« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 155]

Education and Culture

Translated by Sheli Fain

The education – religions and secular of the young generation assumed an important place in the life of the Jewish Community of Kishinev. At the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century the method of education of the Jewish children in Kishinev was the same as in all Russian towns and cities. The only educational institution until the 1840 was the “Heder.” In 1830–1840 the Russian rulers decided to support education among the Jewish communities in Russia and Kishinev was among the first to open a public school. In 1838, at the initiative of the Governor of New Russia, Prince Vorontzov, a public school under the supervision of a special committee elected every three years by the Community opened in Kishinev[1]. This pedagogical committee consisted of a supervisor, six teachers and two assistants. The school had 4 regular grades and two preparatory grades. The supervisors were people known in the Jewish community: Yacov Eichenboim, a renowned poet and mathematician, Dr. Gurvitz, a prominent physician and Goldental, who was later appointed professor at the University in Vienna. The school had a large library for the teachers and students; this was the first library in Kishinev.

In 1852 the Russian regime established the first high school under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. For twenty years these two schools were supervised by the government.

In the same period two private schools for girls opened where 300 Jewish girls attended. In 1863, I. Zuker established a private school for boys. The school was well attended despite the opposition and allegations against Zuker from some elements in the community. (see: The chapter on Hassidim and Enlightenment).

We can find many praises for the school of Yitzkhak Zuker in the press of 1860s. In Ha–Melitz of 1864, no. 39, we read:

[Page 156]

“This School was established a year ago. They study Hebrew and Russian and Ashkenaz (Yiddish) languages, Bible, prayers translated into Yiddish and arithmetic. The students are 7–10 year old.”

In 1865, Yitzkhak Aryeh Rivnin (I.A.R) writes in Ha–Melitz: “This school is flourishing, the teachers are enlightened and the students are advancing. Despite the accusation, Zuker received 300 rubles from the supervisor for his excellent work.”

The Jews of Kishinev and especially the Maskilim welcomed the school for girls opened by Yakov Sheinfeld in 1856. S. Rabinovich writes in the Ha–Metitz of 1864: “Every Jew is happy to see the girls studying instead of sitting at home by the stove and not being able to tell apart day from night.”

There were other private schools for girls such as: Milkhiker, Pikovski and Shapira[2].

In 1890, Mrs. Skomorovski, an excellent educator, opened another school for girls which became famous for the high level of instruction. The school received a permit to become a gymnasium for girls. This school functioned many years, even after Bessarabia was annexed by Romania.

The Hadarim played a big role in the education of boys even though the modern Jewish educators in Russia were critical about their shortcomings. The writer and teacher Shlomo Hilleles[3] writes about the development of the Heder in Kishinev and the surrounding towns. He writes that the private Hadarim and the public Talmud Torahs in Bessarabia were undeveloped and disorganized, similar to their counterparts in Podolia, Volhynia and in the rest of the Ukraine.

[Page 157]

The Heder presented a serious competition to the public schools because a large number of Kishinev Jews refused to send their children to the government schools. Many times the principal of the public schools had to use police force to find the students and force the teachers of the Hadarim to send the children to the public school in the mornings. These were very difficult times for the teachers (melammed). We read in the Ha–Melitz, issue 134 of 1887 the following: “The Supervisors were harassing the teachers, even the ones with diplomas. They were not allowed to teach more than 10 children. The tuition fees of 5–8 rubles for a child for half year were very low and inadequate. Only 20 out of 300 teachers had diplomas, the rest were unemployed. Lots of Talmud Torahs and Yeshivas had to close.”

The hardship endured by the teachers of the Hadarim produced serious changes in the Heder system. Hilleles writes: “At the end of the 1890s, the Zionist Agudah opened in Kishinev a new improved Heder (Heder Metukhan) under the direction of Mark Etinger, z”l, who was loved by the entire Kishinev community. The students wore black skullcaps (kippah) and knotted ritual fringes (tzitzit) and cared about their cleanliness and appearance. The changes were seen also in the rooms, the furniture and the schools books, but especially in the curriculum that was established at the beginning of each year. The curriculum consisted in the organized study of the Bible, the Hebrew language and its grammar and the history of the Jewish people. They also studied the prayers with interpretation of the words and meaning, and some passages from the Shulhan Arukh, the Jewish Code of Law. The private schools were prohibited to teach the Russian language.”

