Soroca, Moldova, built on the hills overlooking the Dniester River. Note the Communist style housing on the hillside. Soroca is built on several hills along the Dniester River.
My husband's family lived in Bessarabia from at least the early 1800s. The Russian Czar Nicholas wanted to populate this area with people that would be loyal to Russia. He broadcast word that pioneers on this frontier would be given land, would be free from paying taxes for 2 to 5 years and in some areas would be free from military conscription. So the people came -- some of them German, some Polish, and many of them Jewish. In the early 1800s the Russian government further decided to help the Jewish pioneers establish agricultural settlements that would perhaps solve what was considered to be a problem with where to settle all the Jews that were coming. Dombroveni was the first such Agricultural Settlement established in Bessarabia and my husband's ancestors joined this community. During the 4 generations that lived in that village before its destruction during WWII, they endured poverty, discrimination against Jews, pogroms, conscription into the Romanian army, and conscription into the Russian army, and other social stresses. My husband's parents saw evidence of upcoming problems for Jews in the area and were simultaneously enthused in the local Zionist movement which sponsored youth groups in the small Jewish villages of Bessarabia. Though we knew many of these communities were destroyed either by the retreating Russians, by Romanian neighbors or by the invading Nazis, during our May, 2010 visit to Moldova (Bessarabia) we hoped to be able to find where these communities were and what the lay of the land was at the very least.
|Abacus used in Dumbraveni grocery store|
After touring Bucharest and then northern Romania, the area called Transylvania, we drove to the border city of Iasi (pronounced Yash) and crossed into Moldova. Moshe would also have been in Iasi where the office of the local Zionist Jewish Federation was located. This was the nearest city to Balti where Moshe attended an agricultural camp which was designed to prepare immigrants to learn how to farm before going to Israel. But Moshe had grown up in an agricultural household and knew what they were teaching at the camp, so he was put in charge of obtaining funds from the Jewish Agency in Iasi and later in Beltsi, purchasing goods for the camp and supervising their transport back to that camp. We did find a synogogue in Iasi that might have been there and active when Moshe was there. We also passed Beltsi where the camp was located though of course we didn't know exactly where the camp had been.
We entered Moldova and met with our new Moldovan guide, and then we drove completely across the northern part of the small country to Soroca, where we stayed that night. Moshe had more sentimental connections with Sorocca. Moshe's father, Itzhak, died when he was 12 years old. His mother, Hanie, along with her several daughters worked to maintain the family business after Itzhak's death, but she really wanted her son to get a secondary education. So she arranged for Moshe to travel the 12 miles to Soroca and to stay with friends in order to attend a Jewish high school there. Hanie packed a weeks worth of food for Moshe including produce from the farm, bread, and preserves. He would travel there on Sunday with a farm wagon that was making the trip, then stay the week with these friends. He wrote that his weekdays consisted of arising early and attending prayers at one of the local synogogues, then after prayers, he would stop at a local tea shop where he would order tea to go with the bread and preserves that his mother had sent with him. Then he would attend school and return to his home to study in the evening. On early Shabbat eve he would get a ride back to Dombroveni to be home with his family on Shabbat. Each week was a repetition of this pattern. On one occasion Moshe forgot his bag of food at home. Later that day Hanie appeared at the home where Moshe stayed; she had walked all the way from Dumbroveni with Moshe's food. Moshe begged her to stay the night and even went to talk with his landlord to see if there was an extra bed for her to sleep on. But she absolutely refused to stay, saying that she had to get back to take care of the business. Moshe recalled walking with his mother as she left the town, and then watching as she trudged out of town and disappeared from sight over one of the hills, striking tears from his eyes at her great devotion. We found the city of Sorocca to be a relatively modern city nestled between and on several hills along the Dniester River. We could easily envision Hanie walking the wagon rutted trail out of town to the south and returning to her home town of Dumbraveni.
|Synogogue in Soroca|
|Inside the Soroca Synogogue. Small active congregation.|
The people on the street in Sorroca were anxious to help us find respresentations for former Jewish life in the city. At one time there were 12 synogogues in the city, but now there is only one. It is small and poor but it still functions. A passerby on the street told us how to get there. We found the small synogogue locked up, but another passerby offered to ride with our driver to find the man who would be able to open it for us. He was soon back and then the religious leader of the synogogue also came by to allow us into the main sanctuary. We are not sure if this was a synogogue that Moshe would have used or not.
|Unpaved main street, Dumbraveni, raining.|