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Nissan Spivak

Nissan Spivak (1824-1906) Cantor and composer.

He was cantor in Belz and was generally known as ‘Nissi Belzer’. Later he was cantor at Kishinev and from 1877 at Berdichev. In his childhood he had an accident which damaged his voice but he had an extensive reputation primarily as a composer and choir conductor. It was his vocal handicap that led him to develop original synagogue music in which the choir, instead of being merely an accompaniment or used for responses, was assigned lengthy ensembles - with solos and duets - reducing the role of the cantor. Spivak attracted many students to Berdichev and took his choirs to other centers, including hasidic courts.

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Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name derives from Jewish communal functionaries or titles.

Spivak, Spiwak and Spiewak are Slavic equivalents of Cantor/Kantor ("singer"). Based on the Italian verb Cantare, that is "to sing", Cantor originally designated "the servant of the synagogue". Like Hazan (in Hebrew), in modern usage it is the title of the official who leads the congregation in prayer and song. As a Jewish family name it is an equivalent of the German and Yiddish Singer/Saenger and the Hebrew Meshorer, spotlighting the musical role of the Cantor/Hazan, whereas Bass describes the vocal quality of the singer. All these and similar terms have produced Jewish family names in several languages and spelling variants. One of the earliest documented forms is San(c)kmeister (from the German Singmeister, that is "song master"), recorded with Lezer Sankmeister in 1439 and Heinrich Sanckmeister in 1449. The Italian equivalent Cantarini was the name of a well-known 16th century Italian family. Cantori is mentioned in the 16th century, Isaak Ben Avigdor Bass in 1600, and Singer in 1676. Cantor is documented as a Jewish family name in 1679 with Burckhardt Cantor of Halberstadt, Germany, and Kanter in 1736 with Salamon Joseph Kanter; Senger in 1683, Bassista in the 17th century, Schulsinger in 1709, Sulsinger in 1724, and Vorsinger in 1784. Another variant is Kantur. Slavic equivalents include Solovej, literally "nightingale". A Romanian form is Dascal(u), literally "sexton". Abbreviations, particularly in German-speaking countries and regions, comprise Kant, Kand and Kandt. Frequent forms embody patronymic suffixes (indicating descent in the male line) in a variety of spellings ranging from Kantorovitz and Kantorowitz to Kantorowitsch. Illustrating the westward migration of many Jews of Eastern Europe, a Kantorowitsch family in France changed its name in 1957 to Cantaud. Jews sometimes translated their German or Yiddish surnames or adopted family names directly from the local spoken language. Slavic equivalents include Solovej, literally "nightingale". A Romanian form is Dascal(u), literally "sexton". In the Slavic speaking areas of Eastern Europe, the surname of Cantor/Kantor was sometimes translated into Spivak, Spiewak.

Distinguished bearers of the family name Spivak include the cantor and composer Nissan Spivak (1824-1906).


Romanian: Chisinau

Capital of the Republic of Moldova

16th century: becomes part of Moldova
1818: Moldova annexed to the Russian Empire and renamed Bessarabia
1918-1940, 1941-1944: Kishinev part of Kingdom of Romania
1940-1941, 1944-1991: Capital of Moldavian SSR

The first documented evidence for a Jewish presence in the city dates to the beginning of the 18th century. By the second half of the 18th century there were about 540 Jews living in Kishinev, approximately 7% of the town's population. A chevra kadisha (burial society) was established in 1774 and had 144 members. In 1812 the cornerstone was laid for the Great Synagogue, and shortly thereafter a Jewish hospital opened. About 20 years later, in 1838, local maskilim opened a Jewish school that taught both Jewish and secular subjects. By 1858 there were also two state secular schools, a girls' private school, and nearly 500 heders; a Hasidic yeshiva would also be added to this mix of educational institutions beginning in 1860.

As the capital of Bessarabia under Russian rule, the city became a commercial and industrial center. Jews began arriving from other areas, particularly Ukraine and Belorussia, seeking job opportunities and economic advancement. From 10,500 people in 1897, the Jewish population grew to over 50,000 in 1897 (46% of the total population).

