Jewish National Community of Bukovina


We don't know for certain when the first Jewish immigrants appeared in Bukovina. It is safe to say only that the local Jewish community started forming in the medieval period; moreover, it was formed from the representatives of both the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim branches of Jewry.
At the times of the transfer of Bukovina to the power of the Habsburg State (1775) there were 526 Jewish families in the land, including 112 in Chernivtsi, 55 in Suceava, 60 in Vyzhnytsya and 15 in Siret. Considerable numbers of Jews dwelled in Sadhora (218 persons) and other less significant settlements. The main occupations of the Bukovinian Jews were peddlars, some were engaged in wholesale international trade, the, there were also craftsmen and tavern keepers. At the places of compact dwelling, the Jews formed communities - the so called kahals the inner organization of which was based exclusively on Jewish customs and traditions.
Joining of Bukovina to Austria had negative outcomes for the Jewry at first: kahals had lost their autonomy and have undergone Germanization; the Jews were prohibited to be engaged in a range of pursuits and professions, own real estate, etc. In the second half of XIX century Austrian laws were liberalized with discriminative regulations concerning the Jews being gradually abolished. This gave local Jews the possibility to join the social, economical, political and cultural transformation that Bukovina was undergoing at that period. Having gained access to liberal professions, the Jews gradually occupied key positions in Bukovinian economy, gained representation in the elective government authorities.

The Austrian period was marked with unprecedented increase in the Jewish population. So in 1830 only 7 726 Jews dwelled in the land, in 1880 their amount reached to the number of 67 418. In 1910 the Jewish community numbered 102 916 persons.
The largest Jewish community of the land was that in Chernivtsi. It had at its disposal all the necessary institutions and establishments for satisfying the religious requirements of its members:a stone synagogue, (in the 1870s one more religious structure was built in the centre of the city - the "temple"), a cemetery, a bath house,an asylum, a hospital,a ritual butchery and a school. In 1908 the grand edifice of the Jewish National House was erected on the initiative of the leadership of the community, which at that time was headed by the Jewish politician Benno Straucher renowned in the land and beyond its borders.
At the late XIX and early XX centuries the Jewish communities existed also in Suceava, Siret, Vyzhnytsya, Campulung, Kitsman, Radauti, Sadhora, Vatra Dornei, Gura-Humorului, Nyzhni Stanivtsi, Storozhynets, Boyany, Zastavna.
Starting from the end of the 50s of XIX century, forming of a dense network of diverse Jewish societies takes place in Bukovina. From the middle 1870s, adherents of "Haskala" made attempts to implant in the local Jewry ideas of the national cultural renaissance. But a real national awakening of the Jewish community of the land began in the late XIX and early XX centuries. At these times Jewish student organizations "Hasmonea" (1891), "Zefira" (1897), "Hebronia" (1900), "Emuna" (1903) came into being. The Jewish national press appeared, and also political organizations, as for example the "Jewish National Society"established in 1900 by Mayer Ebner and Benno Straucher.
This society became a prototype of the first Jewish political party of Bukovyna and practically opened the epoch of the Jewish national policy in the province.

The downfall of Austro-Hungary, and the transformation of Bukovina into a province of Romania in the autumn of 1918 opened a new stage in the life of the Jewish community of the land. It was characterized by a deterioration of legal, social and economical position of the Jewish population, displacing of the Jews from numerous spheres of social life. Jews started an active struggle for their national and civil rights. At the beginning of the 1930s,the representation of Bukovinian Jewry in the Romanian parliament was secured by Mayer Ebner, Max Diamant and Manfred Reifer.
The interwar period in the life of the Jewish community in Bukovina was also a period of active social and cultural enlightening work in the life of the Jewish community in Bukovina. With the support of the international Jewish organization "Joint", an orphan house for Jewish children, and anti-tuberculosis establishment were opened, existing Jewish hospital was expanded and an also a dormitory and a canteen for Jewish students were built. Several Jewish societies operated: "Maccabi", "Safa Ivriya", "Morgenroyt" etc. Jewish newspapers were published: "Juedisches Volksblatt" (Jewish National Paper), "Arbeiter Zeitung" (Labor newspaper), "Das neue Leben" (New Life), "Czernowitzer Bleter" (Chernivtsi Papers,in Yiddish), "Ostjuedische Zeitung" (Eastern-Jewish Newspaper), "Das Freie Wort" (Free Word), "Neue Juedische Rundschau" (New Jewish Review) and others. Some remarkable events occurred in the religious life. In particular, "yeshivas" were founded in Chernivtsi and Vyzhnytsya. Steps towards foundation of a rabbinical seminary were taken.
The Romanian period became the time of particular flourishing of the Jewish cultural life. Just at this time the Jewish and world cultures were enriched with many new names: Eliezer Steinbarg, Itsik Manger, Alfred Margul-Sperber, Mozes Rozenkranz, Alfred Kittner, Rudolf Kommer, and Rosa Auslaender, Arthur Kolnyk, Mozes Barash, Jakob Aizensher, Joseph Schmidt and many others.