The private Heder had an important role in the education of the young generation. Among the private Hadarim we have to mention the Heder of Fishel Shtern. This Heder ran into many difficulties because the students were obliged to study in public school until noon and come to the Heder after lunch. Despite the troubles, the Heder, that functioned many years, played an important role in the dissemination of the Hebrew language and culture. This school served as an example to many teachers who opened after school programs for Hebrew where many young people attended.

[Page 158]

With the help of an Odessa donor, a Talmud Torah for underprivileged children opened in 1872. The needy children were given financial support and taught a trade. In the 1880s the community leaders understood that it is necessary to teach practical skills to the students, especially the ones from poor families in order to better prepare them for the future. Most of the students from the 46 schools did not learn a trade or profession.

In 1880, there were 340 students in the Talmud Torahs and Yeshivas and about 1000 students in the Hadarim. The community financial support was limited and did not allow the extension of the public education.

According to A. Leon, in 1887 there were 283 students at the Talmud Torah sponsored by the Maskilim, at the Talmud Torah sponsored by the Hasidim and at the government Jewish School.

In 1890s a great development took place in the educational institutions and there were more than 2100 students studied in the 16 schools. The Russian government did not encourage the Jewish educational system and at the beginning of the 20th century the number of institutions decreased. In 1910 the number of schools diminished even though the number of students increased. The parents encouraged the children to study hard in order to be accepted to higher education in the government schools, most being governed by the “numerus clausus,” the closed number principle. Hundreds of excellent students were among the candidates for one place at a government school.

In 1906, Mr. Israel Berman, a renowned educator, opened a public school with 5 sections, according to the government curriculum. He increased the Hebrew studies from 12 hours a week to 24 hours and the students flocked to this very serious school. In 1911 a modern kindergarten opened next to this school. Berman's school graduated thousands of students and instilled the Zionist spirit and the love for Israel. A lot of them are now in Israel.

[Page 159]

The school functioned until 1920 and together with the kindergarten was taken over by Tarbut and Yavneh and Israel Berman was invited to teach at the government high school for Jewish students.

The main purpose of the Yavneh Society was to develop the national Jewish educational system in Kishinev. Yavneh schools educated thousands of young people and instilled the love of the Hebrew language and the faith in Zionism.


Yavneh Kindergarten


The publication of the Tarbut Society that appeared in 1928 in Kishinev writes about this kindergarten: “This is the oldest kindergarten in Bessarabia. Berman, the founder, got permission to start it in 1918. It has two groups each one with 75 children and three experienced kindergarten teachers. From its inception it has educated about 800 children. The success of this kindergarten caused two new kindergartens to open in Kishinev.”

[Page 160]

Hundreds of Jewish children enjoyed there an atmosphere of love for Israel. The Yavneh Society opened in 1928 a public school with four sections for boys and girls, mainly from poor families. The persecutions of the Education Minister Angelescu against the Jewish school greatly harmed the development of the Jewish public schools which had such great potential at the beginning.

The Russian Revolution caused a serious struggle among the various elements for controlling the spiritual aspect of the schools. The Zionists and the Yiddishists (under the leadership of the Bund) tried to take over the education of the young generation and to establish educational institutions according to their own convictions. In 1917–1918 the Yiddishist teachers won the fight. In May 1917 the mayor of Kishinev, Alexander Shmidt called a meeting of Jewish teachers in order to establish a School Board that will plan and direct the schools and decide on the language of instruction.