The Jews of Kishinev owned 29 of the 38 industrial factories in the city, 6 of the 7 steam flourmills, 5 of the 7 tobacco-curing plants, and 4 of the 5 printing presses. A number of Jews were also agricultural traders, garment or textile workers, coachmen, or working in wine cellars. At the same time that many Jews were making economic progress, there was also a large population of poor Jews living in Kishinev. In 1898 two welfare organizations merged to form the Society in Aid of the Poor of Kishinev.

By the end of the 19th century, Kishinev became a major center for publishing newspapers and books in Hebrew and Yiddish. Among the local Yiddish newspapers was an important and influential daily, "Unzere Tzeit," which was published between the years 1922 and 1938 under the direction of the lawyer Michael Landau. Other Yiddish newspapers included "Dos Besaraber Lebn," "Erd un Arbet," and "Der Yid." In 1912 "Evreiskaia Khronika," a Russian Zionist weekly, began to be published in the city.


There were two major pogroms that took place in Kishinev, on on April 6-7 1903, and the second on 19-20 October 1905.

The first pogrom took place after a series of anti-Semitic articles were published in "Bessarabets," a local newspaper in which the editor and local secret service agents accused the local Jewish community of a large number of crimes. Headlines such as "Death to the Jews!" and "Crusade against the Hated Race!" would regularly appear in the newspaper. When Mikhail Rybachenko, a Christian Ukrainian boy, was found dead in a town near Kishinev, and a girl who committed suicide was declared dead in the Jewish hospital, the newspaper levied a blood libel against the Jews of Kishinev, claiming that both had been murdered by the Jewish community so that their blood could be used to prepare matzah for Passover. Russians and Romanians, among them high school students and students from the local theological seminaries brutally killed 49 Jews, wounded more than 500, and looted 600 businesses and shops. More than 1,000 Jewish homes were looted and destroyed. A garrison of 5,000 soldiers stationed in Kishinev did not halt the violence, evidence for the fact that the pogrom was sponsored, or at least tolerated, by the state. While some of those who were involved in the pogrom were tried, they received only light sentences.

The massacre led to waves of protests among Jews and non-Jews in Europe and the United States. The Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Maksim Gorky condemned the pogroms. Vladimir Korolenko described the pogrom in his book "House No. 13" and the famous Hebrew writer Haim Nachman Bialik wrote about the massacre in a poem titled "Be'ir HaHaregah" ("In the City of Slaughter").

On October 19-20, 1905, a second pogrom broke out in Kishinev. This time a number of Jewish self-defense groups had been established to defend against the violence. Nonetheless, 19 Jews were killed, 56 were injured, and the violence resulted in 300,000 rubles worth of damage. This pogrom was one of many that took place within the Russian Empire after the October Manifesto of 1905.

Thousands of Jews left Kishinev and other areas in Eastern Europe in the wake of the pogroms. Between 1902 and 1905 the Jewish population in Kishinev went from 60,000 to 53,000. Another 1,000 Jews would leave the city by 1910.

During World War I the Jews of Kishinev were once again subject to looting, this time as the Russian troops retreated. Under Romanian rule between the two World Wars, the Jews were victims of official and unofficial anti-Semitism and discrimination. At the same time, however, the Jewish community grew after refugees fleeing pogroms in Ukraine came to settle in Kishinev, and communal and cultural life was thriving. In addition to the aforementioned Yiddish newspapers, Kishinev was home to several Hebrew and Yiddish schools, a yeshiva, a teacher's seminary, a number of Zionist organizations including the main office of the Zionist Organization of Bessarabia, and 77 synagogues and prayer houses. One of the more notable figures was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Zirelson, who served as the chief rabbi of Kishinev and Bessarabia from 1909 until 1941. In addition to founding a yeshiva in Kishinev, he was also active in the political life of the city; for a short while he was the city's mayor, the first of a number of political roles. In 1922 he was elected as a deputy to the Romanian parliament, and in 1926 he was elected senator. In spite of the fact that he was a founder of Agudas Yisroel, he was also a supporter of Zionism.

In 1924 the authorities revoked the citizenship of many Jews living in Bessarabia in general, and Kishinev in particular, leading to widespread unemployment in the community. Not a single year passed without anti-Semitic demonstrations, riots, and the suppression of Jewish educational and cultural organizations. Members of the anti-Semitic organization "National and Christian Defense League," led by Alexander Cuza, would organize frequent "parades" for the purpose of terrorizing the local Jewish community. There were also closures of Jewish institutions, schools, newspapers, and cultural organizations.

