Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Lavi, Theodor

(1905–1983), educator, journalist, Zionist leader, and historian. Theodor Lavi (originally Theodor Loewenstein) was born in Turnu-Severin, Romania, and attended schools in his native town. He studied educational psychology at the University of Bucharest, and in 1935 defended his Ph.D. with a thesis influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theories. Lavi then served as the principal of the Israelite-Romanian school of Ploieşti.

As a student, Lavi had been an editor of the Zionist newspaper Ştiri din lumea evreiască (News from the Jewish World). In 1920 he joined the Zionist youth organization Ha-Talmid, and in 1923 was active in Hasmonea, the association of Zionist students. That same year, he directed the Romanian publication carrying the name of the latter organization. He visited Palestine in 1924.

Lavi also published essays in other Romanian Zionist publications, among them Ştiri literare (Literary News), Adam, Palestina, and Ecoul evreiesc (The Jewish Echo). In 1934, he published Istoria sionismului (The History of Zionism), the first work of its kind in Romanian. In 1939, with Naum Kitzler, he edited the volume Israel în lume: Contribuția evreilor în toate domeniile de activitate (Israel Worldwide: The Jews’ Contribution in All Fields).

Active in the field of education, Lavi published Şcoala evreiască din perspectiva pedagogică (The Jewish School from a Pedagogical Perspective; 1940); in this work he underscored the importance of Jewish education to the success of Zionism. In 1941, he was elected to the executive board representing Palestina Muncitoare (Workers’ Palestine) and was head of the culture and education department; in this position he organized courses for potential Jewish emigrants to help them integrate in Palestine.

In April 1942, the Zionist Executive Board appointed him to be head of the Department for Schools, Culture, and Physical Education within the “Jewish Center” established by Romanian authorities; in this role he struggled to establish Jewish schools for all age groups. In August 1942 he resigned under pressure from the German Embassy and became a teacher at the College for Jewish Students in Bucharest.

When Romania joined the Allies in World War II (23 August 1944), the Zionist Organization (which had been outlawed in 1942) was reestablished, and Lavi, representing the socialist Zionist movement Iḥud, again was head of the culture and education department within the Zionist Executive Board; he also founded the organization’s publishing house, Bicurim. In 1946, he participated in the Twenty-Second Zionist Congress in Basel.

Between 1944 and 1948, Lavi taught at a Jewish high school in Bucharest. When Jewish schools were forced to close in 1948, he was hired as the librarian of the Israeli embassy. However, Zionist activities were banned in 1949, and he was arrested with other Zionist leaders in 1950. Though he was sentenced to 15 years of prison in 1954, he was released a year later as a result of foreign pressure.

In 1957, Lavi immigrated to Israel, where he lived in Jerusalem and worked as a researcher at the Yad Vashem Institute. He published Yahadut Romanyah be-ma’avak hatsalatah (Romanian Jewry in Its Struggle for Survival; 1965) and edited the two volumes on Romania for the Pinkas ha-kehilot (Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities; 1969 and 1980). In 1972–1977, he directed the bilingual review Toladot, issued in Hebrew and Romanian and dedicated to the study of the history of Romanian Jews. In 1973, he founded the Center for Research on Romanian Jewry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Finally, in 1979 he published his memoir, Nu a fost pisica neagră (It Wasn’t the Black Cat).

Suggested Reading

Ezra Fleischer, “Dr. Theodor Lavi z.l.,” in Yedi‘on ha-igud ha-‘olami le-mada‘e ha-yahadut 23 (1984): 53–54; Theodor Lavi, Nu a fost pisica neagră: Amintirile unui Asir Țion din România (Tel Aviv, 1979); “Leksikon Asire-Tsiyon,” in Yahadut Romanyah bi-tekumat Yisra’el, vol. 2, Asire Tsiyon, ed. Palti’el Segal and Shmayah Avni, p. 212 (Tel Aviv, 1993).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea