General Information on Moldovan Jewish Organizations
The Republic of Moldova is the legal successor of the Moldavian SSR. Its area is 33,371 kilometers square (including the unrecognized Pridniestrovian Moldavian Republic, occupying areas on the left bank of the Dniester and the district of Bendery city). Its population is 3,563,700 people. The head of the state is its president (since September 2009 the acting president is Mihai Ghimpu).
Currently the Jewish population of Moldova is estimated at 15,000 with 7,000 living in Chishinau, 1,000 – in Beltsi, and about 2,000 in the unrecognized Moldovan Republic of Transnistria. Individuals aged over 60 comprise a significant percentage of the community members (over 50%).
The main front Jewish organization in Moldova is the Jewish Community of the Moldovan Republic (co-chaired by Alexander Bilinkis and Alexander Pinchevsky).
Nine regional communities belong to the Jewish community of the Moldovan Republic: the one in municipiu Beltsi, and those in the cities of Bender, Grigoriopol, Dubasari, Cahul, Orhei, Rîbnitsa, Soroca, and Tiraspol. Other members of the Jewish Community of the Moldovan Republic are the Organization of Former Prisoners of Nazism, the Republican Union of Jewish 1941-1945 War Veterans, the Association of Refugees of the 1941-1945 World War II, the Jewish Youth Organization Hillel, the Community of Mountain, Bukharian, and Georgian Jews Juhur, the Hava National Jewish Women’s Organization, the Moldovan Jewish Congress.
In June 2003, Moldovan Jewish businessmen created the Moldovan Jewish Congress (president since November 2009 Emmanuel Grinshpun, who is also vice-president of the EAJC and the World Congress of Russian Jewry; director general Ilya Shatz). JCMR and MJC are members of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
Also operating in Chishinau are: a Jewish Agency for Israel (Sochnut) office (director Paula Lam-Khayim), an Israeli Cultural Center (director Elena Nezhanskaya), and an office of the ORT (director Ilan Shor). A branch of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has functioned in Moldova since 1993 (current director Mickey Katsif). It supports a Chesed system with approximately 4,500 people in its care.
In order to describe and renovate the Jewish cemeteries of the state, the Dor le-Dor Charitable Foundation was established in the spring of 2003 (director Sofiya Gitenstein); in December the same year an office of the Maccabi movement was registered.
There are about ten religious communities in the state which belong to the Chabad Lubavitch movement and are led by the chief rabbi of Moldova Zalman Leyb Abelsky (since 1989). The Agudat Israel yeshiva has been working in Chishinau since the early 1990s.
The largest Jewish cultural organization is the Cultural Center working in Chishinau since 1991 – the I. Manger Library. It hosts a Jewish Artists’ Club, music, dance, and drama groups; carries out a lot of work on the basis of clubs; organizes exhibitions of books and applied art works; festivals; publishing and museum work.
There is a Jewish kindergarten in the state capital, as well as two lyceums with approximately 700 students: the Theodore Herzl ORT Jewish Technology Lyceum and the Rambam Lyceum.
Jewish music is very popular; concerts are given by the Vort Un Nign (Word and Tune) band, consisting of professors and associates of the Musical Academy, led by famous musician, journalist, and teacher Sergo Bengelsdorf (his memoir Life in Jewish Culture was published in 2007). The Khalom children’s vocal band has been around since 1997. The international Klezmer music seminar/festival Bessaraber Lied has been taking place in Moldova since 1999. The Shaliakh Jewish theatre performs in the capital. Die Goldene Shoshane band is based in Bender. The Community Jewish Book Festival (OFEK) has been organized annually since 1996. A festival called “Days Dedicated to Sholom-Aleykhem” was held in June 2009.
State creative festivals for Jewish children and youth have been heldsince 1998.
Moldova is one of the few countries with continuing literary activity in Yiddish. The radio journal Yiddish Lebn has been coming out since 1990 (host – S. Bengelsdorf). A Yiddish Center has been working in Chishinau since 1993; it was called Mame-Loshn and belongs to the I. Manger Library since 2008.
Three Jewish newspapers are published in the republic: Istoki Zhizni (Sources of Life, published by the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue), Oliva (Olive, the newspaper of the Sochnut Jewish Agency), and Yevreyskoye Mestechko (Jewish Shtetl, published since 2003 by the Dor le-Dor Foundation).
Moldova has well-developed legislation pertaining to the rights of persons belonging to ethnic minorities.
The Republic has ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (by the decree of the Moldovan Parliament of July 24, 1997). The fundamental regulatory enactment which finally determined the legal status of ethnic minorities was the Law of the Moldovan Republic of July 19, 2991 “On the Rights of Persons Belonging to Ethnic Minorities, and the Legal Status of their Organizations”. On Septem- ber 1, 1989, the Law “On the Functioning of Languages on the Territory of the Moldovan SSR” was passed (updated in 2003 to apply to the Moldovan Republic), according to which the Moldovan language with its Latin script is the state language, Russian is used as the language of inter-ethnic communication, and Hebrew and Yiddish are used for the ethnic and cultural needs of the Jews of Moldova. As a logical extension of this in 2001, Moldova guaranteed Jews the right to pre-school, primary, secondary (comprehensive and professional), graduate, and post-graduate education in their native language – Hebrew and Yiddish. The Concept of Ethnic Policy of the Moldovan Republic took effect on January 1, 2004. It proclaims discrimination on ethnic grounds unacceptable, and the Jews are proclaimed an integral part of the one nation of Moldova. So, the Concept states: “Moldovans – the titular nation – together with the other ethnicities: Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauzes, Bulgarians, Jews, Romanians, Belarusians, Gypsies (Roma people), Poles, and others, comprise the Moldovan nation, of which the Moldovan Republic is the common homeland.”
Since 2001, the Jewish community of Chishinau has been taking part in the ethno-cultural festival “Unity through Diversity”. The 10th ethno-cultural festival was held in 2010, with the Jewish culture represented at the highest level.
A shipping of kosher wine was produced in April 2010 at the IM “Chateau Vartely” SRL enterprise. Orhei-Vit, a company belonging to A. Bilinkis, received kosher certification for juice production in September 2010.
A mini-version of Maccabiah Games has been taking place in Chishinau since 2004, with dozens of young men and women from Jewish youth clubs participating.
The international on-line chess tournament ORT Chess Federation Cup 2010, organized by the Jewish educational network ORT-Moldova and the Chess Federation of the Moldovan Republic, was held in Chishinau in May 2010. Eight school teams from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Moldova took part in it. The best result was achieved by the Chishinau B. Z. Herzl Lyceum team.
The 10th international student Hilleliah Games were held in Chishinau in October 2010 with several hundred Jewish student athletes from the FSU.
A Moldovan governmental delegation led by Prime Minister Vlad Filat met with Jewish organizations and visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. during their January 2010 visit to the USA. At the meeting with Jewish organizations, the prime minister stated that the goal of the government is to promote coordinated, pragmatic policies based on tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as elimination of all manifestations of anti-Semitism.
On March 25, 2010, V. Filat warmly congratulated the Jewish community on the approaching holiday of Pesach.
Diplomatic relations with Israel were established in 1992; the embassy of Moldova in Israel was opened in 1994. In 2008, Avraham Sharon was appointed the first Israeli ambassador to the Republic of Moldova; prior to that, the ambassador to Ukraine represented the interests of Israel in Moldova.
A parliamentary group of Israeli-Moldovan friendship is co-chaired by Knesset member Leah Shemtov and Moldovan Parliament member Arcady Pasechnik.
The union of Israelis of Moldovan descent “Izvorash” (head Arcady Brover) held its first meeting in June 2008.
In 2008, Moldova and Israel signed a cooperation agreement pertaining to the fields of culture, education, and science for the years 2008-2011. Economical relations are developing quickly.
Days of Israeli cinema were held in Beltsi in November 2009.
On January 27, 2010, the Moldovan government took an unilateral decision to cancel visa requirements for Israelis wishing to visit Moldova.
The Israeli film Dancing Alfonso was awarded the Grand Prix at the 8th international documentary cinema festival Chronographer-2010, which took place in Chishinau in May 2010.
