymnasium there were no other middle schools. In Iasi the primary schools from earlier times were functioning normally, ensuring an adequate education for Jewish children.

In 1939 there were 13 Jewish schools in Iasi. One of them, Yeshiva “Beit Aharon,” prepared religious educators (30-100 students from 1927). The students from this school were boarders. Beside biblical and Talmudic studies, the students covered the high school subjects, on which they were tested privately. The school also offered vocational instruction; the students were prepared for a variety of trades. Whoever could not become a rabbi, a haham, or a cantor could become a good tradesman or an artisan with a superior religious education. Such cases were frequent in Maramures… Rosh-Yeshiva, the director, was Rabbi I. Wahrman.

The school system contained different levels. The kindergarten that was at the primary school “Junimea” no. 1 had 30 registered children. It appears that it was established in 1936. The primary school “Cultura,” on Marzescu Street, had about 150 students. This excellent faculty was renowned in Iasi. The primary school “Junimea” no. 1, on Sarariei Street, bore the name of “Moritz and Beti Wachtel” and was attended by fewer students than the other schools. It also owned a bath, used by the students' parents as well. There was also a cafeteria for the students. The school “Junimea” no. 2, on Palat Street, had its own building from as early as 1908. Due to a lack of funds, the school became part of the Community, which guaranteed its budget.

To meet the requirement for a better preparation for the vocations, the “Complementary School ORT” (a continuation of the four primary grades) organized tailoring courses for its female students as early as 1920. Especially praiseworthy are the efforts of school committee president M. Isac Moscovici, headmaster Haim Haimovici, and teacher Sara Smucler. One hundred and fifty female students were registered. The old girls' school of the “Assembly of Israelite Women” also offered a complementary course and vocational education (tailoring). There were 220 students registered in that program. The primary and vocational school “David Herzenberg,” of the philanthropic society “Steaua” (The Star), established in 1900, had 300 students. The primary subject was ladies' tailoring. The school had its own building and was subsidized by the Community. The primary school for girls “Dr. Stern” was supported by the Bnei Brit Lodge and subsidized by the Community. Among the members of the school committee were Dr. H. Solomonovici and the lawyer Jacques Pineles. One hundred and thirty students attended the school.

The persistence of the traditionalist educational convictions maintained four confessional schools (Talmud Tora). The school on Aron Voda Street had its own building and canteen and constantly offered clothing to its needy students. This school had 250 boys.

Talmud Tora from the Pacurari district was established in 1932. It also owned the building for its 150 students. Talmud Tora from the Podu Ros district initiated into Judaism the children enrolled in the four primary grades. It provided them with free books, writing materials and food. Talmud Tora on Rufeni Street offered only religious studies to students enrolled in other institutions. It was the most traditional form of education in Iasi and it had 250 students in attendance – compared to 220 in the school in Podu Ros.

Social and Medical Assistance

In the period between the two world wars the precarious economic situation of a considerable segment of the Jewish population of Iasi led to the creation of institutions of social assistance that coordinated their activities in such a way as to allow the continuation of life as it was known prior to WW I. In Iasi there were several such institutions that became known for their large-scale permanent activities. Among them are the following:

The asylum for the elderly, located at 5 Sf. Constantin Street, established in 1892, withstood the war of 1916-1918. It was rebuilt after a serious fire and housed 150 persons. The bath and the synagogue, located on the premises, could be used by the inhabitants of the district. In 1975 the nursing home still exists as an institution of the municipality of Iasi. The night care home opened in 1922. It also served the Christian population and was subsidized by the Community.

The mutual aid society “Caritas Humanitas,” established in 1901, had more than 1,000 members in 1939. It owned its building.

“Ezrat Aniim” (Assistance to the poor) was started in 1927; it offered assistance to the indigent and helped them find employment.

“Hahnasat Cala” was established in 1922 and helped needy young women with the marriage process. The effectiveness of this institution was limited by its modest available resources.

Another charity, “Iubirea de oameni” (Love of Man), was legalized in 1928. It operated in its own building beginning in 1938. That year the clinic gave 1150 free medical consultations.

The “Neuschotz” orphanage, known during the last decades, continued to exist under good conditions. The orphanage was founded in 1920 for Jewish war orphans and was also subsidized by I.O.V.R., a national organization that offered pensions and financial assistance to all war invalids, orphans, and widows. The orphanage housed 95 children. In 1936 it was taken over by the Community and operated in the building on Marzescu Street, which is still in existence.

One of the excellent social assistance institutions was the school canteen “Amalia and Isac Ghelter.” The building on Elena Doamna Street offered a good working environment for the school canteen, ensuring warm meals for 500 children. In time the canteen also served meals to adults. The dining room could be rented out for weddings and parties; the income increased the budget of this popular institution.

The “Weinreich” foundation was active since 1934. It offered help, providing firewood, to some needy families.

The Israelite Hospital, more than one hundred years old, also served other communities in Moldavia. Being a legal entity, it could receive both direct and bequeathed donations. In 1939 it owned 35 buildings that were rented out. The income was used for maintenance and hospital expenses. The hospital also owned 11 buildings occupied by Jewish institutions and by donors. The hospital received 2200 patients per year and performed about 650 operations. It also had a shelter for old persons. The medical staff was composed of 15 very distinguished doctors who were also renown outside the Jewish population.

The Israelite maternity hospital expanded with time and treated more than 400 women per year. Both the hospital and the maternity are presently still functioning in the same buildings as state institutions.