The majority of teachers at this meeting wanted Yiddish to be the language of instruction in all the schools, but the Zionists fiercely opposed that, because they wanted Hebrew to be the language of teaching. The School Board was elected without the participation of the Zionists. The Secretary of the Board was Abraham Rabinovich. The fight among the two groups continued until the annexation of Bessarabia by Romania. Romania wanted to diminish as much as possible the use of the Russian language in schools and supported the Jewish education. In the first years of their rule, the Romanians encouraged the development of the Yiddish as well as the Hebrew Schools.

The first School Board had a lot of problems mainly because the Zionist and the religious groups, especially Agudat Israel, were fighting for the control of the schools. Also the Yiddishists were causing problems because they saw in the Hebrew schools a departure from the principles of the “Kultur–Lige” (Culture League) that sponsored the Yiddish Schools.

[Page 161]

The Yiddish teachers refused to swear allegiance to the Romanian government, fact that created many problems in their work. The majority of the Kishinev Jews who were supporters of the National movement also did not approve of the Yiddish faction. Despite these problems, the Yiddishists controlled some serious educational institutions: two vocational schools for girls (on Harlamby Street, 117 and on Liavsky Street. 85) and a school for boys (on Harlamby Street, 3).

In 1917–1918 the Hebrew schools started to develop in Kishinev. The raise of the National Zionist educational movement created the need for the foundation of a central educational council and as a result Tarbut was founded in 1917.

Kishinev, isolated from the rest of the Russian Jewry, had the difficult task to establish independently the necessary institutions to educate the young generation and instruct them in Hebrew. Hiring professional teachers and having adequate teaching materials for all subjects became a very important undertaking. They also planned and publish an anthology of Hebrew texts for the study of Hebrew at a high level. Tarbut was instrumental in creating the basis of Hebrew schools in Kishinev.

In 1920, Bernstein–Cohen wrote a report outlining the Hebrew education progress in Bessarabia: “The Hebrew education movement is growing in Bessarabia. Tarbut Society was established in Kishinev in June, 1917 (after the Seventh Congress in Petersburg), but in those tumultuous days of the Great Russian revolution it could not function to its full capacity. The only great activity in those days was a general conference of all the Jewish teachers of Bessarabia. The results were not very encouraging. The majority of teachers were members of the Bund and the Nationalists were the minority. When Bessarabia was annexed by Romania many possibilities were created for the Zionist movement and for the Jewish education. The possibilities resulted from the Romanian desire to curb the Russian influence. They forced the Jews to become Romanian citizens and to choose between a Romanian or Jewish (Yiddish and Hebrew) school. The Jews opted for the Hebrew schools, and thus the Hebrew culture took roots in Kishinev. They opened two public Hebrew schools and three kindergartens under the supervision of Tarbut. One of the kindergartens admitted children, all paid for by Tarbut. A few Hadarim Metukhanim (improved Heder)

[Page 162]

were opened with Hebrew as language of instruction. In Kishinev there are three big Talmud Torahs (each school has 300 students). One of them was founded in 1819. The Yiddish language of instruction was replaced recently by the Hebrew language. These schools are supported by the Community. Tarbut received permission to open a Hebrew high school (gymnasia). Tarbut offered instruction for teachers and educators. Tarbut supervisors visited the Hadarim and praised the teachers who encouraged good hygiene. The Maccabi organization helped the big Hadarim to hire gym teachers and encouraged visits from physicians. The evening Hebrew classes were well attended, promoting the foundation of the Society Safah Berurah (Clear Language). A large number of people participated on Sabbath at lectures and discussions. Four large libraries were established in Kishinev: one Zionist library founded by Tarbut, one founded by the cooperative movement and two private libraries with reading rooms. The Hebrew books were all donated by the activists of the Hebrew movement.”

It is possible to appreciate from this report the large scale of the Hebrew movement in Kishinev at the beginning of the Romanian rule. It is worth mentioning here the role of the private Hebrew tutors who helped thousands young people study Hebrew.

In 1921, at the initiative of I. Alterman, z”l, an institute to train kindergarten teachers opened in Kishinev. All well trained educators found work in many cities and towns in Romania.

