Jewish Roots

Moldova, together with adjoining segments of Ukraine, is often known in Jewish history as Bessarabia – the entire area between the Nistru and Prut rivers.

The first Jews arrived on the territory of the modern Moldova in the 1st century with the Roman legions. In 14th century the Jewish community was allowed to establish a permanent presence in Moldova. They became prominent as merchants, traders, and craftsmen. In 16th century Jewish immigrants from Poland and Germany arrived. In 17th century Cossacks twice invaded the country bringing horror and pogroms.

In 18th century the Ottoman Sultan moved Jews from Turkey to Moldova and Romania. During the same period some Russian military fortresses were established on the left bank of Nistru River. Numerous Jewish communities were among the first migrants there.

In 1812, when Bessarabia became a part of Russian Empire 50,000 Jews lived here. The Bessarabian province was part of the Pale of Settlement, so 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 (Balti, Orhei, and Soroca).

In the early 20th century economic differences between Jews and other communities sharpened, culminating in the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom and later the pogroms of 1905 in Chisinau, Calarasi, and Tiraspol. The emigration of many Jews from the Russian Empire to America, Palestine, and Argentina greatly increased at this time. In 1918 Bessarabia joined Romania, while present day Transnistria became the part of Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, the community continued to develop, reaching its peak in the 1930s. In 1940 due to Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Bessarabia became part of the USSR.

On the eve of World War II, more than 400,000 Jews lived in Moldova. In 1941, the territory was occupied by Nazi and Romanian troops. During the years of Nazi occupation, the Jewish population was completely banished from Bessarabia. Around 350,000 Jews perished during the Holocaust; although the exact number of victims is difficult to determine due to inconsistent territorial nomenclature among Romanians, Soviet authorities, and Nazi occupying forces.

After the war, Jews returned to Moldova; a fairly large number of whom are believed to have been postwar migrants from southern Ukraine. In 1960 about 100,000 Jews lived in Moldova. At the end of 1960s underground Zionist activities began in Moldova. In 1970s and 1980s Jewish emigration began. Between 1970-1995 more than 150,000 Jews left for Israel, Germany, USA, and Canada.

During the late-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 early-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 early-2000s 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, centers existed in Chisinau, Balti, Tiraspol and Ribnita.

Currently, the Jewish population of Moldova is about 30,000. Some 20,000 to 22,000 live in Chisinau. Other Jewish population centers are: Balti (1,800), Soroca (1,300), Tighina/Bender (1,100), Tiraspol (1,100), Ribnita (900), Orhei (400), Cahul (250), Dubassari (120), Calarasi (60), and Edinet (60).

Visitors wishing to learn more about Jewish history and attractions (e.g. synagogues, cemeteries, monuments, and museums) in Moldova should visit the following websites and organizations:

Moldovan Towns with Historical Importance

Tiraspol. Since the 17th century, the city had a thriving Jewish presence. By 1897, the Jewish community comprised 27% of the population (8,668). During the Holocaust, nearly the entire Jewish community perished in Nazi concentration camps. After World War II, the Jewish community began to grow once again and by the 1960s there were nearly 1,500 Jews living in Tiraspol.

Soroca. The first Jewish settlement in Soroca was recorded in 1657. By the 18th century, Soroca was home to more than 150 Jewish families, led by Rabbi David Solomon Eibenschutz. By 1897, there were 8,763 Jews, making up over half of the population of Soroca. Prior to World War II, the Jewish community of Soroca was thriving. Sadly, the community was nearly annihilated during the years of Nazi occupation. However, since then the Jewish community in Soroca is rebuilding itself.

Rascani. During the 19th century, Rascani became a major industrial center in Bessarabia because of its thriving Jewish community. In 1897, the Jewish population was about 70% of total population (2,247). In the early 20th century, the Tarbut organization maintained much of the communal affairs. In 1941, most of the Jewish community was destroyed during the years of Nazi occupation.

Telenesti. The town was founded by the estate’s owner when Jews were invited to work in the area in the late 18th century. In 1794, a hevra kaddish was consecrated and maintained until World War II. By 1897, there were 3,876 Jews living in Telenesi, comprising 89 percent of the total population. The Jewish community was devastated in World War II.

Places of interest:

1

Chisinau Glaziers Synagogue

Chabbad Liubavitch str., 8, Chisinau
Date of construction: 1910.

4

Chisinau Jewish Cemetery

23,400 gravestones, some dating to the 19th century
Contact person: Tuev P. (+373) (0)79 415 654

3

Orhei Jewish Cemetery

15,000 gravestones, some dating to the 18th century
Contact person: Mundrian Y. (+373 235) 21 112

2

Rascov ancient synagogue

Rascov town, Ribnita Raion 
Date of construction: 1749. The building is half destroyed.

5

Vadul Rascov Jewish Cemetery

2,000 gravestones un supervised cemetery

 6

Balti Jewish Cemetery

25,000 gravestones, some dating to the 19th century
Contact person: Bondari L. (+373) (0)69 103 292

 7

Briceni Jewish cemetery

5,000 gravestones, some dating to the 19th century
Contact person: Boltuh I. (+373 247)22 157

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