Community Life

As a consequence of the naturalization of the Jews, the old organization “Uniunea Evreilor Pamanteni” (“The Native Jews Union”), active since the first decade of the century, changed its name to “Uniunea Evreilor Romani” (“The Romanian Jews Union”). It conducted an intense activity until the new law of collective naturalization simplified the formalities of obtaining citizenship.

No national Jewish party was formed in Moldavia and the Jewish population voted for various parties, particularly in the local elections, achieving at times a vice-president or a counselor seat in the local bodies.

The central role in the Jewish community life in Iasi was occupied by the Zionist organizations. The Zionist activity was mainly agitation, propaganda and fundraising. There were also Hebrew learning courses, Jewish history courses and cultural societies. All these influenced the curricula of the Jewish schools.

There were known student organizations in Iasi. Some owned libraries with books in Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew and foreign languages.

The social activities of these organizations gave birth to a movement of national identification and promoted various social concerns.

The Balfour Declaration triggered hopes of national resurgence and of emigration under favorable material and moral conditions. In 1922 the short-lived weekly Rasaritul (The East) was published in Iasi. In 1929, the farm “Hechalutz” (“The Pioneer”) was founded in the neighborhood of Pacurari on a lot owned by the Israelite Hospital. Here hundreds of youngsters underwent Hachshara (ed. note: training for agricultural work in Eretz Israel) – until 1940. In 1940 the racist legislation “nationalized” the land and the inventory and drove away the youth who aspired towards an agricultural way of life.

In 1925, the Zionist Students Organization was founded, thus increasing the number of Zionist organizations in Iasi. It owned a library, a canteen and a hostel, all established with the help of the Jewish population of Romania.

The Jews of Bessarabian origin founded an organization called “Achuza,” which also had a library and was engaged in social assistance activities. Among the young activists remarkable in the inter-war period were, I. L. Burstin, Beno Kusanski, Carol Eisenfeld-Barzilai, Grimberg-Moldovan, and Comarovschi. They supported the renewed activity of the old cultural center “Toynbehalle.”

“Achva” (“Brotherhood”), another cultural society was founded in 1932. It organized lectures on Judaic subjects. Its library “H. N. Bialik” was appreciated for the number of books held. It also sustained a vast social assistance activity.

The “Hametiv” (“The Benefactor”) association – led by Carol Drimer – sustained a remarkable cultural activity, organizing lectures and putting together a lending library.

The Zionist students had organized themselves in various cultural societies, among which “Chashmonea” was remarkable. The “left wing” university and lyceum students founded an organization “Cultur Lige” [“Culture League”], which through lectures in Yiddish, library and press attracted young Jewish workers and apprentices from the neighborhood. This society held its activities in the building of the “Junimea” (“The Youth”) No. 2 School between 1925 and 1930.

The “Ronetti Roman” group was another institution which popularized the Judaic values. The “Morris Rosenfeld” group was active in the Jewish neighborhood of Tg. Cucului. In 1924 the author of these lines attended a lecture of the great poet Itzic Manger on the importance of the Yiddish language. The group “Steuermann-Rodion” had a short-lived activity in about 1930.

Shortly after 1918 the Jewish socialist activity was renewed; the Yiddish language library “Der Veker” (“The Worker”) was founded. There were lectures, literary meetings and cultural events attended by many people and mentioned in the newspapers of the time.

Besides the cultural activities, the Jewish community of Iasi organized sports, music and theatre events. The “Maccabi” organization began its activity in about 1919. In 1922 its headquarters were at the “Cultura” School where it organized all kinds of cultural events. It set up an orchestra and later a brass band. Another Jewish sports organization was named “Hakoach.” It functioned as an independent organization for some time and then merged with “Maccabi.” This organization also prepared the athletic instructors for the Jewish schools of Iasi.

Yiddish and Hebrew Literature

After WWI, Greater Romania incorporated a vast minority population from the provinces. The Jewish population doubled. Its economic, cultural and political potential grew. The intellectual situation of the population improved. Access to learning created sufficient channels for the rising of an intelligentsia which meant a lot for Romania. Jews in the new provinces, especially those in Bessarabia, Bucovina and even in Maramures, were to a great extent both consumers and creators of Hebrew and Yiddish culture, both secular and religious. The Jews from the old provinces of Romania were more traditionalists, thus being more authentic creators of Jewish folklore.

The tradition of the Licht magazine was surpassed by the work of Itzik Manger, a poet who made his debut in Iasi. He was born in Cernauti (Czernowitz) and moved with his family to Iasi in 1916. His debut verses, dated 1918, revealed a great authentic author. Iasi, Moldavia, and Romania are all described in some literary works of the young Manger. The volume Stern ofn dah (Bucharest, 1920) is illustrative of this trend. In his wanderings (Bucharest, Czernowitz, Warsaw, Paris, London, New York, Tel Aviv) he did not forget the Iasi of his adolescence, the Iasi of his first conferences, the young public who came to listen to him, to get acquainted with his profound, original works of great esthetic value. An entire artistic production of major inspiration, the Poet's Charm, of numerous essays, poems, and plays has evolved from these beginnings.

Haim Rabinzon, son of a rabbi, born in 1914, made his debut in Iasi, with poems in Hebrew and in Yiddish. He distinguished himself through Judaic subjects. Leib Drucker (1902-1941) published a volume of verses 27 lider; during the years some of his plays were played in the Jewish theatre. Strul Braunstein, poet for hire, published the volumes of verses Moldeve main heim (1938) and Ih eifen breit di toiren (1939). He died of tuberculosis before obtaining official recognition.