Many people complained that Rabbi Judah Leib Zirelson, z”l, tried to influence the activities of the Yiddishist Education Committee (Shul–Komisie), but we can't negate his important contribution to the development and strengthening of the Hebrew language in the community. At the beginning of 1920 the School Board supervising the Gymnasia in Kishinev conducted a poll among the Jewish parents regarding the language of instruction. 103 parents voted for Hebrew as language of instruction and only 11 for Yiddish. The school principle, Khaikov asked Zirelson for an explanation. He said: “When we lost our homeland we were forced to speak two languages: Hebrew, that lives with us despite thousands of years of Diaspora and Yiddish. The difference between them is the first one (Hebrew) is natural, the Yiddish is artificial.

The same difference

[Page 163]

exists between truth and fake, and because the parents want the truth for their children, we have to answers their request.” This answer had great influence among the supporters of Zirelson. In 1923, Zirelson founded the Hebrew High School “Magen David” (Shield of David) and hired Mr. I. Liven, one of the best educators in Bessarabia, as principle. Despite the fact that Rabbi Zirelson was the chairman of Agudat Israel, this institution was not anti–Zionist. Many children from Zionist families studied at this school, where religion was only a small segment of study, about 2 hours per day. This school functioned 12 years and many of the graduates joined the Zionist movement and are now in Israel.

In 1922, I. Bratianu, a staunch Anti–Semite, became the Prime Minister of Romania. He refused to sign the Declaration of Minority Rights, part of the Paris Peace Treaty and denied the rights of the Jewish population. The Jewish education in Kishinev and Bessarabia started to suffer and weaken due to Bratianu and his Minister of Education Angelescu anti–Semitic policies.

The Jewish community strongly protested the regulations and in 1924 they sent a letter of protest to the new Minister of Culture: “The Paris Peace Treaties of December 9, 1919 and of October 28, 1920 promised full rights to the minorities in Romania. A similar guarantee was given by this government in the Parliament in March 28, 1923 when they received the new version of the Constitution. Despite these promises, the rights of the minorities are not respected and the government Hebrew high school, the teachers' Hebrew education and the Jewish School Boards were closed. This will cause a lot of harm to the national culture and to our school system. We strongly protest against the discrimination of our cultural and educational institutions, which were guaranteed by the law and by the international treaties. Therefore we demand:

  1. The right to freedom of instruction in Hebrew and Yiddish
  2. The right to keep open all private schools that were founded before 1918
  3. We demand the cancellation of the order of the Regional Education Committee for Bessarabia to close our educational institutions
  4. We are asking permission to run seminaries for teachers and kindergarten teachers in order to prepare them for working in schools and kindergartens”
  5. These protests against the closing of the Jewish educational institutions had very few positive results. Here in there some of the discriminatory measured were halted for short periods of time. The Jewish education entered a difficult era of fighting for its existence. The Romanian regime, until its end in Bessarabia, did not change its hostile position toward the Jewish educational institutions. The economic crisis in the 1930s also caused the decline of the Jewish educational institutions, as parents could not afford to pay the school fees. The community could not afford and in a way did not want to take full responsibility to support the Jewish schools and this caused many schools to close among them the Gymnasia “Magen David.”

The Jewish education suffered, but it continued to exist. In 1934–1937 there is a renaissance in the Jewish education. The Tarbut Society prepared a new program and the parents renewed their commitments to the Jewish schools.

During the years of persecution, many parents sent their children to the public schools where the tuition fees were minimal. They also hoped that the children will be admitted to the universities. This hope attracted many non religious and Zionist parents. In 1937–1938, there is a new direction in the Jewish education at the initiative of Tarbut. The monthly publication “Min ha–Tzad” (From the Side) from 5599 (1939) publishes an appeal for help to support the educational institutions in Kishinev. They pledge to open schools with a budget based on the fees paid by the rich and middle class students and also open a highly needed secondary school.

[Page 165]

In the report prepared by D. Vinitsky, one of the activists of Tarbut in Kishinev, we read: “We had three very good years 1936/37, 1937/38 and 1938/39, years which came after the economic crisis and internal crisis. They are different from the past years as they finally show an improvement in our financial burden and even gave us hope for the future.”

