City in Romania, near the Milcov River, the old border between Moldavia and Walachia. The Jewish community of Focşani dates back at least to the second half of the seventeenth century, when Natan Note Hannover, author of Yeven metsulah and Sha‘are tsiyon, was the town’s rabbi for a decade. The first Jewish cemetery reached its capacity and was closed in 1683, the second in 1874. A choral synagogue was built in 1896 on the location of a synagogue that had been destroyed in an earthquake two years earlier.
In 1820, there were 20 Jewish taxpayers in Focşani; the number of Jews totaled 736 individuals in 1838, rising to 1,855 in 1859 (19.2% of the total population), to 5,954 in 1899 (25.2%), to 6,000 in 1910, and then falling to 4,301 (13.2%) in 1930. The numbers during the war years rose to 4,953 (10.5%) in 1941, and then fell to 4,309 in 1942.
The first Jewish primary school was opened in 1866 but closed two years later because of opposition from Orthodox circles. It reopened in 1874, enrolling 274 pupils in 1887 and 370 in 1891, when it closed for financial reasons. Another school was established in 1897; in 1906, Hebrew was taught there according to a method developed by the school principal (Rabbi Iacob Nacht) and by the teacher Samuel Sufrin.
On 11–13 January 1882, Focşani hosted a Zionist congress (15 years before the Basel Congress), attended by 56 delegates from 29 Romanian towns, and presided over by Mosheh Halevy Goldring. Its attendees proposed that Jews return to the Land of Israel where they would reconstruct the land through farming. As an immediate result of the congress, in August 1882 the ship Thetis left from Galați for Palestine, with 228 emigrants from Moineşti, Cârja, Bacău, Focşani, and Galați; upon arrival they built the first moshavim: Rosh Pinah and Zikhron Ya‘akov. The newspaper Stindardul (The Flag; 1882–1883), belonging to the association Yishuv Erets Yisra’el, also encouraged Romanian Jews to emigrate.
Several Focşani rabbis became prominent. Among there were Goldring (1847–1890), who was active in the pre-Herzl Zionist movement; Nacht (1901–1919), an educator and Zionist leader, who was elected senator in 1920; Naḥum Derbaremdiger, teacher of Hebrew; Mosheh Kofler (1930–1939); and Yisra’el Isacson (1939–1954).
Jews in Focşani were particularly active in crafts and commerce. In 1910, there were 245 Jewish merchants; and during the interwar period Jews established textile factories (Țesătura Focşani, Țesătorie şi Tricotaje), a soap and candle factory (Steaua), a soda water factory (Fabrica de Ape Gazoase), banks (Focşani, Marmorosch, and Creditul Mărunt, supported by interest-free loans from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), bicycle shops (“Tobias and Bernard Bernstein”), and a mill. During the twentieth century, 45 doctors and 22 pharmacists served the town’s population.
Three Jewish periodicals revealed Focşani’s cultural vitality: Torța (The Torch; 1923), which opposed the community leadership; Unirea (The Union; 1924), which defended the leadership in office; and Acțiunea Noastră (Our Action; 1925). As antisemitism emerged in the interwar years, the newspaper Sentinela (The Sentinel), edited by Tița Pavelescu, spread anti-Jewish propaganda. In 1924, synagogues and Jewish shops were damaged when antisemitic students arrived to attend the trial of the head of the Iron Guard, Corneliu Codreanu, for the assassination of the prefect of Iaşi.
On the eve of World War II, Focşani was home to eight synagogues, two primary schools, a kindergarten, a polyclinic, and a mikveh. The earthquake of November 1940 partially damaged the two main synagogues, which were eventually destroyed by the Legionary authorities, under the pretext that they were a public threat. One month later, the same members of the Legion took over Jews’ shops by force; many Jews were sent to the Caracal and Târgu Jiu camps, charged with communism.
In June 1941, all Jewish men aged 16 to 60 were imprisoned in Jewish schools; they were freed several weeks later, with the exception of 65 prominent figures (among them the rabbi and the president), who were declared hostages. The men were requisitioned for forced labor at camps in Vidra, Piteşti, Vulturi Doaga, and Panciu. In 1941, Jews who had been expelled from the neighboring towns of Nămoloasa, Sascut, Mărăşeşti, and Panciu arrived in Focşani. The Jewish community also had to supply food and clothing for Jews arriving from remote towns for forced labor in the county. Despite restrictions and adversities, the community opened a high school with eight classes and 344 students in 1942, enrolling all students expelled from public schools, as well as establishing a canteen that supplied 466 meals daily to the poor, and a polyclinic with 50 beds where Jewish doctors provided care free of charge. Solidarity also helped the deportees to Transnistria: 210 orphans were welcomed and some of them were adopted.
After World War II, some 2,000 Jewish refugees settled in Focşani, and the community totaled 6,080 members in 1947. Before Communist authorities dissolved all Jewish organizations, the Zionist youth movements (among them Gordonia, Ha-No‘ar ha-Tsiyoni, Betar, Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, and Maccabi) enjoyed a short-lived success that strengthened the wish for aliyah. By 1994, there were only 80 Jews left in Focşani, and in 2004 just 43.
Prominent personalities who were born in Focşani include Solomon Schechter (1850–1919), the modern discoverer of the Cairo Geniza and architect of the Conservative branch of Judaism in the United States; Cilibi Moise (Froim Moise; 1812–1870), author of proverbs and aphorisms; Oscar Sager (1894–1981), physician, member of the Romanian Academy; George Silviu (Silviu Iancu Guliger; 1899–1971), poet and playwright; Camil Baltazar (Leopold Goldstein; 1902–1977), a leading Jewish poet who wrote in Romanian; and Sadi Rudeanu (Ozias Rubin; 1924–1993), novelist and journalist.
Tsevi Ben-Dov (Zilberman), ed., Fokshani: Sipurah shel kehilah Yahadut, tsiyonut, pirke ḥayim ve-zikhronot (Ramat Ef‘al, Isr., 2003), in Hebrew and Romanian; Matatias Carp, Cartea neagră: Suferințele evreilor din România, 1940–1944, vol. 1 (Bucharest, 1946), pp. 156, 177; Carol Iancu, “Aux sources de l’Etat d’Israël: La Conférence sioniste de Focşani (1882) en Roumanie,” in Hommes, idées, journaux, pp. 217–228 (Paris, 1988); Theodor Lavi and Dorah Lita’ni, “Foksha’n / Focşani,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 203–207 (Jerusalem, 1969); Moses Schwarzfeld, Momente din istoria evreilor în România dela început până la mijlocul acestui veac (Bucharest, 1889).
Translated from French by Anca Mircea