In July 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel and the National MASHAV Agency decided to offer Moldova humanitarian aid after the disastrous flood of the Prut river.
The Darkon Israeli businessmen association in Moldova is presided over by Anataly Leybovitch. Alcoholic beverages comprise a significant part of Moldovan export to Israel.
In April 2007, the Moldovan Parliament passed amendments to the Law on additional social protection of disabled World War II veterans and their families, according to which former prisoners of Nazi camps in Moldova were to receive additional monthly compensations.
In Beltsi, the “March in Memory of Holocaust Victims” has been taking place each July since 2005; it is timed to the anniversary of mass executions of Jews in the city. Similar mass events are held annually in Chishinau and Dubosari.
For several years, the project “Never Again: Holocaust in Transnistria (1941-1944), collection of witness testimonies of the tragic events of the Holocaust, functioned in Transnistria. In 2009, the collected testimonies were transferred to the Yad va Shem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. The Jewish community in Beltsi has since 2008 been holding a contest among high-school students of the city’s schools and lyceums, called “My Understanding of the Holocaust”.
Memorials to victims of the Holocaust were erected in 2010 in the village of Pepeni (in late May), in the city of Marculeshti (May 30), and the city of Calarashi (July 2010).
A tolerance museum called “Jewish Fates” has been operating at the Beltsi Chesed Yaakov Jewish center since 2008. A grant from the European Jewish Fund enabled the Jewish Community of the Republic of Moldova to launch its website, “The Babi Yars of Moldova”, in April 2009 (www.holomemory.md). A Holocaust Museum was opened in Tiraspol in 2010.
The anniversary of the end of WWII and the Holocaust served as incentive to hold a range of events dedicated to the Holocaust. In early February 2010, a round table called “The Holocaust in Transnistrian Lands; Lessons of History” was held in Dubosari. In early March 2010, the first international conference “Memory of the Holocaust” was held in Chishinau. An exhibition called “The Holocaust; the Ribnitsa Tragedy” was opened in Ribnitsa in April 2010.
Unfortunately, there are still groups of nationalist politicians operating in the state, who deny the Holocaust; many schools still use textbooks published in the early 1990s, where the Holocaust is hushed up. After the national-democrats won the fall 2009 elections, history has been hastily “reformatted” towards “Romanization”, which is understood as loyalty to the Antonescu regime. Some Moldovan historians have made haste to claim that Antonescu’s regime was the “minor evil” compared to the Nazis, as it persecuted “only” the Jews and the Roma.
In early December 2009, the new Minister of Education L. Bujor “recommended” that history textbooks describing the Romanian occupation of Moldova in 1941-1944 and the Holocaust not be used in teaching. On August 22, 2010 Minister Bujor announced to the media that 9-11th form integrated history textbooks published during “communist rule” will be withdrawn from schools.
A similar reformatting has been observed in other realms as well. In October 2009, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Moldova registered a pro-Fascist organization called the National-Christian Movement. In early March 2010, outrage erupted regarding the decision taken by the government to award identical awards to WWII veterans who fought on the side of the USSR and those who fought on the side of Nazi Germany (Acting President M. Ghimpu stated that “it would be incorrect to only recognize those Moldovan troops who fought in the Soviet army”). The members of the ruling coalition who were in support of this decision pointed to the alleged European experience of “making peace” between veterans who fought on different sides. The visual appearance of the new award, resembling the Nazi Iron Cross, contributed to the growing scandal.
In early June 2010, Prime Minister Vladimir Filat took part in a ceremonial consecration of an “honorary cemetery of Romanian heroes” in the city of Calarashi, where soldiers of the Ion Antonescu army are buried, and of the St. Archangel Michael Chapel, together with activists of the unregistered movement Noua Dreapta (“The New Right”). In his speech at the ceremony, V. Filat said: “Thanks to the people buried here, today we can live in freedom...”
In early July 2010, mayor of Chishinau D. Chirtoaca announced his intention to open a museum of “Soviet occupation” and a Holocaust museum under one roof. This “equalization” caused active protest on the part of the Moldovan Jewish community, after which the mayor’s office decided to create two separate museums.