The brothers Simha, Itsic and Iulian Schwarz distinguished themselves in the Yiddish language cultural activity. Later they were active in Czernowitz, Paris and Buenos Aires (Simha); Czernowitz, Bacau, and Iasi (Itsic); and Bucharest (Iulian). The storyteller Ghedale Vestler (who later immigrated to Israel) may also be cited, as well as the cultural figures Haim Haimovici and Itsic Mendel.

The troubled inter-war period could not put a stop to the creative spirit of the Iasi Jews, who withstood the tragic persecutions of the Holocaust era. The Jewish population had its own cultural life in the cultural Iasi of those times. We must not overlook the preservation of some folkloric traditions – songs, skits, poems – which blended the secular with the religious and kept alive the Jewish spirituality.

[Pages 89-92]

Toward the end of the Century and the Millenium

My town, Iasi, during WWII and the terrible Jewish persecutions, the years of serious events and unbelievable sufferings are too close in my memory and I don't have the perspective necessary to objectively describe the historical events which took place. There are many objective books describing this period from which the reader can form a personal opinion of these times. Such works appeared in Romania and Israel. Scientific meetings were organized in recent years in order to review the events and still there are many facts which need an objective explanation.

In 1940 in Iasi there was a rise in tension against the Jews, with an anti-Semitic offensive organized by criminal elements. It happened in the town where Mihail Sadoveanu and so many intellectuals showed an understanding and a special affection for the minority population!

These anti-Semite manifestations became an awful terror against the Jews, manifested by a terrible carnage known as “the Iasi Pogrom” and the “Train of death” in between 29 June and 2 July 1941. Over 10,000 Jews died during these terrible tortures.

The Jewish population, which remained in Iasi during the war, suffered the rigors of the war along with the entire population. But the Jews also due to humiliations, anti-racial laws, economic and social degradation. The men were made to perform “forced labor,” called “Patriotic labor,” for the “good of the community.” In these labor camps they were often treated inhumanely, without food, clothing or medical assistance. From this impoverished population, socially humiliated and without any rights, the authorities had the impudence to ask for money “contributions,” food and clothes.

The Jews from Iasi resisted with dignity all the attempts of being humiliated. They maintained a limited commerce and handicraft. They founded schools of all grades. In synagogues they organized literary meetings and musical events. The intellectuals of the community tried to maintain a dignified spirit among the people, to encourage them for daily survival.

In the Jewish Almanac 5704-1944 (page 190) it is mentioned that in Iasi the Community and the district office of the Jewish Center had the same leadership: President Avram Hahamu and Secretary Dr. Fisher. After 15 October 1944 Dr. Ionel Fruhling was elected President.

In Iasi, after the pogrom, there were 34,000 Jews, a large number in comparison to other centers. The majority of the Jewish people expected economic help from the Jewish Community because many families were very poor. Over 4,000 men were in labor camps. During the war years the Community budget was over 100 million Lei. As winter approached, the poor people received clothes, shoes, food, and firewood. The Community maintained the Jewish institutions: the orphanage, the nursing home, the Israelite Hospital, the “Ghelerter” Hospital, the Red Bridge Dispensary, the primary and secondary schools. Avram Hahamu, the Community President, distributed clothes, shoes, food and money in the labor camps. In the same Almanac (pages 201-202) it is written that 5 million Lei were required to help the poor population.

The Community was able to supply legal assistance to the poor Jews, as a result of the large number of Jewish lawyers in Iasi.

To preserve the Jewish spirituality and traditions in the schools that were created, the Hebrew language was a mandatory subject. This tradition persisted for many years. The city of Iasi was recognized among the important centers of the country for the Jewish traditions.

The good organization of the Community and the initiatives taken in the social, humanitarian and cultural domains were due to the devotion of a large number of intellectuals and leaders of the Jewish people, including: Nacht, Pinchas, Duff, Ilie Mendelsohn, Haim Ghelberg and Solomonovici….

The events which occurred after 23 August 1944, the abolishment of the racist legislation, and the partial restitution of property, was a beginning for the Jews to obtain equality in rights with the Romanian population. But the most important issue was the possibility to immigrate to Israel (especially after the creation of the state). This movement of Jews from Romania brought important changes in demography, in keeping up the cultural monuments and in the Jewish Community itself. In 1995 there were in Iasi only 600 Jews, most of them elderly.

The activity of the “Jewish Democratic Committee” was the founding of an elementary school (temporary), where Yiddish was taught, a Jewish Theater (December 1949- February 1963) led by an eminent Director, Iso Schapira, and other elements of Judaic culture maintained and developed over long periods of time. Also, these institutions popularized classical culture and created artists, musicians, and writers. Especially in the 1950's and 1960's, the cultural houses succeeded in organizing conferences, cultural meetings, and musical concerts.

With the help of the Romanian Chief Rabbi, Dr. Moses Rosen, the Great Synagogue of Tirgul Cucului was renovated, the Pacurari cemetery was repaired, some religious libraries were preserved, which existed next to the synagogues that were destroyed ( the synagogues were demolished due to some public utilities changes) and a religious life for the small Jewish community was maintained.

Significant achievements also existed in the social assistance field: the existence of a ritual restaurant, the creation of a Medical Clinic, and donations of money, clothes and food for the poor people. These realizations were made possible with the extensive help of the World Organization, “Joint.”

