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Translated by Sheli Fain

Kishinev was an important centre for the national movements in Central Europe. For various reasons the Kishinev influence on the Zionist movements was not always clear and sometime it did not stand out in the Zionist movement. If we study carefully the Kishinev Zionist movement in the last 60 years, we can see the great contributions it made to the Zionism. From its beginning in the 1880s and until its end in the 1940 we can see five distinct periods:

  1. Hibat Zion
  2. The political Zionism
  3. Tze'irei Zion (Ze'irei Zion)
  4. Within the Romanian Zionism
  5. On the edge of destruction
Hibat Zion – Hovevei Zion

The 1880s stirred up the intellectuals of Russia, who understood that the Haskala did not solve and it will never solve the Jewish problem and that instead of having a peaceful life in Russia, a wave of Pogroms started against the Jews. New voices were heard in this confusion, the voices of Peretz Smolensky, M.L. Lilienblum, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Dr. Leon Pinsker and others[1] who called for immigration and for building a new homeland in Eretz Israel. Part of the Jewish population of Kishinev answered the call of the writers of Hibat Zion.

In 1881, in Kishinev there was no Zionist organization as such, but we have already many who were inspired by the propaganda to go to Eretz Israel, among them Abraham Grinberg, Meir Dizengoff and others.

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Other causes also influenced the groups in Kishinev to get interested in Eretz Israel. Dr. M.B. Slutzky, the head physician of the Jewish Hospital in Kishinev, who was not involved with these groups at the time, gives us many details in his memoirs[2].

At the International Berlin Peace Conference between Russia and Turkey, the representative of Russia, Prince Gurchekov gave an explicitly anti–Semitic discourse and refused to deal with the situation of the Jews of Russia. He even accused the Jews of not being productive, at the time when in Kishinev there were many who worked to increase the productivity of the Jews. The leaders of this group were: Dr. Levontin, Dr. M.B. Slutzky, Joseph Rabinovich, Cantor, Dr. Fliesfeinder and others. The Interior Ministry did not approve of this group. In order to study the possibility of immigration to Eretz Israel they decided to send a special envoy to revise the situation. Unfortunately they sent Joseph Rabinovich[3]. In 1882, when he was still in Constantinople he sent letters to Ha–Melitz warning people not to go to Eretz Israel because the conditions there were very difficult. His letters influenced the people of Kishinev. In his letter to A. Tzaderboim, the editor of Ha–Melitz, sent on May 6, 1882 and which was published in the issue 19 of Sivan 12, 5642 (18 May 1882), he writes:

When I arrived, I found here my brothers who demand that the tribes of Jacob come to our sacred land. David Preskin, the editor of the Telegraph, a newspaper in Spanish and Dr. Schwatz and his friends all lament the destruction of our people in Russia and Romania and want to find safe haven for our wandering and oppressed people in our ancestral land and to rescue all these hungry people who are thirsty for freedom and smitten by the drunk Russians. Even before the Ottoman regime made up its mind to let our Diaspora return to the land of our origins, a decree was given to the Consul in Odessa to prevent the Jews of Russia to go to Palestine. The hope to have this injustice reversed came from Mr. Lawrence Oliphant, a philanthropist. He begged the Sultan to have pity on the Jews, to let us go to our homeland to work the sacred land and to make it bloom again with our hands. He also promised that the British government and the Jews of Britain will open their pockets and help settle the Jews in their homeland.

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But it pains me to write that the great minister Oliphant, who promised to deliver our people in the 19th Century and to settle them in their coveted land, this minister turned out to be powerless and the Ottomans did not like him because he wrote a book against them. He also did not have a cent to give for the benefit of settlers in Eretz Israel.

––This British Bar Kochba turned out to be a fraud and we have to rely on our Father in Haven to find him a deserved rest in the middle of all the false prophets who tried to defraud our people.

This letter troubled all the circles of Hovevei Zion in Russia, and many wrote letters to editor of the Ha–Melitz[4] against Rabinovich assessment of Oliphant and many accused the editor, Tzaderboim that he allowed such a calumnious letter to be published. A.Sh. Friedberg (Oradia), Shaul Pinkhas Rabinovich (Lemberg), Moshe–Leib Lukimacker (Odessa), Peretz Smoleskin and others showed proofs and facts that Oliphant was dedicated to the settlement of the Jews in Eretz Israel.

A. Tzaderboim understood that it is his duty to write his own open letter to Rabinovich and he titled it: “What damages us?” He writes:

What an evil way to pay back for the fifteen years that you pulled thousands of Jewish people to sin, to doubt and to hurt their hearts.

Rabinovich returned at the end of June 1882 from Eretz Israel and was stunned to read in the Ha–Melitz that his letter on Oliphant caused such a storm. In his letter to Tzaderboim (printed in Ha–Melitz, issue 30 of August 2, 1882), he tries to explain that he intended to express his doubts about Oliphant's work and that he wanted to reveal the truth. Dr. Slutzky emphasises in his memoirs[5] the negative influence of Joseph Rabinovich and indicates that the adversaries of Zionism, the assimilated and the extremist religious circles clung to each of Rabinovich's words and were convinced that they can suppress the Hovevei Zion movement. It did not happen. When the community became aware of Rabinovich activities, his treason of the Jewish community and the founding of a Christian Jewish cult, they disassociated from him and understood how erroneous his propaganda against Eretz Israel was. At the beginning of 1882, a meeting took place at the home of L. Pinsker in Odessa where a number of

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activists met with members of the Bilu (Beit Ya'akov Lekhu ve–Nelkhah; “House of Jacob come ye and let us go,” Isa. 2:5) movement from Kharkov in order to get help for the Bilu'im who wanted to go to Eretz Israel. Meir Dizengoff and Dr. Bernstein–Cohen participated at the meeting. Bernstein–Cohen wrote in his memoirs:

In Odessa we had new people: Zionist delegates from Kharkov, the first pioneers of Bilu. Among them students, teacher and two professors, but the majority were proletarians. Dr. Pinsker, whom I met not long ago, organized a special meeting in his home to hear this delegation. I was at the meeting together with Dr. Michael Leon, the lawyer Menashe Margalit and Meir Dizengoff. We stayed until late at night and listened to the delegates – the Jewish “Tolstoys” who returned to the simple life (long before Tolstoy advocated that); we exchanged ideas and at the end we established a committee to help the Bilu group. Meir Dizengoff travelled to Kishinev and organized a fundraiser that collected 2,500 rubles. The Kishinev community promised to give money on the condition that the Odessa committee reports from time to time how the money is managed. They were careful because of the Rabinovich affair, when the Jews of Kishinev collected 3000 rubles (even my father, Z”L, contributed to this fund) and instead of helping the poor, Rabinovich and his sect converted to Christianity under the influence of the British missionaries. Joseph Rabinovich returned to Kishinev and founded with the British Mission the “New Israel Sect,” built himself a half synagogue–half church, received from the city a special cemetery, but because he did not have dead customers, turned the plot to a vegetable garden and he sold his products in the city market. The people of Kishinev had all the rights to be cautious, so the committee agreed to the conditions.[6]

The activities to support Bilu paved the ground for the creation of the “Hovevei Zion” society in Kishinev in the next four years. One of the dedicated organizers of the society was Abraham Grinberg, who later became the Chairman of the Odessa branch of Hovevei Zion.

Abraham Grinberg (Grunberg) was born in Kishinev in 1841. At a very young age he became interested in the Jewish community of Kishinev public life. In 1870s he became attracted to the Haskala movement and became involved with the local community. He was very rich and owned a lot of properties in town and its surroundings. He was one of the first wealthy men who joined the national movement at its inception[7]. He was attracted to Odessa which was at the time the centre of public activities and he settled there. He kept in touch with Kishinev and was active

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Abraham Grinberg


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in various public circles in the city. He was a very close friend of Dr. Leon Pinsker, who considered him one of his most important helpers. At the Hovevei Zion Congress in Druzkieniki (Druzgenik), Lithuania, (5647, 1887) he was elected honorary trustee and at the Congress in Vilna (5649, 1889) Pinsker nominated him first trustee. He helped obtain for the Odessa Committee of Hovevei Zion the authorization from the authorities. He was elected official treasurer of the Hovevei Zion society in 5652 (1892). After the death of Dr. Pinsker, he was elected President of the Odessa Hovevei Zion and until his death in 5666 (1906), he devoted his time and efforts to the society business. He participated in the acquisition of Gush Halav and supported the settlement of Yesod Ha–Maaleh. He collaborated with Baron de Rothschild in the establishment of Kastina in the South of Israel and Be'er Toviyyah, where the first immigrants from Bessarabia settled[8].

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An additional problem was that the extremists among the Hasidim of Buhuşi, Talnoe and Sadigora were against this new current and considered Zionism a serious competition to their stronghold on the community.

In order to better understand the situation in the Kishinev community, it's important to read the letter from Meir Dizengoff to Menachem Ussishkin:

21 Elul 1880?, Kishinev

To M. Ussishkin

My dear friend:

… here are the biggest obstacle that stand in our way: 1. The Hasidim, or more accurate the ones who “converted” to Hasidism, who badmouth everything that is not coming from their Rabbi. They are mainly from Buhuşi, Talnoe and Sadigora, but a few come from Chabad, disciples of Rabbi Zalman from Kapost, (the one you spoke to). I have to mention here that the Hasidim tried with all their might to stop our money collection, because they think that the young people should leave the collection of money for Eretz Israel to the Zadiks. And they also want that all money should be kept by the Zadiks and their treasurers and then distributed. Many will say that if the Zadik from Buhuşi gave permission to the Hasidim to give money for Eretz Israel they would have emptied their pockets immediately. To my recollection, the Rabbis from Druzkieniki (Druzgenik) say they will try to write to all the Hasidim and the rabbis about the idea of revival of our nation in Eretz Israel. Do you know anything about this exchange of letters among the rabbis and the Zadiks and do you know of other societies that are eaten by the Hasidism worm? We have to reach out to all societies and groups touched by Hasidism and speak to them in order to clear this big hurdle from our way. Maybe we can send one representative to all the Zadiks to convince them. Let me know what you think, because this is a huge obstacle.

It's no wonder that the Hovevei Zion of Kishinev considered the Hasidim a great obstacle. It was important to obtain the cooperation from the Zadiks to urge their followers to give donations for Eretz Israel. M. Dizengoff and his friends devoted their efforts to convince the Hasidim to support the Zionist endeavour.

Dizengoff writes to M. Ussishkin again:

17 Tevet 1880? Kishinev

I attach here the letter from the Zadik of Buhuşi to the Rabbi of Mogilev and you will see the success of our representative. I also wanted to send you the copy of the letter from the Mogilev Rabbi to Buhuşi, Rabbi Lavda Moti, but I will only summarise it: the Rabbi asked that they

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give donations only to two settlements: Petah Tikva and Yesod Ha–Maaleh and that's it. They also promised to fulfill there all the commandments as dictated by our Rabbis, Z”L.[9]

The Hovevei Zion activities among the Hasidim and religious people had a great influence and slowly the Zionist idea acquired an important place among them. This influence challenged a lot the resistance to donations for Eretz Israel and even damaged the Hasidim and assimilated people in their community institutions.

