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Piatra-Neamt

PIATRA-NEAMT

PIATRA-NEAMT (Rom. Piatra-Neamţ , or Piatra ), town in Moldavia, N.E. Romania. According to a local Jewish tradition, a synagogue existed there by the middle of the 16th century, and during the war against Turkey (1541–46), the Jews of Piatra-Neamt hid the ruler of Moldavia. The oldest tombstone dates from 1627 and the first entries in the pinkas (minute book) of the ḥevra kaddisha date from 1771. The ḥevra maintained a talmud torah and directed various communal activities. The Jews' Guild (see *Romania) was in charge of communal affairs. In 1819 the head of the guild was the assistant of the chief commissioner of the local police. There were 120 Jewish taxpayers in 1802. The number of Jews had risen to 3,900 (33% of the total population) in 1859 and 8,489 (c. 50% of the total) in 1907. In 1930 there were 7,595 Jews (24% of the total).

Antisemitism was prevalent from the 19th century on, and in 1821 the community suffered from Greek rebels who appeared in the area and robbed and murdered Jews there. The arrival of the Turkish army prevented a complete massacre of the community. In 1841, 48 Jews from the surrounding villages were arrested following a *blood libel. They were released by special order of the sultan on the intervention of Sir Moses *Montefiore.

The abolition of the *ḥakham bashi system in 1834 and of the Jews' Guild was followed by a long period of chaos in Jewish public life; attempts to form a community failed because of quarrels among different Jewish groups and institutions which attempted to assume communal responsibility and leadership. In 1868 the police closed the talmud torah and the private ḥadarim, obliging the community to establish a modern school. A primary school was founded by the local *B'nai B'rith in 1882 and functioned until 1885 when the talmud torah was reopened. In 1899–1900 the *Jewish Colonization Association contributed to the building of two schools, one for boys and another for girls, which in 1910 had 810 pupils.

In addition to the "Great Synagogue" there were 16 prayer houses, some of them belonging to specific craftsmen. A hekdesh (hostel for travelers) was turned into an old-age home in 1898 and a Jewish hospital was established in 1905.

Most of the commerce in Piatra-Neamt was conducted by Jews: in 1891 there were 417 Jewish commercial firms. Many Jews dealt in the agricultural products of the area, such as timber, cereals, and cattle. The majority of craftsmen were also Jews and some industries were also owned by Jews.

In 1894 a branch of Ḥovevei Zion was founded in the town. After 1897 groups of supporters of Herzl's political Zionism were formed there. The Hebrew weekly Yizre'el was published in Piatra-Neamt from 1882, as well as a Yiddish journal Di Hofnung (published three times weekly). Another Hebrew magazine, Ha-Mekiẓ, edited by the Hebrew author and teacher M. *Braunstein-Mibashan, and A.L. *Zissu, who was born in Piatra-Neamt, was published there from 1909. Jean *Juster and the historian of Romanian Jewry, M.A. Halevy (1900–1972), were also born in Piatra-Neamt.

Antisemitism was especially virulent in Piatra-Neamt between the two world wars. In 1925 synagogues, Jewish schools, and other institutions were looted, and in 1926 and 1928 the cemetery was desecrated. Corneliu *Codreaunu, head of the *Iron Guard, was elected to Parliament as deputy for Piatra-Neamt in 1931. In 1937, 26 out of 28 Jews practicing at the bar were dismissed. Despite these problems the community itself was more firmly organized between the two world wars. The two primary schools, serving 400 boys and girls in 1936–37, were amalgamated, and the community also supported a boarders' annex for 250 children. There were Zionist organizations of all shades.

The community of Piatra-Neamt survived World War ii. In 1947 Jews numbered 8,000, declining to 5,000 in 1950. In 1969 about 300 Jewish families remained. There were two synagogues. About 100 Jews remained in the early 21st century.

bibliography:

pk Romanyah, 208–16; J. Kaufman, Cronica comunitǎţilor israelite din Judeţul Neamţu (1929); Almanahul ziarului Tribuna evreeascǎ, 1 (1937/38), 273–4; E. Schwarzfeld, in: Anuar pentru Israeliţi, 7 (1884/85), 19; Buletinul Bibliotecii Muzeului şi archivei istorice a Templului Coral, Bucureşti, 2:1 (1936), 13–15.

[Theodor Lavi]

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