Alongside the Community courses in Talmud Tora, a youth choir (which also traveled abroad), series of lectures on religious, historic and cultural subjects, and a community museum were established. These are some elements that mark the existence of a modest Iasi Community that faces the new century and a millennium with dignity.

[Pages 93-98]

Jewish Folklore and Popular Arts in Iasi

The literary, musical and theatrical folklore in Yiddish, created or propagated by the Jews of Iasi, as well as the entire Jewish population of the country (especially in Moldavia, between the Carpathians and the Dniester, in Bukovina, in Maramures and in the Northern Ardeal, but also in Bucharest and other important centers), has its roots in Central and Eastern Europe. The researchers had identified a series of original characteristics. Between 1924 and 1939, the author of this book collected and published important pages of this folklore, including that from Iasi. A song, written in 1924, deplored the fate of the detainees in the Pacurari prison:
In Rumeinie, in Ios
Of a voil beconter gos
Steit dus Criminol
Dortn leibn dezertorn
Di fraihait hobn zei farlorn
In dem Criminol.

(In Romania, in Iasi
On a known street
Stands this prison
Where the deserters live
They have foregone their freedom
In this prison)

The themes of this folklore were addressed to the young and old, to the daily events and problems, in an artistic style.

For instance this beautiful lullaby:

Inter dem kinds vighiole
Steit a golden tighiole
Dus tighiole iz ghefurn bondlen
Rojinkes and mondlen...

(Under the kids cradle
Stands a golden goat
This goat went shopping
Raisins and almonds

The last words of the song were:

Toire iz di beste shoire
(the Bible is the best buy)

Children were playing, reciting, and singing “Dadaistic,” texts that came from unknown places and times:

A zin mit a reighn
Di cole iz gheleighn
Vus hot zi ghegat
A inghiole
Hot men es gherifn Mendole
Hotmen es bagruben in a kendole
Hot es gheheisen Moisole
Hotmen es bagruben in a coisole

(A son in rain
and the bride was lying
What did she have
A boy
(If) they call it Mendole
They buried it in a pitcher
(If) its name was Moisole
They buried in a basket)...

The children also knew the following play-on-words:
Endza, dendza, viha-vaha ponda knaba
Givn, pivn, han a pudle….trosk
Eih bob dih arusghelost.

(Endza, dendza, viha-vaha ponda knaba
Givn, pivn, han a pudle….trosk
Eih bob dih arusghelost.
I let you out)

As in any folklore, the family life is very important. In the Yiddish folklore, unrequited love or disappointment is a frequent theme:
Eih vein kikn in veinen
Of danseinen portret
In of di folse reidoleh
Vus di est ti mir gheret!

(I will look and cry
At your beautiful portrait
And (at) the false words
That you heard about me)

In prose, there are stories and fairytales which interweave the real with the fiction, transmitted from generation to generation.[50] Very interesting are the stories about the Great Synagogue.

The element of “satire” is represented by typical jokes. Here is an example:

A daughter-in-law is complaining about her mother-in-law and says: ghei eih pavole/ Zugt zi az hbin moale/ Ghei eih gib/ zugt zi az eih teras di sih. ( If I walk slowly/she says that I am too soft/ if I walk quickly/ she says that I am ripping the shoes).

The folkloric theater was especially loved during holidays. For instance, during Purim, around 1895, in the Podu Ros district, a group of amateurs, ignoring the tradition, the role of Esther, from the Esther Purim Play based on the Book of Esther from the Bible, was played by a girl with a beautiful canary voice and not by a boy. The group was led by Moise Lipoveanu (the last name being the name of the street where Moise lived). Also some old orthodox Russian carriage drivers were members of this artistic group. The girl who played the role of Esther became a primadonna of the Yiddish Theater of Iasi. It is known that the Jewish Theater was a propagandist of the Jewish folklore.

The popular Arts and the handicrafts, deserve special mention. The artists in Iasi worked to create exquisite religious and lay objects.

The author of this book together with Dr. Paul Petrescu, Dr. Irina Cajal-Marin (now both in USA) and H. Culea from Bucharest, did a study of the stone carvers[51] (mateive sleigher). This work will be published to reconsider this art which existed in Iasi for hundreds of years.

Synagogue architecture is interesting, both at the Great Synagogue of Targu Cucului, built in 1670, and at the Great Synagogue of Podu Ros, which was built in 1805. The murals, painted along traditional themes – Jerusalem, the illustration of the psalm “On the Shores of Babylon,” the Twelve Tribes, the zodiac – belonged to some Jewish masters who sometimes also worked for nearby Orthodox churches.

Wood sculpting, around the Ark (Aron Hakodesh), at the altar (Amud) and the furniture, was the work of “wood carvers.” These bold artists followed a tradition in the Iasian furniture industry that continued even after WWII.

Candlesticks, chandeliers, brass items from the Amud, some Hanukah lamps, appliqués, and other Jewish ritual items, were made by renowned master craftsmen from Iasi who also worked in churches and noblemen's homes. “Keters,” Torah crowns, “Tas,” breast plates, “Yads,” pointers, etc., were crafted by silversmiths, goldsmiths, and Jewish jewelers, who worked for the royal court, as well as for churches and noblemen's homes.