Another external factor was that the Tsarist authorities caused difficulties for the Kishinev Hovevei Zion and a lot of supporters of Zionism were afraid to show their support in public. We can read that in one of the letters of Dizengoff to Ussishkin:

We had a lot of good ideas and we couldn't implement them because we were afraid of the authorities. Many good people who have in their hearts the love of Zion did not join because they held official position and did not want the other city leaders to know. It is also difficult for us to have meetings, a very necessary activity to strengthen the unity and the cooperation. Many did not want to come because they did not want to reveal themselves to the authorities. Maybe you, my dear friend can tell us how you function and how you do not fear the authorities?

A big improvement happened when Abraham Grinberg received the permit from the government to establish the Odessa branch of Hovevei Zion (5650, 1890). Kishinev Hovevei Zion situation improved together with the entire Russia. The Zionists of Kishinev were not satisfied with only receiving instructions from Odessa, they thrived to take new initiatives to improve and widen the movement.

At the Hovevei Zion Congress in Druzkieniki (Druzgenik) in 1887, the Kishinev branch forced initiatives that would change the organizational, financial and social structure of Hovevei Zion. Until the Congress, the Hovevei Zion organization functioned according to the Moses Montefiore will and was very restricted. Now, due to the Kishinev initiative the scope was to bring the organization to a prominent status.

Dizengoff presented the initiatives of the Kishinev branch:

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A. Financial aspect:

  1. The Organization is in danger because of the philanthropic aspect it projects in the public in regards to those who immigrated to Eretz Israel; therefore we will decide to buy the land as a common public asset and we will sell the parcels of land to private citizens who can afford to pay, or will sell to those who will settle the land and they will pay in instalments.
  2. Method: a) Regular income with a portion set aside for establishing new settlements, b) land purchases by shares registered to individuals, c) loans from banks
  3. Sources: a) Universal sale of all the religious assets, b) Acquisitions of synagogues with help from the rabbis who will be the guarantors, c) Have a lottery for the parcels of land d) Set up collection boxes with the Star of David printed on them
  4. Organizing the Yishuv and the distribution: a) To organize 2 parallel agencies: one in Russia and one in Eretz Israel – in Eretz Israel it will be composed of influential people who will lobby, b) acquisition of land by the Hovevei Zion by power of attorney from private citizens and then reselling it, c) selling the land and receiving installments from stakeholders, d) to propose to the rich to be guardians of the settlements, e) the council is asking the people to seek help when offers are made by agents
B. Spiritual matters:
  1. Unification of the branches: a) a yearly general meeting, b) partial meetings of branches unified in the central council, c) at least 4 meetings per year should be organized according to an agenda set ahead of time and if possible they should be held during the holidays – Passover, Sukot, Hanukah and Tisha b'Av, d) at least one person from the Central Committee should attend the partial meetings, e) all branches should cooperate and exchange ideas in writing about the activities in Eretz Israel, f) the central committee will report to branches twice a year or if there are important news and should answer to all questions from the branches.
  2. Publicise the idea of the Yishuv and Rebirth of the Nation: a) to transform and make the journal “Ha–Tzvi” into the voice for the Diaspora, b) to publish in Russian and other languages journals like “Palestina” (there is enough in Hebrew and in Yiddish), c) to publish and distribute flyers, d) to do intense oral propaganda (by many preachers), e) the intellectuals should get together with the people (in synagogues) and demonstrate to them slowly and methodically the idea of being part of the Jewish people, f) the intellectuals should pay attention to the public Jewish schools, g) the executive committee should attract the intellectuals and suggest to the Jewish educators to work with the teachers and establish a new “All Israel Society” in the spirit of the Rebirth of the People of Israel.
C. The Leadership
  1. Four branches (centres) are suggested as most suitable are: a) Odessa which is the centre of gathering of immigrants, b) Warsaw, a large Jewish centre, c) the other two centres will be decided by the elected president.
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  1. The management should be elected from different factions, i.e. Rabbi Itskhak Elkhanan, Dr. Pinsker, A. Grinberg or Wissotzky in Odessa or Warsaw (on the condition that there is a branch in Odessa) and Secretary Lilienblum as representative of the Council and influencing all cities.[10]
The initiatives of the Kishinev Hovevei Zion at this Congress constituted the foundation of the future activities of the Hovevei Zion organization in the entire Russia. They were among the first who introduced the idea of cooperation with the community. They did not want to limit their activities to only collecting money for the settlements in Eretz Israel and they planned to educate the masses for their future life,[11] especially the young generation, in order to create a foundation of a renewed nation in Eretz Israel.

The Hovevei Zion also aimed at introducing changes in the method of settlement in Eretz Israel and did not accept the neglect the settlements suffered. In their plan there is a glimmer of a new order in the organization of the Yishuv. It demonstrates that the Hovevei Zion of Kishinev wanted to depart from the local activities and enlarge the sphere of the organization. An example of this work can be seen in a letter from the Hovevei Zion of Kishinev to the Hovevei Zion in Moscow.

Wednesday, 24 Av 5648 (1888)

To our brothers, the Hovevei Zion in Moscow:

The investigations into the settlement of Eretz Israel demonstrate, and you may also have noticed, that the colonization process has a lot of difficulties. We concluded that the reason for these difficulties is the need of 3000 or 4000 rubles for each settler. We think that it is possible to settle with a lot less money if the conditions of the place were better known.

Our brother, Mr. Cahana from Ungheni, who was in Eretz Israel for almost a year, came up with a plan: to start a new settlement in Transjordan. This settlement will have 100 families and each family will receive about 500 rubles, if the families had only

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Meir Dizengoff


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2 people. Due to the fact that most families have children, we will give permission to have these families to join, if they will pay for their children under the age of twelve, 50 rubles for each child and for older children 100 rubles for each.

The people should have a good reputation and be patient (in matters of religion and faith). They will work together in the first 3 years and they will divide among themselves the necessities according to the number of people in the family. The remaining money will be spent in the community for building houses and providing household items for each settler. Each person will be allocated 20 rubles for personal expenses, 100 rubles for the first installment; the second installment of 100 rubles will be paid 3 months after the first one, the remainder will be paid when the title is registered.

Here we have, my friends, this is our suggestion. You should think about it and if you think it is appropriate for you, we ask you to establish in your city a council who will approve this proposal. We need a large representation.

We sign in the name of the organization:

Chairman: Meir Dizengoff

Secretary: N. Lifshitz

The Hovevei Zion of Kishinev did not limit themselves to ideas and suggestions, they aspired to implement them. A few years after J. Rabinovich returned from Eretz Israel in 1882 and bad mouthed the movement, the Jews of Kishinev started to immigrate again. Itzkhak Hiutman, Altman, Gershovitz, and others lead the way for the immigration and together with many Jews from cities and towns of Bessarabia were the pioneers of the Yishuv.

At the beginning of 1888 Dizengoff went Paris to study chemistry at the University and after one year he went to Eretz Israel. His departure left a big empty space in the management of the Zionist movement and limited its activities. His place was filled by Dr. Bernstein–Cohen who came to Kishinev in 1889.[12] Together with Dr. Leon Cohen, a member of the Zionist group Kadima in Vienna, he started in 1890 a large scale activity

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among the masses. In his Memoirs he writes about this period:[13]

Once I was invited together with Leon Cohen, who came to Dorpat to take his medical doctor exams and was active in our society for long time, to a meeting of our members. We were about 20 friends in the group and the meeting was held at the house of Mrs. B. Rabinovich, a midwife by profession. Because it was illegal to assemble and many were afraid to come, only 15 people attended. We started by discussing the situation in Kishinev and the oppression that made life difficult. We wanted to discuss with activists and to take some concrete actions. Some of the people present at the meeting were already veteran activists in the community and the others were young people full of enthusiasm. Mrs. Rabinovich, the owner of the house was also experienced in the work of the society. Also present was Nakhum Roitman, an admirer of Michaelovsky, a young, courageous man but without any profession. I. Breitman, who served already in jail for his activities, Sh. Berliand, a noble man, the son in law of a very rich person and others were present at that meeting and helped exchange ideas. And we came to these conclusions: 1.We should establish ourselves as a national and strong circle where we can discuss all the problems. 2. Each of us has to take on an important task and should strive to complete it. 3. We should meet once a week in a place agreed upon in advance. 4. Our activity should be on a national level and we should not undertake other tasks unless they do not compete with our main work.

Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, an active member of the Zionist movement, understood that Zionism is a method to awaken the patriotic feeling among the Jewish masses and was one of the leaders of the movement in Kishinev and in the entire Bessarabia. During the following months, more than 30 circles (krujok) with 30 members each were established. The membership dues were used to help the Bilu settlers. The activities were illegal, but the groups were not afraid to organize the craftsmen and small merchants. The progressive spirit and the nationalistic love were seen in all of Dr. Bernstein–Cohen and his group's activities and they left a great mark on the Zionist movement of Kishinev for years to come. A large number of Hovevei Zion members stayed in contact and continued their work in the Russian Narodnaya Voliya (The People's Will) Party which courageously worked among the masses despite the harsh conditions of the Tsarist oppression.

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During the 1880s and the 1890s the Narodnaya Voliya Party was illegal and many members were exiled and jailed. Meier Dizengoff, Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, L. Cohen and others were not spared. The intellectuals of Kishinev understood after a while that Narodnaya Voliya will not solve their problems and that the only way to go is to form an independent Jewish party. Narodnaya Voliya had a progressive influence on the Zionist movement in Kishinev and advanced the peoples role in the national social movement. The Jewish proletarians became the basis of the Zionist activities and helped to introduce democracy in the community life in Kishinev.