But in 1940, when Soviet Russia annexed Bessarabia, the voices of the Hebrew school and the other Jewish educational institutions in Kishinev were silenced. All Tarbut activists disappeared from the public school arena. We can mention here the activists who did not have the chance to make Alyiah: Shlomo Berliand, David Vinitsky, Z. Rosenthal, Sh. Greenberg, A. Rabinovich, and others.

The Jewish Zionist education was the force behind the Hebrew movement in Kishinev. Here, the Jewish youth absorbed the strength which helped them surmount the future storms.


Physical education

The Russian Revolution of 1917, the development of the Zionist movement and the Balfour Declaration awaken the desire to be prepared for a national future and become physically and spiritually fit for the new era. In this period a new concept was developed, first in Odessa and then in Kishinev of a youth organization – Maccabi. Maccabi will direct the physical education and guide their members toward Eretz Israel. Even in 1916, the Kishinev schools had many groups who desired to start a Maccabi branch. This first year was full of trials and experiments, of contacts with Jacob Granovsly, the founder of Maccabi, and in general a lot of preparation work. In May 1918, the first Maccabi was established in Kishinev with groups of students from the Kulin and the Skomorovski schools. The goal “In a healthy body – a healthy spirit” echoed among the numerous students who strived to achieve this aspiration. The founding group

[Page 166]

of Maccabi included I. Feidel, E. Feldman, M. Roitman, I. Rosenblat, I. Rifsman and others. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, the first chairman of the organization helped and encouraged the young people. From the beginning Maccabi Kishinev, which was the centre for the entire Bessarabia and after that of Romania, stressed the importance of the physical and also the national education among the Jewish youth. Maccabi became the citadel of the Zionist movement. The problem of trained instructors was solved when a Christian gymnastic teacher joined the organization. Anton Antonovich Fialov came from Czechia and trained the first promotion of instructors and prepared the base for the youth physical education. Those were the days when the youth strengthen their bodies and became proud and courageous Jews. The Maccabi organization broadened its activities among the young by opening departments for sports and gymnastics, theater, music, cultural and training and succeeded to mobilize thousands of Jewish youth in Bessarabia. The Jews of Kishinev participated with pride in all festivals and parades organized by Maccabi.

It can be disclosed now that Maccabi constituted the self–defence force of the Kishinev Jews. In 1927, the Cuzists (members of the Cuza Party) rioted in Oradea–Mare (Romania) and wanted to come to riot in Kishinev. They were stopped by the Maccabi youth and other self–defence groups. The Maccabi groups also provided protection to the visiting Zionists leaders M. M. Ussishkin, N. Sokolov and Chaim Weitzman because the Romanian police refused to provide security due to anti–Semitic unrests. The Romanian regime also tried to discourage the public appearances of Maccabi on the city streets. In 1927, during the heydays of Maccabi, a group of athletes left Maccabi

[Page 167]

and formed a new sport organization named “Ha–Koah” (The Force). This group went in an opposite direction from Maccabi, but Maccabi resisted and in 1928 it showed again its power among the youth of Kishinev. The Zionist foundation of Maccabi inspired many to go to Eretz Israel. The Maccabi members participated with great enthusiasm to the First Maccabiah Games in 1932 and to the Second Maccabiah (1935) in Eretz Israel and many did not return to Kishinev.

In 1937 Maccabi organized festivities to mark 20 years of activities and the youth of Kishinev participated in the festivities by displaying their athletic achievements.


A Maccabi “brigade” at a parade


  1. See the article dedicated to the 50th anniversary written by A. Leon and published in the Voskhod, 1888, No. 8 Return
  2. A. Leon: The Chronicle of the Jews of Kishinev, chapter 3, page 14–15 Return
  3. Shlomo Hilleles: Survey of the Development of Jewish Education in Bessarabia. In: The Paths of Education, issue 1–2, New York, 1942 Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Chişinău, Moldova     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 23 Jul 2017 by JH