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Eisenstadt, Hirsch

(1885–1963), Estonian community activist and philanthropist. Born in Pinsk, Belorussia, Hirsch (Grigori) Eisenstadt studied economics at the Kiev Institute of Commerce between 1908 and 1913. After graduation, he joined his parents in Riga, Latvia, working for an oil company. In 1914, he was transferred to Tallinn, Estonia, where he had a business career and was active in local Jewish life.

When Jewish cultural autonomy was established in 1926, Eisenstadt was elected as leader of the Jewish Cultural Council, the governing body of Jewish self-government institutions. He held this post until its abolition in 1940 by Soviet authorities. From 1928 on, he was elected several times as a delegate from Estonia to congresses of the Jewish Agency, and in 1932–1935 as a representative of Finnish Jewry as well.

Eisenstadt was head of the branch of Keren Hayesod in Estonia from 1929 until 1938. Between 1929 and 1931, this organization collected 20,526 Estonian kroons—a remarkable sum for a community of just 4,500 persons. A wealthy businessman, Eisenstadt personally contributed 1,000–1,500 kroons annually to the group. He was effectively the head of the Tallinn Jewish community, and he tried to hold the group together despite the sometimes bitter struggle between partisans of Hebrew and advocates of Yiddish. In the Cultural Council, he often voted with the Zionists, though he opposed their anti-Yiddish sentiment; he himself regarded both Yiddish and Hebrew as national languages of the Jews.

Eisenstadt valued the liberal minorities legislation of Estonia and expressed his opinion in several articles. As a successful community leader, philanthropist, and a person with broad interests, well versed in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Estonian, and German, he was known and respected even outside Jewish circles. All major Estonian newspapers published tributes on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.

The Soviet occupation in 1940 ended activities linked to Jewish cultural autonomy. When war broke out between the Soviet Union and Germany, Eisenstadt escaped to Russia. In 1944, he returned to Estonia, where he worked as an engineer. He was arrested in 1950, accused of anti-Soviet activities and Jewish nationalism, and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. After Stalin’s death, Eisenstadt was rehabilitated and released. In 1954, he settled with relatives in Riga, where he lived until his death.

Suggested Reading

Grigori Ayzenshtat, “Der yidisher miet bagrist dem estnishn folk,” Frimorgn (24 February 1928); Grigori Ayzenshtat, “Tsvey yoyvls,” in Tsum yoyvl fun “Literarish-Dramatishn Fareyn Kh. N. Byalik,” 1918–1933 (Tallinn, Est., 1933); Dov Levin, Pinkas ha-kehilot Latviyah ve-Estonyah (Jerusalem, 1988), pp. 303, 306, 330, 332–334.