After they received the permit from the authorities in 1890, the Hovevei Zion held the first Congress of all the Russian branches in Odessa. The Kishinev delegation was the largest. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, Sh Berliand, I. Breitman, H.A. Gorodishtein, N. Lifshitz and N. Roitman were very active during the congress and shaped the main ideological positions. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen writes about the Congress:[14]

Immediately after we received the permit from the authorities we decided to hold a Congress in Odessa in order to organize the movement and elect the leadership. We sent invitations to all the active members in Russia. I and the entire group received invitations. We met and elected six delegates for the Congress. The main problem was the lack of funds for travel and for the weekly expense in Odessa. Even this did not stop us and we found a solution. We signed a 100 ruble loan for six months and the bank gave us the money. Four delegates took advantage of this loan and we all went to Odessa. The main personality at the Congress was Dr. L. Pinsker, now old and weak and not as angry and terrifying as he once was. At the Congress it was decided how to organize the Council, how to fundraise and the propaganda methods. The Moscow and the Odessa branches were the most prominent. A Council was established for Jaffa with V. Tiomkin, Ben–Tuvya and Pines who will be responsible for purchasing lands in Eretz Israel and the care for the settlers there. Dr. Pinsker strongly opposed the idea to ask the Zadiks to help with the Eretz Israel endeavor, although everybody else, including me, voted for it. Slutzky was given the task to put together a book of proceedings which was published immediately after the Congress.[15]

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Bernstein–Cohen was very determined to involve the religious people in the Zionist movement and he did not agree with any concessions or special status. Also Meir Dizengoff, (who managed the Hovevei Zion in 1886–1887) wanted to penetrate the closed, isolated and often opposed religious community with the help of the Zadiks. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen was disappointed after the Congress in Odessa and he was not happy with the new conditions. He dreamt about continuous contact with all people, a large movement that will be progressive and encompassing and that will represent all people and he did not see this in Odessa. His talents and efforts were not entirely used there. He wanted a larger scale renewal movement. The involvement of Herzl was the anvil to Bernstein–Cohen's hammer.

Hovevei Zion enlarged their activities between 1890 and 1892 and many new members joined in Kishinev. The immigration to Eretz Israel started during those years and the relationship with Odessa grew stronger. No one knew then, that at the beginning of 1883 the movement will suffer a serious crisis especially because of the bad news coming from Eretz Israel describing the dire situation in the new settlements and the dead end that the organization hit all over Russia and in Kishinev. During 1893–1897 the organization lost a lot of ground and reduced its activities and only when Theodore Herzl became involved, the movement regained its strength.

In this period of internal crisis of Hovevei Zion, Ahad Ha–Am, who wanted to improve the situation, founded his society “Benei–Moshe” (The Sons of Moshe). Kishinev was one of the cities with a large concentration of supporters of Ahad Ha–Am. Still many did not like the Benei–Moshe platform and refused to support it. One of them was Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, who wrote about the Benei–Moshe:

My patriotic feeling was that there is no practical foundation to this society. Besides that, a few of their members whom I met in Kishinev were clueless and belonged to the careful city dwellers group, the merchants. My duty was to fight with them and not to work with them in a society that enveloped itself in secrecy and mystery

In these days, Dizengoff was busy setting up his glass factory in Tantura, but he did not neglect his public activities. With the help of Yehoshua

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Barzilai and Levin–Epstein he was admitted to the Benei–Moshe society.[16] At Dizengoff's suggestion, Ahad Ha–Am approached the members of Hovevei Zion to join his organization. Despite Dizengoff's efforts, the Benei–Moshe organization never had great success in Kishinev.

At the conclusion of this chapter on Hovevei Zion in Kishinev we have to mention the efforts of Rabbi S. Mohilever to instil the Zionist idea in the religious community. During 1880–1900 the Hasidim and the religious people formed a strong and closed fortress to the Zionist idea and all efforts to attract them were futile, but the Zionist did not want to accept that a large number of the Jewish population was left outside their movement.


Political Zionism

Herzl's activities brought new life to the Zionist movement of Kishinev. 1896 was a year of serious changes in the Zionist activities. The Kishinev Zionists received with great enthusiasm the news of the First Zionist Congress. Herzl sent to Kishinev Yehoshuah (Joshua) Heshel Buchmil in order to mobilize the Zionists to participate to the Congress. Yehoshuah Buchmil (1869–1939) was at home in Kishinev. In his youth he worked and had many ties with the activists here. There were many debates about the participation to the Congress, which many considered as competition to the Odessa Hovevei Zion Council, but Buchmil convinced them to send a delegation to the Congress. They sent two delegates: Dr. Bernstein–Cohen and Dr. Leon (Lev) Cohen)[17]. Because Dr. Lev Cohen could not travel, only Dr. Bernstein–Cohen attended the Congress. In his memoirs he writes:

Before I left, I suggested that I should speak about the “Future social

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Dr. Jacob Bernstein–Cohen


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Administration in Eretz Israel based on the political structure to meet the objectives.” This lecture included all the directives given to the delegates by the Bessarabia Zionists. The lecture was given at the planning session of the Congress

Here is a summary of Dr. Bernstein–Cohen speech at the Congress in Basel:[18]

“In the first century after the fall of the Kingdom of Israel there was a strong desire for political revival among the Jews, who were already dispersed and far from the Holly Land. The historical events always showed that each political initiative in the isolated Jewish societies, even if they were done according to their times, were suppressed at the inception. Judaism lost slowly the belief in a political future and seemed frozen in the daily struggle for survival among the various nations, where the political power was based on the justice of the fist. Only in the last quarter of this century, when the political life of the nations started to adapt to the national reality and the justice of the fist succumbed to the culture of power, we see a reawakening of the various Jewish groups from the slumber of zero political hope. The idea of the return to an independent Jewish political national life in our ancestral land started to shape up. This grandiose idea was implanted in the hearts of the Jews who wanted to liberate their brothers from the slavery of the Diaspora. They extended their arms to their fellow Jews in order to create a united Hovevei Zion organization with an independent statute. The ideas and the programs of Hovevei Zion, that is growing with new members every day, mostly reached the Jewish intellectuals and did not reach yet the masses, because the masses still need a lot of political education in order to have hope for a political future. The political education of the Jewish people, the development and the enhancement of the strong faith in the Israel political future in our ancient and reclaimed land – this is the most important role of Zionism.

To achieve that, we have to improve the economical status of the Jews among the masses. In each city where Hovevei Zion is active we have to establish Jewish schools for the young generation. Public lectures and discussions should be held so the community will learn the history of Israel and the present situation of the Jewish people and reawaken in their hearts the idea of the Holy Land and the political gains of self determination. The Zionist Congress should elect an education committee consisting of the most knowledgeable people in the education field. This committee will have funds and scientific support and will help the local groups with educated suggestions, with books and teaching methods and when needed, it will send money and teachers. The committee will also establish enough agricultural and vocational schools and the students will be educated in the spirit of Eretz Israel and at graduation they will be ready to go to Israel in order to establish agricultural communities, factories and shops.

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All the schools will have two compulsory subjects: 1) Hebrew as a living and spoken language, 2) knowledge of Eretz Israel. –––

The next step to the rebirth of the Jewish people should be the purchase of land for the Jews and if this is not possible in one stroke, then we have to do it slowly. First, the future of Eretz Israel is not very certain and the land could be purchased from the Ottomans and not from another power. Second, other people can settle the land and this already is partially happening. In conclusion, the purchase of land will strengthen the people's faith in the Zionist idea. The establishment of the first settlements in Erets Israel awoke the movement and agitation in all Jewish people more than any articles in the press or the most exciting speeches and no anti–Zionist action could cause distrust which will cause the end of the settlements. Even now, without enough trust in the Eretz Israel idea, without hope in its political future the Jews are interested in the Eretz Israel settlements, only that they were deeply hurt by the lack of independence and by the lack of trust in the barons who seized the power.

The question is how do we get all the Zionists to be interested in Eretz Israel? We have many Zionists who are interested in a slow phased settlement by filtering people to Israel; another party, without declaring the opposition to settlements, is convinced that the settlements should be stopped and all efforts should be made to obtain the land from the Ottomans and establish an autonomous state dependent on Turkey and also obtain the permission from all Europe for this project. This party suggests we present the plan to a European Congress. These two objectives fight one another and can cause divergences in the Zionist camp. –––

The Diaspora is now 18 hundred years old and caused much suffering and disasters, but in the bottom of the Jewish soul there is still a nationalistic Jewish and Zionist spark, even if a large sector of this Jewish generation lost the motivation to have a Jewish national and traditional life. It is necessary to distance ourselves from these small elements and with patience we will achieve an independent Jewry.

The idea of “phases” that was circulating in the last 15 years is not incorrect, but its implementation was weak and without the necessary enthusiasm for struggle. The friends and organizations of Eretz Israel worked without a plan and without the impression that the organizations support them, they felt deserted and alone. They did not have a courageous party and the people were not attracted to these organizations. There was not a propaganda activity among the people; as a fact there is not even a newspaper in Eretz Israel in Yiddish. The settlement was done in a disorganized fashion and therefore we have only a few settlements now and even their existence is not certain. The Jews in Eretz Israel were not attracted to the settlements and no effort was made to create a political approach to the Jewish inhabitants of the cities and the villages. This Zionist Congress will unite all the friends of Eretz Israel, will declare itself as the party and together will push the situation forward. This spiritual centre will increase the number

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of Zionists by doing an extensive spiritual and moral propaganda campaign especially among the young generation. Due to the enormous talent of the Jewish people we expect that in the future the next generation will not only donate a few cents, but it will see this revival as a lifelong goal. Our descendents will do everything in their power to settle in Eretz Israel.

The Congress should establish a Spiritual Centre in the Committee for the Settlement of Eretz Israel which will lead the Settlement committees of all the countries. This Committee will be knowledgeable about all aspects of Eretz Israel and will be responsible for the purchase of large pieces of land for agriculture and for the establishment of settlements by talented Jews from Europe and Eretz Israel. The talented people will be the example for all the other Jews. The people in the settlements should own the land themselves because pride of ownership will bind the nation to the land and allow for the spiritual and material development. The Committee will also plan to build Jewish factories (on a small scale at the beginning), to build houses and develop the industry in the cities.

The Congress should elect a Political Committee whose first duty will be to obtain from the Turkish Government the permit to establish the settlements which will be independent from the Turkish administration. The Committee will be responsible for the propaganda of the Zionist idea in all the countries where Jews live and lobby the governments to recognize the aspiration of the Jews for a national and political independence. We expect that after several years or in the worst case, after several decades, if the Jewish population will grow and we will have numerous settlements, may be in the hundreds, Jewish factories and shops, an industry and commerce run by a population educated in the nationalistic and political spirit, and if the majority of the Jews from other countries will desire to come to Eretz Israel, then the Political Committee will be able to represent the Zionist idea to the International Powers Congress and obtain the desired results.

