Kishinev had a small but recognizable cluster of Jewish professionals, Hasidism thrived in Bessarabia’s towns

By the early twentieth century, Kishinev, like the rest of Russia, had a small but recognizable cluster of Jewish professionals, including doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, and notaries, few of whom were wealthy but played important roles in Jewish communal life. Davitt was persuaded, as he wrote in his notes, that almost all of the city’s Jewish authorities were doctors.

Kishinev had recognizable cluster of Jewish professionals, Hasidism thrived in Bessarabia’s towns

Kishinev’s Jewish elite held the majority of its factories, though practically all of them were barely more than workshops. By the turn of the century, Jews owned all but 10 of Kishinev’s thirty-nine factories, including nearly all of the major. Five of these processed tobacco, four were print houses, and the rest were the city’s major grain mills, owned by Schartzberg, a newcomer to Kishinev who had arrived during the preceding ten years.

Even those who admitted to being antisemites told Davitt that if Jews abandoned the city in the aftermath of the riot, it would likely go bankrupt. They spoke disparagingly of those who chose to leave, but they also mocked the Jews’ ongoing monopoly on Kishinev’s economy.
The attractive Yiddish-language trade guide for 1901, a faithful facsimile of a much-touted book that had long appeared in Odessa, reflected the city’s Jews’ confidence on the eve of the murder.

Kishinev’s version was in Yiddish, not Russian, and was intended for merchants in especially, who had limited understanding of any language other than Yiddish, including many arrivals to Kishinev from Romania and the southern belt of the Russian empire.

It served as both a calendar to be used throughout a ten-year period and a convenient merchant’s reference book, with adverts for the city’s notable Jewish-owned businesses, large and small. It was beautifully made and included dates for regional fairs as well as a glossary of commercially useful phrases like salt, cheese, wine, and fish, as well as some manufacturing terminology, with translations into French, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, and Hebrew.

The calendar was jam-packed with adverts for Jewish-owned businesses, many of which promoted fragrances and high-end merchandise. It was a document from a thriving community whose tale was just getting started.

Kishinev, which is well-known for its commercial potential, attracted few, if any, new residents as a result of these Jewish cultural initiatives. This was a region populated primarily by Jews from rural towns and those who had recently relocated to the metropolis. Before the second decade of the twentieth century, none of Kishinev’s rabbis had attained much more than local recognition.

Hasidism thrived in Bessarabia’s towns, particularly in the northern part near Austria-Hungary, but if this region appeared on the Jewish cultural map at all, it was because of the fabled gravestone cuttings, the most impressive of which were located to the north of Kishinev near Beltsy and Bostani. These elaborate stone carvings were produced with exceptional precision, showcasing flights of fancy and even whimsy.

The majority of the gravestones date back to the early eighteenth century, and the tradition faded during the next few decades. However, for nearly a century, artists from the region crafted some of the most unique gravestones in the Jewish world. Today, one can still see magnificent Lions of Judah and Torah crowns, many capped in gold and with the priestly four-finger blessing, created with astonishing accuracy and drama.

Animal images, many of which are almost human in appearance, stand out as they push the bounds of conventional Jewish creative expression while capturing the majesty and tragedy of death. Perhaps because of the region’s seclusion and the presence of one extraordinarily skilled family, practically all of the gravestones have had such a lengthy, fertile run over the last 150 years.

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Kishinev, of course, had the standard array of Jewish religious and cultural institutions that existed in nearly all Russian Jewish communities: a large number of mostly quite small synagogues, the majority of which were located in Lower Kishinev; two grand houses of worship; sixteen schools by the turn of the century, with a total of more than 2,100 students; many heders, or private Jewish religious elementary schools; and three yeshivas, or advanced rabbinic academies.

None of these institutions, however, had more than a local reach. Kishinev inaugurated its first modern Jewish school in 1838, with an innovative curriculum of secular and Jewish topics. The school, like so much else in Kishinev, was a satellite of a pioneering modern Jewish school in Odessa that had opened more than a decade previously. A particularly innovative local Jewish school offered a full complement of Hebrew language courses, including science classes; in 1902, one of its teachers published a zoology textbook in Hebrew illustrated with beautiful drawings of animals from all over the world and printed by a local Hebrew publishing house.

Around 700 Jews also attended Kishinev’s Russian schools. Various societies for the relief of the destitute, which existed in almost every Jewish city, could also be found in Kishinev, including one for the support of Jewish clerks, which was fashioned after Odessa’s much bigger organization.