Kiddush cups, etrog boxes, “adas” (spice boxes for Shabbat), “hanukiot,” etc., made with filigree, silver, or silver plated, were used in Jewish homes for religious celebrations. There were also the candlesticks, silverware, and jewelry. We remember the engraver Iancu Pecetaru, the grandfather of the poet Veronica Porumbacu, who created many ritual and secular objects.

The objects used by the royal court as well as the “parohet,” the predela which covered the Ark that contained the Torah Scrolls, and “Aron Hakodesh,” the wedding canopy, were the creations of these handicraftsmen, admired by the entire community.

Tallit and tefillin bags and prayer shawls for their husbands and fiancées were made by young girls and wives. There were cushions and tablecloths, present in every Jewish household, even the most modest ones. The embroideries used specific motifs, such as birds, animals, flowers, abstract figures, Oriental style knitting – found in graphic works as well as wooden and stone sculptures. Mateivas, the funeral stones made by master stone carvers, are real works of art.

Ink drawings in synagogues: pictures for the “sefira,” for the month of Adar, covers for registers (Pinkas), “seviti” from the prayer alter, Remembrance plaques, calligraphed prayers, are true works of art that show the remarkable talent of the artists.

Artistic craftsmanship added beauty to daily life… Popular Jewish music and dance deserve competent and adequate study, so that we may acquire a true image of what has been for centuries the life of the Jewish population of Iasi.

[Pages 99-100]


  1. GIURESCU, C. C. Targuri sau orase si cetati moldovene (Moldavian small towns or cities and citadels). Bucharest, p.55. Return
  2. DELMEDIGO, SLOMO. Matzref lahohma (Crucible of Wisdom). 2nd edition, Odessa, 1865. p.7. Return
  3. Izvoare si marturii referitoare la evreii din Romania (Sources and testimonies regarding the Jews of Romania). Vol. 1, Bucharest, Hasefer Publishing, 1986, document nos. 55, 73, 97, 100, 116, 121, 134, 141, 150. Return
  4. Ibid, p. 127. Return
  5. Ibid, no. 141, 150; see The State Archives Bucharest, file Neamt Monastery, LXXX/3, and Trei Ierarhi Monastery Register, mss 579, files 1v, 3v Return
  6. GRIGORAS, N. Institutii feudale din Moldova (Feudal Institutions in Moldavia). Bucharest, Academy Publishing, 1971, p. 40. Return
  7. Ibid, p.401 Return
  8. KARA, I., CHEPTEA, Stela. Inscriptii ebraice (Hebrew Inscriptions). Iasi, 1994, inscription no. 34. Return
  9. GHIBANESCU, Gh. Catastiful Iasilor (The Iasi Register). 1755, Iasi, 1921. Return
  10. VERAX. La Roumanie et les Juifs (Romania and the Jews). Bucharest, 1903, p. 42-47. Return
  11. Izvoare si marturii…(Sources and testimonies…) Vol. 2, no. 117, p. 103. Return
  12. Ibid, no. 121, p. 108. Return
  13. Ibid, no. 57. Return
  14. Ibid, vol. 2/II, p. 60, 61. Return
  15. Ibid, no. 97, p. 143-144. Return
  16. KARA, I., CHEPTEA, Stela, cited work, inscription no. 64. Return
  17. Ibid, no. 67 Return
  18. Ibid, no. 75 Return
  19. Ibid, no. 78 Return
  20. Ibid, no. 79 Return
  21. Ibid, no. 82, p. 83. Return
  22. Ibid, no. 85 Return
  23. Ibid, no. 184 Return
  24. Ibid, no. 184 Return
  25. Revista T. Codrescu (T. Codrescu Review), 1, no. 2, May 1916, p. 118-120 Return
  26. KARA, I., in the magazine “Bleter for geszichte,” Warsaw, 1900, vol. 12, p. 151-169. Return
  27. HALEVY, M.A. Comunitatea evreilor din Iasi si Bucuresti (The Jewish Community of Iasi and Bucharest), Vol. 1, Bucharest, 1931, p. 75-77. Return
  28. Ibid, p.76. Return
  29. ZANE, G. Economia de schimb in Principatele Romane (The Barter Economy in the Romanian Principalities), Bucharest, 1970, p. 330. Return
  30. IORGA, N. Istoria industriilor romanesti…(The History of the Romanian Industries…), p. 33. Return
  31. PLATON, Gh. In Populatie si societate (Population and Society), vol. 1, Cluj, 1972, Table XVII. Return
  32. Buletinul Comisiei istorice a Romaniei (The Bulletin of the Historical Commission of Romania), no. 9, 1930, p. 182. Return
  33. Dated July 6, 1859, p. 5. Return
  34. MANES, S. In: Anuarul Institutului de Istorie si arheologie “A. D. Xenopol” (Yearbook of the History and Archeology Institute “A. D. Xenopol”), Iasi, t. VI, 1969, p. Return
  35. ZANE, G. Economia de schimb…(The Barter Economy…), p. 45. Return
  36. Ibid, p.145. Return
  37. PLATON, Gh., cited work, p. 328-329 Return
  38. Ibid, p. 147. Return
  39. PLATON, Gh. Geneza revolutiei romane de la 1848 (The Genesis of the Romanian Revolution of 1848), Iasi, 1980, p. 129. Return
  40. VOLOVICI, Leon, Ideologie nationalista si “problema evreiasca” in Romania anilor '30 (The Nationalistic Ideology and the “Jewish Problem” in Romania of the 30s), Bucharest, 1995, p. 36-37. Return
  41. The newspaper “Progresul”, Iasi, Feb. 23, 1966, p. 4. Return
  42. June 6, 1876. Return
  43. REPIN, Die Juden in Rumaenie (The Jews in Romania), Berlin, 1908, p. 28. Return
  44. SUTU, Rudolf, Iasii de odiniora (Iasi in the past), Iasi, 1928, p. 137 and on Return
  45. Almanahul ziarului “Rasaritul” pe anul 1899-1900 (The Almanac of the newspaper “Rasaritul” for 1899-1900), Iasi, p. 87. Return
  46. GEORGESCU, Vlad, Istoria Romanilor (The History of the Romanians), 3rd Edition, Bucharest, Humanitas, 1992, p. 221.
  47. Ibid, p. 203. Return
  48. VOLOVICI, Leon, cited work, p. 20. Return
  49. LAUNAY, J. de, Titulesco et l'Europe (Titulesco and Europe), Paris, 1976. Return
  50. Revista Cultului Mozaic (The Mosaic Cult Review), Bucharest, no. 129, Dec. 15th, 1965, p. 5. Return
  51. The collection “Bucurester Sriften”, Bucharest, vol. 2, 1979, p. 107-125. Return