We need enormous amounts of money for this goal. The question is where we can obtain this money. It's understood that it will come from among the Jews, but most of them are very poor people and do not own land. A few may have money from commerce. The world considers the Jews as being rich. We are poorer that other people. Jews are hard working and this is their wealth, wealth which comes from honest work. Until now we have two methods of purchasing the lands and the establishment of settlements: – one method, the establishment of settlements by one person (Rothschild settlements) and the second, by settlement companies i.e. Odessa Committee, the Ezra (Help) Society in Berlin, the Zion in Austria, etc. Many Zionist are opposed to these two methods. The first method may cause that the settlers become enslaved to a few rich people who have the wealth, while the majority will remain poor workers and their existence unsure. The second method is opposed because they consider it a charity and not a people's enterprise and the people will depend on charitable donations. –

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The charitable organizations for the settlements are known for the fact that the money they raise is for the entire community and we should not reject them. The history and the experience show that there are people who do not belong to any organizations, yet they are good workers and certainly will have a great future. These people need immediate help from the national fund. These large funds can be used for the Zionist propaganda, the education and the change of values of our people. Many feel embarrassed by “Zedakah” (charity), because this term is used to describe shame and not honour. The Zedakah of the Zionist organization does not identify with the donations of a rich person who shames the poor or of a heartless aristocrat who exploits the poor. This Zedakah comes from the people who do not require any praise and it is meant for the people. Right now the Zedakah is considered a problem, at least in Odessa. Most of the funds were not given always with pleasure; they were given because of peer pressure from the Committee members. May G–d help all the rich people who think that the Zionist eye their pockets full of money and who think that their worth is measured in sacs of money. They are the flowers and the fruit of the Jewish Diaspora. From now on the members of our organization will seek only donations from people who give voluntarily, and these people are among us. These people will donate the hard earned cents easier than the rich donate their miserable hundreds. We do not want to transform thousands into cents but we will convert cents into thousands in order to cut the ropes of the Diaspora and to restore the honour of our people.”


The Post Bureau

At the end of the First Zionist Congress an action plan was decided on intensifying the activities among the Russian Jews. It was decided to elect four trustees: Prof. M. Mendelstamm from Kiev, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever from Bialystok, the lawyer Jasinowsky from Warsaw and Dr. Jacob Bernstein–Cohen from Kishinev. These four trustees met at the home of Rabbi Mohilever in Bialystok and they decided on a detailed action plan for the Russian Jews. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen was given the task to organize a Post Bureau (a correspondence centre) in Kishinev in order to organize all the Zionist groups and supervise their activities. During the Post Bureau time, Kishinev became the centre of the Zionist propaganda. This was also a golden period for Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, who was given all support for his Zionist campaign among the masses. He did not stop at issuing notices about Zionist activities he strived to make the Post Bureau a centre for learning. He needed basic writings about Zionism and desired to “turn Zionism into a popular movement,

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to strengthen in the people's hearts the belief in its power and to bring into the open its aspirations. At his suggestion, it was decided by the Russian Zionist Congress that the Post Bureau will issue a series of circulars with basic Zionist propaganda during the year of the Third Congress. The other trustees opposed the circulars and considered them a departure from the normal activities. Even Herzl agreed with the Post Bureau opponents.

Dr. Bernstein–Cohen and his helpers wrote in the first circular:

“In our first circular we want to show how we intend to implement the theories contained in the circular. Therefore we ask all our friends who have articles regarding the points raised in this circular to show them to us as they will help our difficult endeavor… First, it's necessary that our people understand the Zionism because understanding Zionist does not come naturally.

…We could not put enough effort to prove our history. We have to explain to the people that all the experiments to find a solution to our dire problem resulted in more tragedies. We will speak about the experience of assimilation in another circular, but here we want to explain the different attempts for immigration and their results in a second circular entitled: “Immigration of Jews to other countries, history and results”

The third circular will speak about our brothers who left the stifling ghettos during the emancipation period and went into the free world and distance themselves from our Torah and the Jewish traditions. We have to attract them back to the roots. We have to organize and teach the young generation to follow us and to discover the right way. This circular will explain and prove that

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the Zionism is a progressive movement on the condition it develops the people and their desire for success.

We have to be straightforward and present the reality that the idea of a safe haven is based on Moses laws and it's known to the people and it does not come from outside, from some researchers removed from reality, but it comes from individual aspiration based on history and which is guarded in our soul from generation to generation. This fourth circular will be entitled “Zionism and other similar movements in the history of the Jewish people.”

After we have explained the principle of Zionism, we will try to explain how we can transform our national desire into a reality. We will also show what wisdom we gained from the Diaspora nations. We must have gained a lot of experience from the times we worked in Egypt with stones and mortar to the present when we participate in all liberation movements in the Diaspora. The fifth circular will deal with: “The history of the liberation movements of other nations in the 19th Century.”

After that we will explain the efforts of the Zionists to obtain freedom in the 19th Century. We will explain the work of the Hovevei Zion organization, the plans it has, how the leadership works and we will give a short history of the movement and this will be the topic of the sixth circular.

After that we will pay attention to the spiritual aspect of Zionism, the fact that it is the base of Hibbat Zion, we will write about its presence and development in the life of the Eretz Israel settlements and in the Jewish community of Russia.

The last topic will deal with the political aspect of Zionism, our plans and our hopes for the future and we will try to explain in simplest terms so that everybody can understand. It is not fair that the Zionist idea should be elitist; it has to be popular and help us all unite under the flag of Israel.

After all these topics are understood, we will analyse them and we will draw the necessary conclusion if they were beneficial or not and we will find answers to all the questions about our organization. In the last circular we will present our assessment about the quality of our work, what is the spirit of our organization and what is required of us in the present and in the future, what is the relationship between the various sections of the plan and our priorities.

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This will help us develop a detailed plan for the organization.

We understand the difficult task we undertook, but we trust that the excellent elements of our organization will come to help us.”

The circulars had an enormous impact among the Zionist of Russia, but their publication was stopped after a short time. In January 1900 at the meeting of the trustees in Kiev it was decided to stop their publication. In the circular number 13, the Post Bureau announced the cessation of the distribution of the circulars to the branches: “The distribution of the Post Bureau circulars is in a difficult situation and we will stop sending them to the branches, instead we will publish them in the press, this way they will have more visibility and we will also be able to save money.” Dr. Bernstein–Cohen was not pleased with this decision and in 1901 at the trustees' meeting he suggested to stop the Post Bureau activities. He writes:

“I was given the task to prepare a questionnaire, send it to the branches and to request monthly updates. I organized and analyzed the responses and prepared a report of the Zionist activity in Russia. Twice a month I sent circulars to all the branches, after that once a week. Every week I sent more circulars and by the end of the first year I was required to send hundreds of copies. At the end of the second year I sent 1009 copies (the number of Branches under my responsibility), 80 copies to branches in Europe and 9 to America. The maskilim of Lithuania and Poland secretly founded a society and got nationalistic–laic educated from brochures published by hectograph. Immediately we discovered the need to start a series of parallel information circulars which had a great value at that time. The private correspondence grew and I was required to provide answers on a large number of questions from all over the country. Slowly our division turned into a printing business which requested a lot of money and our organization could not afford to pay for materials and for the staff. Like Herzl, I also used my own money to finance this activity, about 2000 rubles, but when the money ran out, I asked the Congress to help me. Although the Lithuanian members and

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especially the ones in Vilna did not approve of my propaganda methods, and they wanted me to move to Vilna to work with them, the Congress approved a budget of 6000 instead of 2000 to manage the Post Bureau. I also hired technical workers, Pesach Urbach, the secretary for Hebrew language and a member of the Kishinev branch who is now the principal of the Boys School in Tel Aviv and the printer H. Zilberman to help my good friend and assistant Nakhum Ben Moshe Roitman. When the Lithuanian members complained about the fact that the circulars are in Russian and Yiddish and suggested to have them also written in Hebrew, I asked Rabbi Mohilever what can be done. He immediately came to help on the condition I print his answer. “You have to speak to the people in the language they understand, i.e. Yiddish, if you want to wake them up from the slumbers, but when Moses himself will come to wake them from the Diaspora's deadly grip, he will speak to them in Hebrew!”

The correspondence we handled in our department reached 32–33 thousands without counting the circulars and was larger than the number of documents that the Ministry responsible for Bessarabia where my good friend from my gymnasium, Nikolai Zuzulin worked as director. Our circulars were known not only in Kishinev but also in Petersburg at the central government. To make sure they can't find the printing house, we moved it from apartment to apartment every month and also changed the typeset and the colour of the ink.

I keep the memories of the Post Bureau dear to my heart. The Post Bureau of Kishinev influenced all levels of Jewish life, the Jewish street, reached the Russian universities and all the shops and Jewish craftsmen. Even today I meet people who thank me because our propaganda was an enormous driving force which caused a spiritual revolution and resulted in changing principles. My work at the Post Bureau helped me realize my dream to become the teacher of the nation and it gave me a lot of satisfaction. In my correspondence with Herzl, Ahad Ha–Am and Nordau, I defended my personal philosophy which helped to strengthen my position and gave meaning to my life.”

During the Post Bureau years, Kishinev became the spiritual and organizational centre of the Russian Zionism, an important contribution to the Zionist movement in general.

The destiny of Dr. Bernstein–Cohen was cruel in the last years of his life. When he could not adjust to life in Eretz Israel, he left in 1927. He was full of sadness to abandon the place he dreamed about and dedicated so much of his life. Alone and

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forgotten, he died in 1929 in Yekaterinoslav.


Tze'irei Zion [Youth of Zion]

At the beginning of the 20th century the Zionism in Kishinev got a new spark of life, a desire to renew the Jewish life in Eretz Israel based on work. During 1900–1902 this movement, named later Tze'irei Zion (Ze'irei Zion) started to take serious roots among the youth in vocational schools.

At its beginning this movement was opposed by the Social Revolutionary Party and by some Bund activists, but in the next ten year the Tse'irei Zion found a fertile ground and developed roots amongst the young generation. Many Zionist activists like Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, Meir Dizengoff, N.M. Roitman, Dr. Leon Cohen and others participated in the “populist” movement (narodnovoltzy) and believed, as early as 1890, in the importance of giving the working class equal rights in society. This was the idea the Zionist instilled among the youth of Kishinev and became rooted in the community. The pioneers of Tse'irei Zion received support from the Zionists who welcomed this development among the youth.

Support on one hand and serious opposition from the other! The activists of that time tell about the dire situation of Tse'irei Zion in their ideological fight with the Social Revolutionary Party and the Bund. These two parties gathered under their flag a serious number of students and considered the Tse'irei Zion a reactionary group that wanted to turn away the youth from the right path. Although the Bund and the other Socialist parties (Social Revolutionary, Social Democrats) were very active among the young proletarians, they did not neglect their ties to the students. It should be mentioned that even if some of the finest young people in Kishinev opposed the first groups of Tse'irei Zion, it did not deter the movement and as a result Tze'irei Zion became organized faster. After the 1903 Pogrom, many young people weary of slogans and declarations developed in their hearts the

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aspiration for independence which could be realized with the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel based on work. Even if the movement was not yet well defined, the majority of students and a great part of the middle class youth were active in spreading the Tze'irei Zion principles. The Second Congress of Tze'irei Zion in 1905–1906 helped define the movement.