With the beginning of the Second World War, the Romanian authorities introduced in Bukovina a state of siege. Gradually, Jewish newspapers stopped coming out, Jewish fellowships and organizations stopped their activity. That is why it is not surprising, that many local Jews were rejoiced with the news that on June 28, 1940 Bukovina became a part of the Soviet Union. Very soon it came out that the new power treated the Jews no less cruelly than the preceding one. Nationalization of the Jewish property, persecutions and deportation to Siberia of a big group of representatives of Jewish political, economic, intellectual and cultural elite stroke a huge blow to the Jewish community.
But all these problems were small comparing with everything that the Bukovinian Jewry faced in the following years.The attack on the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany and her satellites,among them Romania, in the summer of 1941 was accompanied with mass murders of local population of the occupied territories, and first of all the Jews. In Bukovina, which was in the zone of the initial onslaught of the Romanian units, during first days and weeks of the war, several thousands people of Jewish nationality were assasinated. Since autumn 1941, the Hitlerite Antonescu regime started mass deportations of the local Jewish population to Transnistria. In the course of these actions, according to different data from 70 to 90 thousand Jews were deported to the territory between the Bug and the Dniester. Under the conditions of cold, famine, hard forced labor, only half of them survived the troublesome tragic times. Most of surviving Bukovinian Jews returned home in 1944 decided to avail themselves of the openness of the Soviet-Romanian border for departure to other countries and first of all to Palestine. In the period from 1944 to 1946, 40-50 thousand people left Bukovina.
In such a way, as a result of the catastrophe of the Second World War and mass repatriation of the first postwar years, the Bukovinian Jewry as a sub-ethnic community ceased to exist.

Only in the second half of the 80s of XX century, after the erosion processes of the totalitarian regime had become irreversible in the Soviet Union, the necessity of revival of the Jewish national and cultural life in Bukovina started to be discussed. Around 20 thousand Jews resided in Chernivtsi region that included the territory of the northern part of Bukovina. This number made approximately 2% of all the population of this administrative-territorial unit. The majority of these Jews were persons that had settled in the land only in the Soviet times and thus were not versed in national and cultural traditions of the Bukovinian Jewry. But nevertheless, however strange it might seem, the very sense of the duty towards the glorious heritage of the once numerous Jewish community became an incentive for the revival of the Jewish organized life.
In this way, aiming at preserving of the city Jewish cemetery, in the summer of 1988 the first in Ukraine and the second on the territory of the Soviet Union legal Jewish organization - the Jewish Public Cultural Fund - came into being. The founders of the Fund were J.Zissels, I.Boyko, 0.Shapiro, S.Bakis, S.Zisels, M.Gezunterman, M.Kharakh, and also the Royzin, the Zusevich and the Tutelman families. The famous human right activist and dissident Joseph Zissels was elected Head of the Fund. In its activity the Fund didn't confine itself only to the maintenance of the Jewish necropolis: practically from the first day of its foundation the Fund published its own edition - "Information bulletin" (since 1990 published as a magazine "Shofar"); since 1989 courses of Jewish languages started working in the city and a little bit later - the first in Ukraine Jewish Sabbath School; since 1990 the Fund has started systematic work in the domain of social help; in the same year consulting office on repatriation to Israel started operating; in 1992 the Fund initiated opening of the Jewish kindergarten in the city (the first director - Fira Mazur). Jewish youth and sports organizations, as for example "Maccabi" and the dancing ensemble "Kayor" were also concentrated around the Fund.