[Pages 101-103]

Selective Bibliography

(Note: Only those works essential to the present work are mentioned. Most are in Romanian, but works in other languages were also selected. The author preferred recent studies and editions, which are easily accessible.)

The Annals of the Dr. Iuliu Barasch Historical Society, Bucharest, vol. 1 – 1887; vol. 2 – 1888; vol 3. – 1889.

Year Book for Israelites, vol. 5 – 19. Bucharest, 1890 (Editor: M. Schwarzfeld).

The Mosaic Cult Review. Bucharest, 1957 – 1995.

Sinai. Iasi, 1920 – 1927. (Editor: Dr. M. A. Halevy)

Sinai. Yearbook. Bucharest, vol. 1 – 1920; Vol. 2 – 1929; vol. 3 – 1931.

ALMONI, P. Epoca “Licht” (The “Licht” Era). Bucharest. No year.
BADARAU, Dan and CAPROSU, Ioan. Iasii vechilor zidiri (The old buildings of Iasi), Iasi, Junimea Publishing, 1970.
Bechol nafshacha. (With all your heart and soul). Work dedicated to the Iasi school teacher Hana Eisenstein. Tel Aviv, 1988.
BERCOVICI, Israel. O suta de ani de teatru evreiesc in Romania, (One hundred years of Jewish theatre in Romania), 1876 – 1976. Bucharest, 1982.
BOGDAN, N.A. Orasul Iasi (The City of Iasi), Iasi, 1914.
CIHODARU, C., PLATON, Gh. Istoria orasului Iasi (The History of the City of Iasi), Vol. 1. Iasi, Junimea Publishing, 1980.
GHERNER, H., WACHTEL, B. Evreii ieseni in documente si fapte (The Jews of Iasi in documents and deeds), Iasi, 1939.
GIURESCU, C. C. Istoria Bucurestilor (The History of Bucharest). Bucharest, 1966.
HALEVY, M. A. Comunitatile evreiesti din Iasi si Bucuresti (The Jewish Communities of Iasi and Bucharest) Vol. 1. Pana la 1821 (Until 1821). Bucharest, 1931.
IANCU, Cornel, Les Juifs en Roumanie (The Jews in Romania). 1913 – 1918. Montpellier, 1993.
Izvoare si marturii privitoare la evreii din Romania (Sources and testimonies regarding the Jews of Romania). Bucharest, Hasefer, 1986-1993. Vol. 1. 1986; vol. II/I.
IORGA, N. Istoria evreiilor in Tarile Romane (The History of the Jews in the Romanian Countries). Bucharest, 1913.
KARA, I. Istoria evreilor in Tarile Romane (The History of the Jews in the Romanian Countries). Iasi, 1995. In manuscript; The Yiddish translation of the summaries of the first five chapters was published in the annual collections BUCARESTER SRIFTN; vol. 1, p. 121-132; vol. 3, p. 97-104; vol. 4, p. 160-172; vol. 5, p. 57-66; vol. 6, p. 150-158. The volumes were published in Bucharest in the years 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983.
KARA, I. Obstae evreiasca din Podul Iloaiei (The Jewish Community of Podul Iloaiei). Bucharest, Hasefer, 1990.
KARA, I., CHEPTEA, Stela. Inscriptii ebraice (Hebrew Inscriptions). Iasi, 1994.
Martiriul evreilor din Romania. Documente si marturii (The Martyrdom of the Jews of Romania. Documents and Testimonies). 1940-1944, Bucharest, 1991.
MASSOF, Ioan. Stradania a cinci generatii. Monografia familiei Saraga. (The Endeavour of Five Generations. The Monograph of the Sharaga Family.). Bucharest, 1941.
Pinkas Hakehilot. Romania. Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 1970, p. 141-176.
PODOLEANU, Georgeta. Iasii in arta plastica (Iasi in the Plastic Art). Iasi, 1974. (Catalog of exposition with numerous reproductions)
PODOLEANU, S. Istoria presei evreiesti din Romania (The History of the Jewish Press in Romania). Vol. 1, 1857-1900. Bucharest, 1938.
PODOLEANU, S. 60 de scriitori romani de origine evreiasca (60 Romanian writers of Jewish origins). Vol. 1-2. Bucharest, no year.
ROSENBAUM, L. Documente si note privitoare la istoria evreilor in Tarile Romane (Documents and note regarding the history of the Jews in the Romanian Countries), Vol 1-2. Bucharest, 1947.
SAFERMAN, Simion. Dr. W. Filderman. 50 de ani de istorie a evreiilor din Romania (50 years of history of the Jews in Romania). Tel Aviv, 1989. (In Hebrew)
SUTU, Rudolf. Iasii de odinioara (Iasi in the past). Vol. 1-2, Iasi, 1923, 1928.
TAMBUR, Volf. Presa idis in Romania {The Yiddish Press in Romania). Bucharest, 1977.
VERAX. La Roumanie et les Juifs {Romania and the Jews). Bucharest, 1903.
VOLOVICI, Leon. Ideologia nationalista si “problema evreiasca” in Romania anilor '30 (The Nationalistic Ideology and the “Jewish Problem” in Romania during the 30s). Bucharest, 1995.