The library founded by Tze'irei Zion in 1902 greatly helped the new movement. The library served as a club where the young people met for discussions. It encouraged the use of Hebrew and had a “Speak Hebrew” sign on the wall. The police kept a watchful eye on all Zionist clubs, and the library which was also watched very closely had to move many times, first from Harlambi and Pavlov corner to Shmidt Street (in the apartment of the mayor Karl Shmidt where the police did not bother so much) and then to another location. The police did not accept this institution and at the end arrested the director and forced the library to close. In those years the youth demanded explanations about national and cultural issues, they were not satisfied with general declarations without an ideological foundation. But when Joseph Sprinzak came from Warsaw to Kishinev in 1905 and he started to explain to the youth the basic principles of the Tze'irei Zion movement, they got the answers. The arrival of Sprinzak caused an important turn in the life of the Tze'irei Zion movement and contributed to its growth.

In 1905, the year of the second Kishinev Pogrom, a self–defence unit as a practical response is being organized for the first time and the movement get a new definition. The circular published by Tze'irei Zion defines the movement's new position and calls on the youth for the first time to organize self defence in order to prevent the spilling of the Jewish blood.

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The founders of Tze'irei Zion at the 18th Congress in 1937 in Zurich
From the right: Joseph Apter, Eda Maimon (Fishman), I. Baratz, J. Sprinzak, H. Greenberg.


The circular published at the anniversary of the Pogrom defines the tragic fate of the Jews in the Diaspora: “we are the first to fight for freedom; we are the first casualties of freedom and the lasts to enjoy it.” It also described the aspiration to escape the miserable situation in the Diaspora by building a new life in Eretz Israel. This publication encouraged many young people to join the Tze'irei Zion.

This organization which started in 1905 did not stop only at theoretical ideas but was active on various levels of the Zionist and Jewish society in the city.

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Joseph Sprinzak mobilized many activists around the Tze'irei Zion organization in Kishinev and expanded its activities. Khaim Greenberg, N. Tversky, Uriah Feldman, I. Golani, H. Wishodler, A. Frish, Zisel and Batya Talmantzky, Yosef Tabachnik, the younger members Joseph Baratz, I. Gurfinkel, Khaika Grosman, Tzvi Shatz and others were remarkable activists. Hundreds of students got organized in the “Tse'irei Zion Uchenicheckaya Organizatsiya” and started to disseminate the Tze'irei Zion ideas. Their activities were made public in the press of that time. Here is a fragment from the Hronica Evreiskoi Zhizni (Jewish Life Chronicle) of 1908 which mentioned the Youth Committee

A group of Tze'irei Zion from Kishinev in 1911 at the farewell party given when Jacob Apter immigrated to Eretz Israel


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plan to act in two directions among the youth.[19] The membership was divided into groups and each group chose to prepare for one task needed for the Jewish life. For example, one group learned the Zionist questions of laws and practices; another one learned Jewish history; one group dealt with problems in Jewish life; and one studied the national issues. The Committee also dealt with propaganda and with establishing ties with other Jewish youth organizations in Russia. The youth played an important role in all the practical activities of the organization and became part of the Zionist movement. In the same period the Tze'irei Zion of Kishinev defined their independent ideology. The platform of Vilna,[20] Warsaw or Odessa did not meet the Kishinev members' interests. After long debates that culminated with the Second Congress of Tze'irei Zion in 1906, in Kishinev, the Tze'irei Zion mission was defined and served as a model for the movement not only in Kishinev and Bessarabia, but for many Tze'irei Zion groups in Russia. The mission statement became famous because it contained special terms that described the direction of Tze'ire Zion as an independent organization among the Zionists. It emphasized[21] that the Workers Union is an organization that unites all Jewish workers and the Jewish Pioneers – in a “federation of Zionist workers and in addition to the general Zionist activities, this federation will function as a defender of the Jewish interests and work to improve the economic situation of the Diaspora Jews” and also it will “defend the democratic demands of the Zionist organizations and institutions that deal with all aspects of the Jewish life.”

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The Tze'irei Zion considered this mission statement as a call to immediately organize. The methods of propaganda and contact with the public was different in 1904–1907, therefore it became clear that the best methods is to have meetings called “masovkes” where the best of Tze'irei Zion appeared and defended their position against the opposition and especially against the Bund. Even when these meeting became illegal due to the persecutions of the Tsarist regime, the Tze'irei Zion members met in the underground and continued their fight.

A few illegal meeting places of Tze'irei Zion were popular in Kishinev. One of them was the restaurant of Nuta Prokovich (Molochnik) where Joseph Sprinzak, Khaim Greenberg, Joseph Baratz, Zisel Talmatzki and others were meeting regularly to plan the activities of the organization and discuss problems related to the Jewish situation in general. Other meeting places worth mentioning were: the house of Feldsdman, the shop of Karavan and the house of Khaika Grosman.

The Tze'ire Zion of Kishinev paid attention to the community life and its problems and devoted a lot of work to coordinate with other Zionist organizations to better reach the hearts and minds of the community. A large group of Kishinev Tze'irei Zion participated at the Congress in Helsingfors (Helsinki) among them Joseph Sprinzak, Khaim Greenberg, Urieh Feldman, I. Golani and A. Nisenboim who was the representative of “Naaseh ve–Nishma” (Act and Listen). The delegation actively participated in the discussion and when it returned to Kishinev started to implement the new plan of “Concrete Work” (Gegenvarts Arbeit).

Joseph Sprinzak was instrumental in the empowerment of the Tze'irei Zion in Kishinev. Joseph Rabinovich who was active in the same period describes the influence of Sprinzak on the movement in Kishinev. He writes: “The Bund was very active in Kishinev and together with other socialist organizations was fighting with us. They declared that soon all people including the Jews will be delivered from their suffering and therefore it's necessary to fight

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the negative Zionist ideas. We had to fight these damaging ideas against Zionism, and we did it even if our forces were limited. We did not have any support from the more senior Zionists and we were left to fight on our own. In these difficult days of ideological struggle, Joseph Sprinzak came to Kishinev. I remember one time at the end of 5665 (1905) I met Sprinzak for the first time at the Zionist Library we called “Beit Eked Yehudi” (House of Jewish Bonding). Immediately I approached him and asked him how to create a bridge between our Zionist liberation movement and the socialist movement. He gave me an answer that matched more or less my view. First he called the opposition to the Zionism as “assimilation,” then he told us about the Zionist movement in Poland and Lithuania, about the movement “Tekhiya” (the Revival) with its Jewish workers members, about the “Poalei Zion” (Zionist Workes) and about the Tze'irei Zion activities. Sprinzak encouraged us in our work and our struggle. We went out in the community and rallied many young people in our organization. I also remember Sprinzak at the memorial of the first anniversary of Herzl death. He described the steps of building our nation and to fulfill the wonderful vision of Herzl. When he finished we all sang the “Pledge”: “Our future is in the East and we avow” and we have to say that we kept our pledge and we dedicated our souls and hearts to the movement. We labored spiritually and materially and a number of us also moved to Erez Israel. I also remember the visit of Joseph Drikhler from Podolia who helped us connect with the Tze'irei Zion from South Russia. Our movement strengthen and became bigger.”


The Beginnings of the Second Aliya

During 1905–1907 the Tze'irei Zion movement became organized and strengthened its ideology and it took the first steps of turning the vision into practice. A great number of Tze'irei Zion immigrated to Eretz Israel with the Second Aliyah and opened a new direction to Zionism. The influence of the Tze'irei Zion action grew among the youth of Kishinev. The aliyah of each member was an important event in the life of Tze'irei Zion and of the Jewish community in general. These youngsters who left their homes and families and a comfortable life were convinced that there is no future in the Diaspora and that the future lies in building their homeland. The visit of Joseph Vitkin to Kishinev in the winter of 1906 encouraged many youngsters to go to Eretz Israel. His Influential pamphlet entitled Kol Kore el Tze'irei Yisrael Asher Libbam le–Ammam u–le–a:ion (“A Call to the Youth of Israel whose Hearts are with their People and with Zion,” 1905) helped

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Israel Gilaadi and Mendel Portugali


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mobilize the youth and caused many debates. The meeting with the Tze'irei Zion and Vitkin was very emotional. They considered him a leader and paid attention to each word. Vitkin told the audience about the situation in Eretz Israel and explained the need for youth aliyah. His visit strengthened the desire of the youth to hurry and make aliyah. Between 1905 and1907 and after that between 1910 and 1911 the aliyah to Eretz Israel grew and had a big influence on the Jewish street. This Aliyah made great contributions to the development and the building of Israel.

Here are some of the people from Kishinev who made important contributions to the building of the homeland.

Meir Dizengoff (1861–1936) went to Eretz Israel in 1890, returned to Kishinev and then settled in Israel in 1905. He dedicated his work to establish the first Jewish city, Tel Aviv and all his life worked to develop this city.

Israel Gilaadi and Mendel Portugali, Z”L, two Kishinev youngsters were among the founders and courageous leaders of “Ha–Shomer” (the Guardian). They were the spirit and the live example to all their friends. Later, many more people from Kishinev joined the ha–Shomer and held important positions and excelled in their tasks, among them Khaim Feinberg, Z”L, Meir Kozlovski, Z”L, Moshe Alexandrovski (now in Beer Toviyyah).

Pesach Avirbuch (1878–1945) was active in the Zionist circles of Kishinev. He was one of Dr. Bernstein–Cohen assistants at the Post Bureau and after that he joined Tze'irei Zion. In Israel he was considered one of the best science teachers in the country and was well loved by his students.

Nakhum Tversky came to Israel in 1905. He contributed to the Ha–Poel Ha–Tzair Party and was one of the leaders. He helped built the economies of Ben Shemen and Tel Aviv.

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Joseph Rabinovich
Yacov (Jacob) Apter
Joseph Baratz


Khaim Shore
Israel Gurfinkel
Nakhum Tversky


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Yosef (Joseph) Barat was one of the founders of Kibbutz Deganyah. He dedicated his life to promote Deganyah to the young generation and was an example of an action man.

Joseph Rabinovich – Among the first workers who contributed to the implementation of the collective settlement based on the Openhaimer method in 1911. He was a director of the Labour Department of the Jewish Union (Ha–Sokhnut ha–Yehudit).

Yacov (Jacob) Apter –Initiated the medical assistance organization for the workers. Worked in Deganyah and was active in many central institutions. He help organize the consumer cooperative which was an example of the workers self governing and independent economy.

Israel Guri (Gurfinkel) – Dedicated his life to the labour laws and legislation and was the legal expert of the workers union.

Khaim Shorer – came to Israel in 1913 and was a farm worker in the Galil and Yehuda and on the Moshav Nahalal. He was a member of ha–Poel ha–Tzair party and was the party emissary to various countries. In the last year he was one of the editors of the newspaper “Davar.”

Urieh Feldman – He started working in Israel as an agronomist in 1913 and he excelled as director of the Bet Zera farm. He devoted his working life to teaching and was the editor of “The Nature and the Land” magazine.