The leaders of Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, on the other hand,tend to use the topic of the Holocaust to expand their political support. In early February 2010, PMR president I. Smirnov brought flowers to the memorial to victims of Nazism in Dubosari. Later, the Pridnestrovian government assigned funding to renovate the memorial.
Unfortunately, there are some manifestations of anti-Semitism as well. The main perpetrators of anti-Semitism are followers of right-wing parties, who take unionist positions (pro-union with Romania) and attempt to rehabilitate I. Antonescu, Romanian dictator and Hitler’s ally. There are also manifestations of religious anti-Semitism on the part of ultra-Orthodoxian activists in Moldova.
On December 13, 2009, a group of Orthodox fundamentalists led by Anatoly Chibrik, a priest with the parish of St. Matrona, broke into pieces a Hanukkah menorah erected in downtown Chishinau. Fr Chibrik claimed that Stefan the Great had protected Orthodox Moldova from “all kinds of Yids”, and now they have “come and put up their minora here”, which, according to the priest, was unacceptable in an Orthodox country.
The Moldovan ecclesiastical province of the Russian Orthodox Church, to which Fr Chibrik belongs, in its official press-release referred to the event as an “unpleasant incident” and “recommended” that in future the Jews re- move the menorah from the “inappropriate” location and light it instead by the memorial to Holocaust victims. The authorities preferred not to interfere, and Fr Chibrik was only sentenced to a minor fine.
During the March 2010 raiders’ attack on Chishinau Hotel, which had belonged to First Hotel Company since 2006, the attackers shouted “Yids, go back to the Gaza Strip!”
On the eve of September 12, 2010, the Chishinau synagogue was desecrated. Unknown persons drew on its wall a swastika, a map of the so-called “Great Romania” and the slogan “Bessarabia is Romanian land”.
Jewish studies research is concentrated in the Jewish ethnology group at the Institute for Inter-ethnic Research of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences (led by Irina Shikhova, PhD) and the Jewish studies group at the Cultural Heritage Institute. The main subjects of research for Moldovan Jewish studies scholars are the 1903 pogrom and the Holocaust. The Moldovan Jewish History Museum was opened in Chishinau in 2006 (director Dorina Shlayen). In January 2007 the Jewish studies department of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences began publishing the Moldovan Jewish Encyclopedia. Articles (1998-2007), a book of opinion articles by the famous Jewish historian Samson Madiyevsky, was published in Chishinau in November 2009.
Biobibliography by historian-ethnographer Vladimir Anikin, who has studied the history of Bessarabian Jews for many years, was also published in November 2009.
A Memorial Book dedicated to the ancient Jewish cemetery in Orhei was published in February 2010. It included a list of the interred, comprising 3515 names and surnames, photographs of tombstones, and a plan of the cemetery. The Cultural Heritage of Moldovan Jews by R. Kleyman and I. Shikhova was published in August 2010.
A range of studies was published in 2010, pertaining to the Holocaust and the Jewish participation in the war. Among these studies was History Without Myths. WWII: Genesis, Progress, and Conclusions by historian Sergei Nazaria, which reviewed inter alia the events of the Holocaust in Bessarabia, as well as The Memorial Book, dedicated to the 3300 Jewish natives of Moldova who perished in the forefronts of the Great Patriotic War and the 417 Jewish natives of other regions who fell in the fights for the liberation of the Republic in 1944, and the Annual Report of the International Committee for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania.
In April 2010, a two-year project was launched in the Jewish community to study the history of rabbinical presence and synagogal activity in the state.
In early May 2010, the Kedem Jewish Cultural Center and the Museum of Moldovan Jewish Heritage, together with the Sefer International Association of Jewish Studies Scholars and Teachers, organized a Sefer lecture center in Chishinau.
On November 30, 2009, EAJC President Alexander Mashkevich paid a working visit to Chishinau. During this visit, the EAJC leader met with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova Vladimir Filat.
On December 14, 2009, the EAJC published an official statement, expressing deep indignation regarding the destruction of the menorah. Children from Jewish communities in Moldova have traditionally been participating in the International inter-ethnic “Sources of Tolerance” children’s camp in the Carpathian Yasinya village, organized by the EAJC.