[Pages 105-111]

Contibutions to the History of Jews in Iasi

by I. Kara

The presence of a Jewish population in Iasi as early as the 15th century is a fact, according to prominent historians such as C. C. Giurescu. An organized Jewish community must have lived there in the 16th century since Rabbi Shlomo d'Arroyo, a famous scholarly Talmudist, mystic, philosopher, and physician was reported as functioning there about 1580.

A total of 24,576 tombstones dating from the period 1610-1681 could still be seen in the old cemetery of Iasi's Churki neighborhood in 1941. Princely charters from the 17th century regulating the rights and obligations of the Jews' guild as the community was designated, have been reported by researchers. Dr. M. A. HaLevy used to possess such a document dating from 1620, while Gheorghe Chibanescu once summarized a similar writ from 1666. Jews were thereby granted economic and religious freedom; they had rabbis, Hakhams, synagogues, and were under protection of the authorities. The elder, or staroste, of the guild handed the duties of all local Jews in bulk to the treasury. These were collected in the form of taxes on Kosher meat, and sometimes also on liquor, yeast, etc.

Moldavian chronicles tell about a pogrom by hoodlums of Timush Chmielnicki who had come to marry Ruxanda, daughter of Voivode Basil the Wolf. Reports on the peasants uprising and pogrom led by hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki were provided by Rabbi Nathan Hanover, a famous philosopher, historian and physician, who served in Iasi in ca. 1657-1670. The Great Synagogue in Targu Cucului neighborhood, which was still standing in 1995, was erected by him in 1659-1670. There had been only wooden synagogues in town before that.

The demographic, social and economic structure of the Jewish community in Iasi can be assessed from Hebrew sources such as: rabbinical response, tombstones, various registers of the Hevra Kadisha (burial society), economic guilds, charities, and cultural associations. Foreign travelers such as C. Magni in 1687 provided some accounts, while further information on the period to 1800 can be found in three volumes of documents recently published by the History Center of the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities. Monographs and various historical studies offer further valuable data.

Many historical sources reveal the growth in numbers and economic strength of the Jews in Iasi. Their bustling activity in commerce, various trades, transportation, and services was underscored by both foreign travelers and local historians, who did not fail to mention that Jews were shamelessly exploited by voivodes such as Michael Racovita who squeezed them for money on blood charges in 1726.

In 1756, Jews totaled over 400 out of an overall population of 7000. The fact that prominent rabbis such as Petachio Lyda functioned in town in ca. 1715 and the creation of a hakham-bashi office in ca. 1729 imply a rather significant community. The Naftulovicis constituted something like a dynasty of hakham-bashis. Naftali, who was first appointed, never functioned, but his son, Yeshaya, put in a vigorous performance in office, which he then handed down to Bezalel, his son. When 'Bezal' (as Moldavian documents would call him) died, the job went to his son. Yitzhak, whose financial, administrative and even political claims brought him in conflict with the elder of the Jewish guild. After Yitzhak's death, Mordecai, a scholarly rabbi, briefly held office (1777) but was soon dead and the post returned to the family by the appointment of Neftali, Bezalel's son. He was followed in 1809 by an underage son, with his uncle Yeshaya as guardian. This son soon grew old enough to take over the job, which he held until 1834.

The Hevra Kadisha, which had run the local cemetery from the very beginning, gradually took up further community tasks. Documents first mention the society in 1610 when the Churki cemetery was also first reported. A register, including charters, meeting reports and various entries on the Hevra's activity, was renewed in the 18th century.

A community organization known as the “Jews' guild” – there also was and “Armenians' guild” at the same time – was in existence in the 17th century when seven of its leading members are reported. Russian records mentioned 171 Jewish families living in Iasi out of a total of 574 in 1774. Jews were involved in mostly every branch of commerce, moneylending, transport, and especially handicrafts. They supplied the voivode's court, the church, the boyars and, of course, the Jewish population. They were particularly famed as silversmiths, brass workers, jewelers, bakers, tailors, bootmakers, hatters, carpenters, bricklayers, watchmakers, upholsterers, mechanics, etc., and had set up their own professional guilds as early as the 18th century. They often impressed foreign travelers as energetic craftsmen and merchants.

Historical demography is the basic instrument for investigating population evolution. Iasi counted 2420 Jewish taxpayers in 1805, but the figure appears incomplete since, in 1820, 4926 Jewish family heads were recorded. The 1831 census found 1570 Jewish families, while seven years later documents tell of 29,562 'souls'. The number rose to 31,015 in 1859, then dropped to 19,941 in 1890. The local Jewish population continued to decline, with many emigrating or moving away as a result of economic and social troubles in the years 1890-1910.