Urieh Feldman


It is worth mentioning a few members who came in the period of 1912–1913 and were active in the public life of the Yishuv: Zeev Feinshtein, David Kenaani from Ayyelet Ha–Shahar. Kenaani was the son of Nuta Provovich, the owner of the famous restaurant

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Joseph Sprinzak


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in Kishinev.

Ytzkhak Burtniker – Nahalal, Yehuda Burtniker, Yakov Feldman, Shlomo Berlitzki (now at the Haifa Central Consumer Distribution Store – Hamashbir), Ytzkhak Yacobi – Kefar Azor, Moshe Felvich – Nahalal, Lekhtman – Tel Aviv, Baruch Ravnitzki – Afula, Abraham Rozenblat – Tel Aviv, M. Lev – Jerusalem, Tzvi Reznik, Z'L, – Ayyelet Ha–Shahar and many others came with the Second Aliyah.

Joseph Sprinzak – He was one of the organizers and leaders of the Kishinev group. He cared about each member of his group and due to his dedication and talent reached the top of the leadership of the workers organization and of the leadership of the Yishuv and when the State of Israel was established he became the first Speaker of the Parliament (Kneset).

The Second Aliyah people did not limit themselves to public activities they also made important contribution to the cultural life in Israel. The writers S. Ben–Zion, Z”L, (pseudonym of Simhah Alter Gutman) and Jacob (Yacov) Fishman were two important representatives of the Hebrew literature who were inspired by the special qualities of the Bessarabia and Kishinev “people of the Earth” and sang the young generation and their contribution to the rebirth of the nation.

Although he was not part of the members Second Aliyah, Hayim Greenberg was considered one of them. He was one of the most talented members of Tze'irei Zion and kept close contact with Eretz Israel. The youngsters considered him the “wandering ambassador” of the Kishinev group. He was known for his speeches and his work as a journalist and publicist. In 1905–1907 he became famous for his speeches and debates with the members of the Bund and Social–Revolutionaries. He knew how to explain the “Jewish problem” in the ideological context of the Jewish street. He moved from one Zionist centre to another one: Kishinev, Odessa, Berlin and New York. These were only stops and in each one he dedicated his work to Zionism until he became a member of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization. All his life he was the speaker and the advocate of the Zionist movement. His journalism was dedicated to explaining the Zionist ideas to all the antagonists. He moved to the United States in 1924 and became the leader of the “Union” Party.

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When this party joined the Poalei Zion in 1931 he was the editor of the weekly party publication “Der Yiddisher Kempfer” (The Jewish Warrior). From 1934 he was the editor of the English publication “The Jewish Frontier” and gained an important place among the intellectuals and the youth.

This group and other exceptional people not mentioned here left an enormous spiritual mark on the Jews of Kishinev due to their dedicated work and their contributions to the development of the national dream. Their contributions to the Second Aliyah were felt many years among the working public and in general in the Yishuv in Israel.

During 1911–1914 the activities of the Zionist and the activities of Tze'irei Zion in Kishinev diminished due to the increased surveillance by the Tsarist police on all Zionist groups and organizations.

Despite all the difficulties the Tze'irei Zion tried to continue with their regular activities. In 1908 a group of students formed “Ness Ziona” lead by Leib Beltzen, Khaim Shorer, Meir Kozlovski, Ytzkhak Zilberman (Kaspi) who died in 1922 and was one of the founders of Nahalal and others.

This group followed the ideology of Tze'irei Zion and of the Zionism in general. When Abraham Falvitz , one of the members of Nahalal came from Eretz Israel for a visit in 1912, he convinced the Ness Ziona group to join the Tze'irei Zion and to strengthen the Zionist movement in Kishinev.

Other youth groups organized in this period became the basis of the Poalei Zion party. In the years 1904–1907 many small groups contributed to the Zionist socialist movement among the youth and especially in the disputes with the anti–Zionists. They stayed in touch and received help from the Poalei Zion of Russia, Poltava, Warsaw and others. Among the activists of this period were: Pini Teter, Goldman, Khaya Rozenberg, M. Twerski, Meir Dizengoff and others.

When the World War I started in 1914, the regular activities of the Zionists diminished in Kishinev.

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Na'aseh ve–Nishma, the kernel of the general Zionism, small groups such as Mizrakhi and even Tze'irei Zion stopped their activities until the end of the war when the Zionist movement took on larger responsibilities.


Kishinev Zionism within Romania

The annexation of Kishinev to Greater Romania caused many changes in the economical and social life of the city and also influenced the development of the Zionist movement. At the beginning Kishinev received a lot of influence from Russia and Odessa, but with the annexation to Romania, the Jews of Kishinev were forced to become independent in the Zionist arena and were forced to take initiatives to set up Zionist groups and to lead the movement in the city and in the entire Bessarabia.

The group lead by Dr. Bernstein–Cohen started immediately organizing the Zionists in Kishinev and to concentrate the diverse groups in order to revive the Zionist activities.

The Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Treaty and the news about the establishment of a future Jewish State contributed to the mobilization of the Jewish community under the Zionist flag. The Kishinev Zionists mobilized the community and instilled the spirit of the Zionist dream. The First Congress in May 1920 in Kishinev was a turning point. More than 250 delegates came to the Congress to discuss the practical ways of implementing Zionism. At the Congress they discussed issues such as the Keren Kayemet (The Jewish National Fund) which was already supported by the Jews of Kishinev and the Jewish education which will promote and develop the Hebrew language and culture among the masses.

Group photo of the delegates at The Zionist Congress 1920 – 5680


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In the same period the Zionist youth formed the unaligned group Ha–Tekhiyah (Rebirth). Many Tekhiyah members immigrated to Eretz Israel and were active amid the Zionist youth among them Khaim Lerner, Reuven Shreiber, Ytzkhak Berman, Manya Natanzon, Hadasa Margulis, M, Orenshtein and others. The students were organized in a group called Ha–Talmid (Student), led by A. Goldshtein, while the very young were called Ha–Haver Ha–Tzair (Young Friend) and were led by Tuviya Postilnik–Mordechai, Moshe Shtenman, V. Alexandrovski and others.

In the same period they founded Ha–Shomer Ha–Tzair (Young Guardian) and many of the veterans from Tze'irei Zion helped develop this organization which they considered their successor. The cooperation between Tze'irei Zion and Ha–Shomer Ha–Tzair continued many years. In 1923 when the envoy from Eretz Israel came to Kishinev, a Central Committee was established for the Ha–Tekhiyah, Maccabi, He–Haver ha–Tzair

Shlomo Berliand


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and the Ha–Shomer Ha–Tzair. This Central Committee worked and was responsible for the Zionist propaganda among the youth in Kishinev. They published the journal Ha–Noar (Youth). In the years 1925–1926 the first signs of the Gordonia youth organization appear in Kishinev.

During 1919–1922 the main parties were established: The General Zionists, Tze'ire Zion, Ha–Mizrakhi and the Poalei Zion party. The General Zionists membership included Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, engineer M. Gotlieb, Shlomo Berliand, Sh. Kinreski, Shlomo Greenberg, the writer Sh. Halales, A. Nisenboim, Tzvi Cohen, Israel Berman, I. Beigelman and others. Tze'irei Zion was active in the public life and in the Jewish life in general. Ha–Mizrakhi party started very modestly and included in among its membership Rabbi A. Filinkovski, Shmuel Beltzen, the shokhet (ritual butcher) Alexandrovski and others.

In this period, the Tze'irei Zion central group had many activists from the Ukraine who had to spend periods of time in Romania before they were able to go to Eretz Israel and who devoted many years of assisting the movement in the hope that it will regain the level of the years 1904–1907. The activists in Kishinev were Leib Glantz, Nakhum Tulchinski, Sh. Shechter, Asher Korelnik and others and the emissaries from Eretz Israel Khaim Shorer, Sh. Shapira, who work with the He–Halutz. The central activity of Tze'irei Zion was to establish the He–Halutz which became in the next years the center of all branches in Romania and to help the groups immigrate to Eretz Israel. A great achievement in that period was the dissemination of the Hebrew language and the Jewish education among the youth and the advancement of Zionist principles. The members of Tze'irei Zion dedicated their attention to establishing a democratic community and to instill progressive ideas in the management of the public Jewish institution in the city.

Even if the movement had its opposition,

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it succeeded to instill in the public the importance of founding an independent managed organization, based on democratic principles, able to serve the Jewish street and develop the national Zionist feelings in their hearts.

The need to define the political program of the Tze'irei Zion started in 1920–1925, but the final decisions were taken at the Third Congress in 28–30 April 1924 in Kishinev.

“ We recognize that the platform of the Berlin Congress (of the Hitahadut) is the consolidation of the idea of Tze'ire Zion, which is to create a free workers society based on socialism, imbued with Jewish culture, without any abuse; and due to the fact that this platform can serve the future ideological development which grows and strengthens together with the workers society in Eretz Israel and the political and economical position of the society in the Diaspora, we declare that we join this International Zionist Workers Party the “Hitahadut” the Mifleget ha–Avodah ha–Ziyonit Tze'irei Zion (Hitahadut).”

This Congress was the beginning of practical work and implementation of ideas. The Congress also devoted attention to the Tze'irei Zion situation in the world, to the situation in Eretz Israel and to the support for He–Halutz, which started to develop in Kishinev and all over. The speakers at the Congress were: Jacob Apter (from Eretz Israel), I. Skvirski, Leib Glantz and Nakhum Tulchinski.


He–Halutz [the Pioneer]

He–Halutz, the pride and splendor of the Zionist movement in Kishinev and in the entire Bessarabia was founded on Kislev 5681 (1921) at its first Congress that took place in Kishinev at the “Yavneh” School. Delegates chosen from the best activists came from all over Romania to chart the direction of the He–Halutz organization and to instill the basic concepts of the “new person” who will build the renewed nation.

In the opening remarks, Leib Glantz called on all the young people of Kishinev and the thousands scattered all over the world to join the He–Halutz. The Congress took the following decision:

“The Congress calls on the He–Halutz to guide and to pave the way and

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renew the economic and the spiritual lives of the nation based on independent and creative work.”

The following member: Leib Galantz, Khaim Shorer, I. Kaspi, M. Zilber, M. Landau, Nakhum Tulchinski, E. Globman, I. Lerner and M. Rozenberg were elected to first Executive of He–Halutz. I. Barfel, Dov Tvetznik, Sh. Shapira, M. Artenberg, Jacon Reznik, Z'L, Nakhum Cohen, the agronomist Rozenberg were also active in He–Halutz in the same period.

An excellent example and influence for the youngsters of Romania were the refugees from the Ukraine who did not settle in easy jobs, but worked hard at building roads and pumping water and worked as cleaners in order to complete their training (hakhshara) and to prepare themselves for the immigration to Eretz Israel. Their example was followed by the youth of Kishinev.

Other youth organizations such as: Ha–Shomer Ha–Tzair, Gordonia, He–Halutz Ha–Tzair, and later Boslia, Dror, Maccabi concentrated around the He–Halutz, the fruit of the work of Tze'irei Zion. They formed large contingents of thousands young people all around the country. They left the small groups and came to the large organization where they could prepare and learn. Kishinev was the “hothouse” for He–Halutz and influenced the activists to work for the Zionist enterprise of the time and prepare for the renewal of the nation.


The activity of the Funds

In 1920–1925 two funds were established in Kishinev: Keren Kayemet and Keren Ha–Yesod. The beginnings in Kishinev had a profound echo in Bessarabia. The first activist for the funds was Dr. M. Shwartzman who came to Kishinev in 1921 to work for Keren Ha–Yesod. This was the first time the Jews of Kishinev were asked to participate with monetary contributions to the fund. This was a successful experience. Dr. Shwartzman

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A He–halutz farm in Kishinev


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who looked for ways to convince the people to donate, presented the Zionist movement as a political force and as a solution for the masses. He was helped in his propaganda by Vladimir Tiomkin, Khaim Greenberg, I. Shekhman and I. Klinov who were in Kishinev at the time. The project which created a lot of response was the “Wealth project” (Ha–Mifaal Ha–Measher), the first of its kind in Europe. The appeal to donate whatever is possible for the building of the homeland touched not only the Zionists but also many people outside of the Zionist movement. A lot of money and jewellery was collected as a result of this appeal. The Kishinev community showed their generosity and their unity to the benefit of the entire nation. Because it was not always easy to find suitable people who will work for the Keren Ha–Yesod and who will dedicate their time for the propaganda and the collection of funds, many managers from Kishinev had to travel around the country. One of the managers was Dr. Joseph Sapir, born in Kishinev in 1869. Dr. Sapir joined the Hovevei Zion in his youth, after that he joined Herzl's party. He followed Abraham Grinberg from Odessa's and was one of the publicists of the Zionist ideas which he disseminated in his propaganda books. When the Soviet regime was instituted in Russia he came back to Kishinev and dedicated his work to Zionism. In 1925 he went to Eretz Israel where he continued his work. He died in 1935.

Jacob (Yacov) Waserman, Ytzkhak Brener, Shamai Pinski (all are departed to our great regrets) as well as Shlomo Berliand, one of the executives of the Zionist organization, will be remembered by the Kishinev community for their work for the Keren Ha–Yesod. The Keren Kayemet did not lag far behind and sometimes outshined the Keren ha–Yesod. The Jews of Kishinev and Bessarabia has a special tie to the land. A large majority worked the land and were familiar with the importance of the land beneath their feet. They collected each penny they could in order to recuperate the Homeland. Even at the beginning of the Zionist movement in the time of the Odessa Council, statements were published

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showing the Keren Kayemet activities with Kishinev being at the forefront of collecting the funds. The Keren Kayemet Council in Kishinev was led by engineer M. I. Gotlieb who dedicated his life to Keren Kayement. He went to all the meetings even in his old age and promoted the Keren Kayement in the community. Although he was not raised by a Zionist family he gave the movement all his energy. He also tried to compel the groups of assimilated Jews to join the Zionist camp in their fight for the rebirth of the nation.

One of the important events in the Kishinev Keren Kayemet existence was the visit of M. Ussishkin on May 1924 on the occasion of the First Congress of Keren Kayement of Bessarabia. At the Congress it was decided on the Acres Enterprise (Mifaal ha–Dunamim), a method of implementing the popular Zionist endeavour that gained popularity in the community. The success of the Keren Kayemet came from the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of people who donated to the cause and to the growth of Keren Kayement enterprise.

One of the great leaders of Zionism in Kishinev was N.B. Roitman, Z”L, the leaders of Keren Kayemet in Bessarabia. Roitman was born in 1868 in a village near Teleneşti, grew up among peasants and worked from a young age on the farms. Because of his health he was forced to give up the farm work and to go study at the Vocational School in Kishinev. He joined the Zionist movement at the time of Dr. Bernstein–Cohen. He had a progressive view of the world and left his mark in all the Zionist activities. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen considered him a loyal and dedicated

N.M. Roitman


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activist who devoted his life to the Hovevei Zion and to the Zionism in the entire Bessarabia. When Dr. Bernstein–Cohen organized the Post Bureau, Roitman was one of the most dynamic assistants and participated in the writing of letters and circulars. He played an important role in the meeting of the council in Odessa especially in the matter of the settlements of Eretz Israel.

Roitman who was very modest and unselfish always worried to educate the Jewish masses to build the cooperative movement, which signified for him an important step and a start of independent life in Israel. He was one of the founders of the Savings and Loans Bank of the Kishinev Jews and developed the cooperative movement in Bessarabia which spread widely into a large network. He also suggested the establishment of educational institution beside the credit institutions. Because he was very respected, when the director of Keren Kayemet, engineer Gotlieb passed away, he was offered the post of general director of Keren Kayemet of Bessarabia. Despite his frail health he took the job and performed his duties with enthusiasm.

He battled many years with a serious illness and he passed away on January 17, 1937. He was a very simple and modest man and he wrote in his will: “When I die, please do not display the coffin from institution to institutions. Take the coffin from my home directly to the cemetery. I do not want music or choirs or ceremonies.” He had two secretaries in Kishinev who helped with the activities. Simkha Rozenberg fled from the Ukraine to Kishinev during the Pogrom and immediately dedicated his activities to the redeeming of Eretz Israel. He died in 1933 after a short illness. After him, his post was offered to Aisar Rabinovich who was born in Palestine. He was one of the most devoted members of Tze'irei Zion in Bessarabia, an educator at Tarbut School and a supporter of Keren Kayemet. He served the movement with all his heart and soul. During the Holocaust 1940–1941, when the Jews of Kishinev were driven out from the ghetto and deported to Transnistria, he disappeared.

The activities of the Zionist parties and the Funds helped strengthen the influence of Zionist movement among the masses in Kishinev. Even in those days the rich people expressed an opposition and an enmity to Zionism,

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but the masses started to show more interest in Zionism and the majority's goal of building the homeland.

The visits of Nakhum Sokolov in 1925, Khaim Weitzman in 1927, M. Ussishkin, Shmariah Levin and Joseph Sprinzak were important events in the history of Zionism in Kishinev. During these visits the community displayed love and dedication to the Zionist movement. Many still remember the enthusiastic reception Nakhum Sokolov received during his visit in 1925. Even the Christians were curious and came to see this “Jewish King.”

When Dr. Bernstein–Cohen went to Eretz Israel, the movement took a sharp decline. He was one of the keepers of the Zionist flame, a revolutionary and Zionist and with his departure from Kishinev many disagreements appeared among the various factions and personalities.


A Zionist Family

In order to complete the picture of the Zionist movement in Kishinev it is necessary to describe a typical Zionist family, an example of social and cultural activism and a force in the public Jewish life and in the public organizations. Such a family was the Beltzen family.

The founder and the patriarch of this family was Shmuel Beltzen, Z”L.[22] He was a good, educated and honest man with a large chestnut beard streaked with silver. He was not a native of Kishinev. He was born in Leova, on the Prut and he came to Kishinev in the 1880s where he traded

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in lumber. He leased the lands from the Armenian Church, which was located in the midst of the Jewish quarter of the new city. Because of his kindness he made lots of friends in the various circles and became a dedicated and diligent activist in the Jewish organizations. Shmuel had six sons and daughters who participated in the public life from a young age. The education they received from Shmuel was tradition, Hibat Zion and kindness. They were Zionists and lovers of Hebrew and their house was dedicated to the movement. In the back yard of the Armenian Church the family organized meetings, conducted by the Zionist leader, Dr. Bernstein–Cohen. During the first Pogrom the yard served as a meeting place for the Jewish self defence unit. When the sons grew, they established homes in the same courtyard and some in the big house they bought on 20 Benderski Street. The Zionist activities of the Beltzen family only increased and spread in more locations with the Beltzen sons leading more circles. Shmuel who was a religious man was active in the Mizrakhi and was vice president of the movement in Bessarabia. He was a delegate at the Twelve Zionist Congress.

In the 1930s when there was cooperation with the National Tzaranist Party (Romania) he was elected to the city council. His son, Ben Zion Beltzen was active and dedicated lots of energy to the general Zionist movement, especially at the end of his life when he was a member of Ha–Oved ha–Ziony (the Zionist worker) and He–Halutz Klal Zioni (the General Zionist Pioneers); three other sons, Leib, Pinkhas (a survivor who went to Israel and was active in the Union) and Shimon were leaders of the Jewish Academic Union – He–Haver (The Friend) and veterans of the Tze'irei Zion.

The entire family supported the Jewish education and their children attended Hebrew School. Shmuel and his son Ben Zion were members in the Talmud Torah D'Shuk He–Hadash School Council, where the language of study was Hebrew. They were also instrumental in the foundation of the first Hebrew kindergarten “Yavneh” and the first public school with the same name that preceded the public school and kindergarten system and the “Tarbut” gymnasium.

Ben Zion and Leib published articles in the Jewish newspapers in Bessarabia.

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Leib Beltzen wrote for the “Ha–Tzfira” (The Siren) which was published in Romania. His job was taken over by Khaim Beltzen, the son of Ben Zion. Ben Zion dedicated his last ten years to the study of the Bible and published “New Concepts in Bible Studies,” a collection of booklets and articles of commentaries to the Bible. Leib Beltzen and his brother Pinkhas together with the teacher and educator Heinich Warkhaft published in 5696 (1936) a Hebrew–Yiddish–Romanian dictionary which was used by many Romanian pioneers to study Hebrew.

The Beltzen family


The name Beltzen House became famous in the Zionist community in Bessarabia and beyond. Beltzen House was the name of the two large Kasraktin buildings. These 3–4 story buildings were bought by the family at the end of World War I. When the “Maccabi” organization was founded in Kishinev it received permission to use the Beltzen building on20 Benderski Street. This building with its large yard served as the sport centre of the Bessarabia Jewish youth, also served as a community centre and a meeting place. Two years after, when Keren ha–Yesod was founded and all the Jews were asked to contribute,

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Shmuel allocated the third floor with two big rooms to the fund. It was renamed as “Beit He–Halutz” (Pioneer Place). In this period many refugees from the Ukraine were passing through Kishinev on the way to Eretz Israel and Beit He–Halutz on 20 Benderski Street served them as a gathering centre. Everyday groups of people who lived there went to look for work (especially cutting lumber) and returned to a friendly place where they had the first Kibbutz (commune) experience. They built friendships and learned Hebrew and Zionism and formed the basis of the Kibbutz movement. Many Israeli veterans from the Emek and the Sharon area still fondly remember the time spent at Beit He–Halutz on 20 Benderski Streeet in Kishinev.