In order to weaken Russian influence the Romanian authorities encouraged the development of an independent Jewish educational system. This led to struggles between between the Yiddishists and the Hebraists over the curriculum and character of the local Jewish schools. In spite of the fact that the Yiddishists ultimately won this battle, the Magen David high school, founded in 1923, was considered to be an outstanding Hebrew school. Among the other Hebrew language educational institutions was the kindergarten of the Yavneh Society, the institute for training kindergarten teachers, and the cultural center, which published its own monthly "Min HaTzad." Many Zionist movements were active in Kishinev, including a strong He-Halutz movement. Sportsmen from Kishinev participated in the Maccabiah games in Eretz Yisrael, and many remained illegally.

Bessarabia was annexed to the Soviet Union in June, 1940. During the year that the Russians ruled the city, Zionist organizations were disbanded and many activists and wealthy Jews were deported to Siberia. On the other hand, Yiddish culture was supported by the government, and Yiddish schools, publications, and the Yiddish theater continued their work.

On July 17, 1941 German and Romanian troops occupied Kishinev. The Romanians considered the Jews of Bessarabia to be Communists and Russian sympathizers, and so were not inclined to show them any mercy; the Romanians initiated a pogrom once they entered the city which continued for several days. A ghetto was established that housed more than 11,000, some of whom were killed during the following months, including at a mass execution at the city cemetery.

The first deportations began in October; 1,600 Jews were sent to Transnistria. Deportations occurred nearly daily throughout the month; many Jews were killed en route, and a mass killing took place on the banks of the Dniester River by Romanian and German soldiers. Jews were sent to a number of camps from Transnistria where most of them died from disease and hunger. The last 200 Jews who were hiding in the city were deported in May 1942. At least 53,000 Jews from Kishinev ultimately perished in the Holocaust.

In 1947 there were 5,500 Jews living in the city, made up mostly of survivors who spent the war in the USSR. There were still actions taken against the Jewish community, sometimes under the guise of opposition to the State of Israel. In November1956 Rabbi Greenberg was compelled to sign a government-organized petition against the Sinai campaign in the Soviet newspaper "Izvestiya." According to official statistics, 13,000 Jews lived in Kishinev at that time. A synagogue continued to function but during the 1960s holding bar mitzvah or circumcision ceremonies were forbidden, and the old cemetery was closed and destroyed. In 1962 there were 31 Jews arrested for "economic crimes." A few years later, in 1967, Jewish students were expelled from the university for refusing to renounce "Israeli aggression." Nonetheless, in 1969-1970 many students returning from university in Leningrad organized Zionist activities in Kishinev, often endangering themselves; in 1970 and 1971 there were two highly publicized trials of Zionist activists. In 1970 the Jewish population was 50,000 (14% of the total population), 48% of whom declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue.

Though nearly two-thirds of Kishinev's Jewish population emigrated, mostly to Israel, between 1970 and 2004, the 1980s saw attempts to rebuild Jewish cultural life. By 2004 there were three day schools, a Jewish museum, a library, and a burial society. There were also a number of Jewish newspapers that were published starting in 1989. There are monuments to commemorate the pogrom and a joint Moldovan-Israeli conference was organized in April 2003 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the pogrom. However, anti-Semitism continues to plague the Jews of the city. Among other acts of anti-Semitism a Holocaust memorial was desecrated in 1999 and about 50 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery were destroyed in 2002.


In Ukrainian: Белз

Small town in Lvov Oblast, Ukraine; between the world wars, in Poland.

The Jewish settlement in Belz dates from the beginning of the 16th century. About 200 Jews inhabiting 32 houses are recorded in 1550. Belz was devastated in 1655. It later revived and became famous as a center of chasidism. The rebbes of the Rokeach dynasty officiated as rabbis of the Belz community. Other noted rabbis of Belz include Joel Sirkes, Zechariah Mendel, and Jonah Te'omim. In 1921 the Jews numbered 2,104 (50.7% of the total population).

In February 1942 during the Nazi occupation about 1,000 Jews from Belz were deported to death camps. In May 1942 an additional 1,540 were deported. The remaining were hunted down and deported in September of that year.

In 1970, Jews lived in the town and there was one synagogue.