After 1866, community structures ran into difficulties. Central governments neglected the community, discriminatory laws and regulation hurt the economic and social life of the Jews. Community leaders grew unable to cope with an increasing number of problems and could not strike a balance between needs and means, or between aspirations and achievements. In economic life, it was only through dedicated work, initiative, innovation, persistence, sobriety, and adaptability that Jews succeeded in fighting off a crisis arising from hostile legislation and local authority abuse.

Biblical and Talmudic studies stimulated spiritual life throughout the Jewish population, irrespective of social categories. Ethical standards remained high thanks to a thorough observance of rituals and a sense of sharing the same fate, reflected in a high degree of civic awareness.

Hasidism, the mystic and popular reform movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov, spread rapidly in the first decades of the 19th century. In 1800-1850, largely with the support of banker Michel Daniel, Hasidism was quite pervasive amid the local Jewry. Daniel's descendants, particularly R. Israel Rujiner, settled at Sadagura, and founded Hasidic centers at Stefanesti, Buhusi, and Adjud.

Opposed to Hasidism was the Haskalah, a rationalist, modernizing movement, which developed in Germany in the 18th century with the support of Moses Mendelssohn. Its followers, or mashkilim, advocated a reform of traditional education to meet contemporary needs and an improved knowledge of both Hebrew and the local language. They also urged their coreligionists to drop traditional garments as well as some customs, rites and forms of worship. Stiff traditionalism had hardly a more scorching for than Velvl Zbarjer Ehrenkranz, a balladist – author, composer, performer, and publisher of his own songs. He used to sing them everywhere – at weddings, family reunions, gatherings, or even in pubs and cafes. His volumes contained both the original Yiddish lyrics and a Hebrew version, also of his own making. Some rationalists were eventually assimilated, converted even. Such is the case of lawyer Alexandru Veinberg, father, of the reputed literary critic Tudor Vianu. Others such as Haiman, Tiktin, Lazar Saineanu converted for the sake of their professional careers. Some trends toward a cultural assimilation without recanting Judaism were promptly discouraged by chauvinism on the rise.

Modern, professional Yiddish theater took a special place in the spiritual life of the community. Born at the Green Tree Garden in Iasi, in 1876, it swiftly spread across Europe and America and wherever Yiddish speakers lived. Drawing on Jewish folklore, recasting ancient Judaic wisdom, improving acting skills and theatrical techniques, it attracted a numerous audience. Its repertoire successfully blended motifs from secular world culture and others from the national-religious tradition, which brightened the Jewish hearts oppressed by their bitter lot.

A Jewish press in Yiddish, Romanian and Hebrew developed over the next decades. Socialist and Zionist organizations emerged on the political scene; trade unions, mutual help associations and charities sprouted up.

While the living standards of Iasi Jews declined against a backdrop of internal economic recession, the drive for emancipation gathered momentum and manifested itself in various forms. Jewish-Romanian primary schools were founded, traditional education was improved, and increasingly more Jews of different backgrounds were attracted to the study of Romanian language and culture. In spite of legal discrimination, growing numbers of Jews attended secondary schools and higher education, and soon enough a Jewish intelligentsia took shape that would make a significant contribution to Romanian culture. In 1915, the first group – Licht – of modern Yiddish literature was set up.

The interwar years, 1918-1940, were an extremely dynamic period. The uneven development of Romanian democracy, A. C. Cuza's nefarious anti-Semitic activity, marked by hooliganic outbursts, his manipulation of the academic youth, the Iron Guard – all these convulsed the Jewish population of Iasi. Against the background of a Greater Romania rocked by great structural changes, faced with the growth of industry, commerce and trades, then with the economic depression starting in 1929, hit by racial discrimination (numerus valachicus, numerus nullus), the population was sharply pauperized. Young Jews eager to study or improve their economic status were fighting an uphill battle. Various Zionist organisations were active at the time and a specific Romanian-language press expanded. Writers such as B. Fundoianu, Enric Furtuna, I. Ludo, Eugen Relgis, C. Sateanu, Carol Drimer, M. A. Halevy, and the Hefter brothers, as well as groups such as Tribuna evreiasca maintained creative links with the community in Iasi.

Distinguished local leaders, including I. Mendelssohn, Moses Duff, I. M. Moscovici, G. Buhman, Dr. Fuhling, and others, were dedicating their efforts to the prosperity of Jewish institutions and an ever increasing prestige of the community.

The city of Iasi witnessed a wide range of political and social trends. Unfortunately, racial terrorism set in among them culminating in the savage pogrom of June 1941, in which more than ten thousand local Jews were killed.

After the terrible years of racial persecution, the new political regime gave rise to fresh hopes for a better life. But soon enough craftsmen, businessmen and merchants saw their properties nationalized and their status lowered. Short-lived demagogic measures – schools, Yiddish literature, a state theater – gave way to a grim, impoverished society, which clearly revealed the nature and prospects of the new totalitarianism. Mass emigration to Israel ensued, often associated with bare destitution and threats from the secret police.

Nevertheless, a small Jewish community is still alive and active in Iasi, working in every field, supporting continuity, promoting the lofty values of Jewish culture, observing the traditions of their forefathers, and making every effort in their might to defend their identity in these times of change.

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