Many organizations and groups found a place at the Beltzen House: the warehouse of the “Joint” (The American Joint Distribution Committee), the Zionist Youth club and other groups which could not afford the rent someplace else. Unfortunately, the family became impoverished and was forced to sell the building.

Shmuel Beltzen passed away in 5695 (1935). Only two sons immigrated to Israel. When the Russians occupied Bessarabia, Ben Zion was ready to leave. The Russian occupation was difficult for the family who was known as Zionists and he hoped to go to Bucharest, Romania, and from there to Israel. He did not succeed because the Romanians and Germans occupied Bessarabia and he was killed in the first days of the occupation when he tried to defend a Jewish girl, a neighbour, from being raped by the Nazis. The rest of the family was moved to the ghetto and from there marched to their death in Transnistria. Their graves are unknown.


The years before the Holocaust

The events of Av 5689 (1929) and the crisis in the international Zionist movement caused a decrease in the Zionist activities in Kishinev. During 1930–1931 the forces of anti–Zionism caused the destruction of the movement. The Communist Bund seized the opportunity to gain a new status among the Jewish people in Bessarabia and many workers and young people joined them.

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The anti–Zionism lead by the “Kultur–Liga” (the Culture League) tried to gain control over the Jewish street.

In the winter of 1932, the Zionist movement started a comeback in Kishinev and in Bessarabia. This time, many enthusiastic students joined the veterans. The Zionist student organizations which published the monthly “Undzer Weg” (Our Way) greatly influenced this development. The other Zionist groups were led by Tze'irei Zion which renewed its activities after a three year hiatus returned to the movement. Tze'irei Zion started a publication named “Erd und Arbeit” (Land and Work), strengthen the ties among the Zionists and intensified the propaganda among the Jewish youth.

The Poalei Zion party also reorganized, opened new branches in South Bessarabia and reached out to the young workers. They cooperated in their work with Tze'irei Zion. Groups such as “Mizrakhi” started to break in and concentrate their activities in the Zionist scene in Bessarabia. The revisionist group was the only one left outside of the movement.

In 1933, following the news that the situation in Eretz Israel is improving, the Zionist movement became more important and stronger in Bessarabia. Many people were attracted to the movement because they saw a renewed opportunity to go to Eretz Israel which enjoyed a new prosperity and also because they understood that the decline of the Jews of Germany is a warning sign to the entire European Jewry. The young generation considered the Zionism the only solution because in each city and town there were hundreds of young people who did not have work. Many doors to employment were closed even to the ones who finished higher education. The Jewish economy declined in the last years and could not accommodate workers and the government refused to help. The Zionist groups and the preparation for immigration the “Ha–Hahshara” saved them from depression and spiritual decline. In 1933–

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1935 the youth organizations started to develop and the He–Halutz grew with hundreds of young people joining its training programs. Even young people from wealthy families left their studies and joined the training programs, which sometimes were not the most satisfactory.

The artisans and craftsmen and professionals who understood that there is no future in Bessarabia and wanted to improve their difficult situation became attracted to the Zionist movement.

Even if the Zionist movement in Kishinev and Bessarabia did not take full advantage of the situation, all the Zionist parties intensified their activities. They felt there was a need for a united Zionist party that will organize and direct the masses, but the reality was not there yet. The parties also attracted elements that were not suitable and in general were not educated. A great number searched for a meeting place to socialize and not for the Zionist ideology, thus creating a severe problem to the Bessarabia Zionist movement.

The visit of J. Sprinzak in the summer of 1935 played an important role in the Kishinev movement. He reinforced the spiritual role of the movement, directed the activities, visited with all the damaging elements and demanded that the movement break with the golden chains of the old Bessarabia Zionism.

The entire movement, but especially the “Working Eretz Israel” movement benefited from his visit.

Tze'irei Zion and Poalei Zion got closer ideologically and they united in 1936, fact which deeply marked the Zionist movement in Bessarabia. The most active people were Z. Rozental, Aiser Rabinovich, I. Vinitzky, Dr. M. Kotik, Tzvi Weisberg, Atzmon, Yehudith Geler, B. Milgrom, Sh. Artenberg, L. Beltzen, I. Koren and others.

The Mizrakhi Party also strengthen and many young people who followed the “Torah and Work” principle found initiatives and activities. The circles

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of Agudat Israel also participated modestly in the Zionist youth activities.

The United Party negotiated with all other parties to form a single united Zionist federation. They were ready for great concessions only to get the federation going. Rabbi I.L. Fishman, who visited Kishinev and tried to convince all the small parties, also met with big opposition. The federation formed only when the fate of the Bessarabia Jewry was sealed.

An important chapter of the history of the Zionism in Kishinev was its influence on the Romanian Zionism, especially in the Hebrew education field in the Regat (The Old Kingdom). Hundreds of Bessarabia Jewish youth who came to Romania and were educated in the Zionist tradition taught in schools, were school principles and in many cases settled in diverse businesses, but especially instilled the Bessarabia Zionist spirit among the Romanian Jews. In this period the Zionist movement of “Gegenvarts–Arbeit” (Work in the Present) diminished, but the intense propaganda and the preparation for the International Jewish Congress in 1936 brought back the activities of the Zionists in Bessarabia. The ideas of the Congress spread and brought a ray of hope for improving the lives of the Jews under the Romanian regime. With the ascent of the totalitarian regime in Romania, all Zionist activities ceased to exist.

When the Goga–Cuza government came to power in 1938, the Zionist movement suffered heavy persecution. The activities of the Funds stopped, the Zionist centers closed in Kishinev, all Jewish press was prohibited, the Zionist libraries closed and freedom to assembly was revoked. Although the Goga–Cuza government was in power only 40 days, these anti–Zionist measures were never lifted. The Zionist of Kishinev and Bessarabia did not accept these measures and found ways to continue their work. When the Zionist received again permission to activate the Funds, the Jews responded and the collections

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doubled and tripled.

When the totalitarian regime came to power the connection between the Center (on 52 Kievsky Street) and the other cities branches became limited, but did not stop even for one day. When the Jews felt in danger of being isolated because they could not get news from Eretz Israel brcause their papers were suspended and no foreign papers were allowed, they published the journal “Zeitfragen” (The Daily Topic) with 50–60 pages on each issue which appeared until the Russian occupation and was the only method of communication which connected the Jews of Bessarabia to other communities in the world and to Eretz Israel. In 1939 the Funds published a monthly bulletin.

When the news about the destruction of the Polish Jewry arrived, the Jews demanded that the Kishinev center increase the efforts and strengthen the movement in all Romania because they believed that Zionism is the only hope for the Jews of Eastern Europe. In February 1940 at the call of the Kishinev center lead by I. Greenboim, a Zionist Federation of all Romania was established (May 1940).

At the end of June 1940 when the Russian army occupied Kishinev and the entire Bessarabia, the Zionist movement ceased to exist.


  1. N. Sokolov: Hibat Zion, Jerusalem, Reuben Mass Publishers, 5701 (1941), pages 176–186; 234–252 Return
  2. Dr. M.B. Slutzky: Za tri chetveri veka ( At the Third Quarter of the Century), Kishinev, 1927, pages 89–90 Return
  3. Idem, pages 63–67 Return
  4. Ha–Melitz, No. 21 and 22, 5642 (1882) Return
  5. Dr. M. Slutzky, idem, page 91 Return
  6. The Book of Bernstein Cohen, page 87–88 Return
  7. M. Kleinman: The Encyclopaedia of Zionism, vol 1, 5707 (1947), page 326–327 Return
  8. In 1901 the settlement of Kastina caused much dissatisfaction and Ahad Ha–Am's came out strongly criticising the way it was run. When Meir Dizengoff came to Odessa, he suggested that they send Akiva Ettinger (1872–1945) to assess how the first settlements established by Hovevei Zion functioned. Akiva Ettinger, even though he did not agree with Ahad Ha–Am and his friends, could not ignore the serious deficiencies in the settlements. He was extremely critical about the situation in Kastina. In his book Jewish Colonization in Palestine: Methods, Plans and Capital (1916) he wrote: “The Hovevei Zion Society invested a lot of effort and money in settling tens of families in the small and isolated Kastina. Kastina was a notable example of instability and lack of knowledge; the ABC of experiments in settlements. The peasants were assigned large families. They did not have any training, they did not get appropriate equipment for the conditions of the land and they did not receive proper instructions. The immigrants were used to order, now they had to live among the simple and primitive “falahim” (Arab peasants) accustomed with difficulties and restrictions. They ignored the basic problems of running the settlement, such as security and the establishment of educational and social institutions. The existence of Kastina was shaky and uncertain and was destroyed in one of the fights during the war. Next to Kastina, a new settlement Be'er Toviyyah was established according to the new innovative methods.” Even before the Ettinger's visit the Hovevei Zion of Kishinev criticized the methods of settlement used by the Odessa branch. Return
  9. Letters from the History of Hibat Zion, edited by A. Darvinov, part 2 Return
  10. Letter from the History of Hibat Zion, part 2 Return
  11. The Kishinev Hovevei Zion did not rest at planning and wishing only. When Dr. Bernstein–Cohen joined the movement in Kishinev, a fight started to ensure democracy in the Jewish Community. The Zionist campaigned against the anti–Zionist, Kishinev Chief Rabbi, Kotlovker and replaced him with Rabbi Ettinger, a Zionist. Return
  12. As early as 1880, Dr. Bernstein–Cohen joined the Hovevei Zion. He met with L. Pinsker and others in Odessa. He was influence by the known Zionist Vasily Berman (1862–1894). See the Writings of Bernstein–Cohen, page 78. In the 1880s Dr. Bernstein–Cohen studied at university and was active in Odessa. After he finished his medical studies in Dorpat, he settled in Kishinev in 1889. Return
  13. The Book of Bernstein–Cohen, page 102–103 Return
  14. Writings of Bernstein–Cohen, page 104–105 Return
  15. A.J. Slutzky, ed. Shivat Zion: Collection of Articles by the Greatest of our Generation for the Praise of Eretz Israel. 2 vols Return
  16. Yaary–Poleskin, J: M. Dizengoff, his Life and Work, (Hebrew),Tel Aviv, Hayishuv Publishing, 5686 (1926), chap. 3, page 21–25 Return
  17. Bernstein–Cohen Writings, page 119 Return
  18. The Proceedings of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, 1–3 Elul, 5657 (29–31 August 1897) were published by Reuven Mass Publisher in association with the leadership of the Zionist Union, Jerusalem 5708 (1956). Return
  19. Fragments of the period press describing the platform of the Tze'irei Zion (Russia), suggested by Mr. Yehuda Erez Return
  20. A. Levinzon, The Beginning of the Movement (Bereshit ha–tenuah), Tel Aviv, 5707 (1947) page: 11–45 Return
  21. See in the chapter Documents the translation of the Mission Statement Return
  22. The details of the history of the Beltzen family were given by a nephew, Khaim Beltzen, an Israeli journalist Return


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