INTRODUCTION: People move to big cities, migrate to other countries and often lose connection with their past. And the next generation often has little information about where and how their ancestors lived.
Jewish settlements (‘shtetls’ in Yiddish) – were an original part of Eastern Europe culture for Ashkenazi Jews for several centuries. It was the time of shoemakers, milkmen, blacksmiths and furriers. Here among an intense lifestyle that incorporated outside pain and internal strong religious belief, and among cruel pogroms and persecution the threads of millions Jewish fates were braided.
The uniqueness of the shtetl life gave birth to original melodies and songs, a special taste of the Yiddish language and architectural elements. This culture contained a myriad of manifestations - thoughts, hopes, feelings, sometimes desperately sad and sometimes recklessly merry, sometimes timid and romantic.
And if you look at the walls of old synagogues, nameless gravestones you could probably hear notes of nostalgia that sounded in the times of our grandmothers and grandfathers and recognize something close and intimate. As we did when while walking on the broken streets of Rashcov, Briceni or Zgurita. We recalled the stories heard from our parents, and saw what seemed extremely far, improbable, maybe even fantastic.
HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN MOLDOVA IN BRIEF: The Republic of Moldova today is an independent state situated in the South-Eastern part of Europe sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Its territory is 33,700 sq. km, and population about four million people. Kishinev (or Chisinau – in Romanian) is the capital of the country. The State language – Moldovan. Main religion – Christian Orthodoxy.
The first Jews appeared on the territory of the modern Moldova in the 1st century with the Roman legions.
In the epoch of migration between the 4th and 7th centuries the territory of the country became a route from Asia to Europe. Later these lands will border upon Hungary, Galicia, Khazars kingdom (where Judaism became the state religion in the 7th century).
The name Moldova appeared in 14th century. The first mention about the Jewish community comes from this time also.
In 14th century King Roman allowed the Jewish community to establish a permanent presence in Moldova and even granted some privileges.
In 16th century Jewish immigrants from Poland and Germany arrived. In 17th century Khelminitsky Cossacks twice invaded the country bringing horror and pogroms.
In 18th century the Sultan of Turkey moved Jews from Turkey to Moldova and Romania. At the same period some Russian military fortresses were established on the left bank of Dniester river. Numerous Jewish communities were among the first migrants here.
When in 1812 Bessarabia became a part of Russian Empire 50,000 Jews lived here.
The Bessarabian province was part of the Pale of Settlement. Jews were granted some privileges, for example, the right to buy and to rent plots of land. Many Jews came to Moldova from other parts of Russia and even other European countries. By the end of 19th century 230,000 Jews made up 12% of the total population of the Bessarabia and even over 50% in some towns (Beltsy, Orhei, Soroca).
In the beginning of 20th century economic differences between Jews and other communities sharpened. Part of the Jewish youth joined various revolutionary movements. An anti-Semitic newspaper “Bessarabian” began to be issued. All this ended with the bloody 1903 Kishinev Pogrom. Impunity resulted in the pogroms of 1905 in Chisinau, Calarasi, Tiraspol. The emigration of many Jews from Russian Empire to USA, Palestine, Argentina greatly increased at this time.
In 1918 Bessarabia entered the Romanian Kingdom, while the left bank (present day Transnistria) became the part of Soviet Russia.
In 1940 due to Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Bessarabia became part of the USSR. At this time over 400,000 Jews lived on its territory.
In 1941 Moldova was occupied by Nazi and Romanian troops. Around 350,000 Jews perished during the Holocaust.
After the war Jews returned to Moldova from evacuation. According to the census of 1959 about 100,000 Jews lived in Moldova.
In the end of 1960s underground Zionist activities began in Moldova. Anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist court processes took place. In 1970s and 1980s Jewish emigration began.
Between 1970-1995 over 160,000 Jews and members of their families left Moldova for Israel, Germany, USA, Canada.
In the end of 1980s local Jewish community life was revived. In 1989 a Jewish Cultural Society was established.
In 1991 the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) returned to Moldova and helped to organize a network of welfare and cultural centers, youth organization Hillel, Jewish Family Service, Center of Training.
In the beginning of 1990s Jewish Agency (JAFI), Israeli Cultural Center, Israeli Consulate, Yeshiva Agudath Israel, Jewish schools and kindergarten as well as Chabad Lubavitch movement all started their activities in Moldova.
In the beginning of 21st century local Jewish businessmen established the Jewish Congress of Moldova and “Dor le Dor” Welfare Fund.
Striving to consolidate local Jewish organizations, the JDC established local Jewish Community Campuses in the main cities of Moldova. By 2006 such centers exist in Kishinev, Beltsy, Tiraspol and Rybnitsa.
According to local estimates over 20,000 Jews and members of the Jewish families live in the country. The major part of the community lives in Kishinev.