The Eliezer Steinbarg Society of the Jewish Culture, founded in the spring of 1988, was also aimed at revival of the cultural heritage. Leonid Finkel was its first head. After the repatriation of the latter, the Society was headed by the outstanding veteran Chemivtsi Yiddish writer Joseph Burg. The Society actively worked on the return of the forgotten names of Chemivtsi Jewish men of letters and artists to Chemivtsi citizens. On its initiative and due to the active participation of Pinhas Luttinger, at the beginning of the 1990s, memorial plaques to Joseph Schmidt, Moshe Altman and Sidi Tal were set in the city. In 1993, owing to endeavors of the Society, the 85th anniversary of the holding in Chernivtsi of the First Jewish Language Conference of 1908 was celebrated. In 1990 the Society renewed publishing of the Yiddish newspaper "Czernowitzer Bleter" (Chernivtsi Papers).
The Society paid much attention to the work aimed at preserving of memory on the catastrophe of the Jewry in the Second World War. In 1990 the Society in cooperation with the Jewish community of the city organized the erection of the commemorative sign on the place of the mass shooting of Chernivtsi Jews in 1941. Owing to active researching and editorial work of the Society activist of many years Yevgeniya Finkel, five volumes of reminiscences of the former Jewish prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and ghettoes were released.
Due to deplorable social and economic condition of the state as a whole, and also the abject poverty of the majority of local Jews, the Jewish Charitable Committee was established in 1991 in Chernivtsi on the initiative of the above mentioned Jewish organizations (the Jewish Social and Cultural Fund and the Eliezer Steinbarg Society of Jewish Culture) and also of a number of benevolent members of the Jewish community. It dealt with providing diverse social and financial help to Jewish inhabitants of the city. The guidance of the Committee was entrusted to Shaya (Isay) Kleiman, Y.Bursuk, S.Gurevich, G.Gitman, N.Batsheva, I.Brudnaya, G.Kreichman. They also became members of the board of administration. In 1993, 800 individuals were in the ward of the Committee. At the first stage of its operation, the Committee was financed on the expense of the Jewish Social and Cultural Fund. Since 1994 the main sponsors of the Committee became "Joint" and a range of the other foreign Jewish organizations.

Besides the foundation of the Jewish public organizations, a range of the other socially meaningful initiatives were realized in Chemivtsi on the wave of the Jewish national and cultural revival of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1991 a Jewish school was opened in Chernivtsi; in the same year program "Dos Yiddishe Wort" (Jewish word) started coming out on the regional radio.
Under conditions of the further drastic reduction of the number of Jews (in 2001 only 1400 i.e. 0.2% individuals of Judaic faith were registered on the territory of the region) in the second half of the 1990s-beginning of the 2000s, public activity of the local Jewry is becoming more limited. The social direction is to some extent an exception here. On the initiative of the "Joint" and also of a range of local Jewish organizations, at the beginning of 1999 the Regional Jewish Charitable Fund "Hesed Shushana" (the Rose of Mercy) was established in Chernivtsi. Later, it turned into the most important nucleus of the Jewish life of the Chernivtsi region and Chernivtsi. Leonid Fuks became the executive director of the Fund and Shaya (Isay) Kleiman was elected head of the administration board of the organization. Since August 2000, the Regional Jewish Charitable Fund "Hesed Shushana" settled itself in the refurbished premises in 53 Kobylyanska Street. Since that time the Fund has launched active work in the domain of social and financial support of the Jewish inhabitants, which today envelopes a wide range of directions: care of sick and aged people, nourishment, medical consultations and hire of medical equipment, repair of household equipment and clothes, etc. In the period of 2003-2004 the Fund initiated a set of new programs, in particular "Hope" and "Beiteinu". Libraries, a children's art studio,an orchestra of Jewish music, a family club, and a theatrical studio are affiliated to the Fund. Regional Jewish Charitable Fund "Hesed Shushana" actively participates in life of the city and region.
Since 2005, certain enlivening of national and cultural life of the Jewish community is observed. New Jewish organizations "Jewish Cultural Fund Or Avner-Habad" (the leader is Rabbi Menahem Mendel Glitsenstein), the Jewish Community of the Chernivtsi region (the head is M. Kreis) and others have appeared recently. In August 2006 the International Festival of the Clezmeric Music was carried out in Chernivtsi with the support of local and all-Ukrainian Jewish organizations and local government authorities of Chernivtsi. In the August of 2008, within the framework of celebrative actions of the 600th anniversary of the first written mention about Chernivtsi and on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Czernowitz First International Language Conference of 1908 a festive week of the Jewish history and culture that enveloped a wide set of events was held. Owing to the personal efforts of Joseph Zissels and
Jewish organizations headed by him in the autumn of 2008 in the former Jewish National House a museum of the Jewish history and culture of Bukovyna was opened ( its first director is N. Shevchenko).
The only active city synagogue "Beit Tfilah Benjamin" serves as a religious centre of the Jewish community. During many years pasturing of souls is fulfilled here be the chief rabbi of Chernivtsi Noah Koyfmanskyi. The arrival in the city of the young rabbi Menahem Mendel Glitsenshtein contributed to the activation of religious life of the local Jewry. He is a representative of the so-called "Lyubavich" trend of the Judaism and carries out functions of the main rabbi of Chernivtsi region.