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SHAPIRA Origin of surname


Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birth place, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

Shapira is a variant of Shapiro, based on the city of Speyer in Rhenish/Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Germany (in French Spire, and in English Spires). Jews settled there in the 11th century, but were compelled to leave in the 14th century, when they spread to Poland, Bohemia, Hungary and Russia. The three communities of Speyer, Magenca and Worms are known together as the Shum communities, an important spiritual Jewish center, where the Shum regulations were published in the 12th century by scholars from three communities. Jewish family names associated with the city of Speyer include Spira, Spire, Spier, Sprio, Spero, Chapiro, Sprai, Szpir, Saphir and Spear, and Szpajer, Spier and Spira to Spirea. Schapira is documented as a Jewish family name in 1654, and the French variant Chaprat in the mid 20th century. De Spera ("from Speyer") is recorded as a Jewish family name in 1400; Spira in 1530; Spiro in the 16th century; Speyer in 1644; Spire in 1670; and Spir in 1767. These names can also be linked to the Hebrew term Shafer, which means "grace/beauty/loveliness" or Shepar meaning "to be beautiful", hence also be linked to the precious stone called Sapphire.

Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Shapira include the Bohemian rabbi, preacher and halachist Elijah Ben Benjamin Wolf Shapira (1660-1712); members of the hassidic Shapira (Spira) family known as the Munkacs dynasty; Abraham Shapira (1870-1965), one of the first Jewish Shomerim ("watchmen") in Eretz Israel; and the Zionist leader Hermann (Zevi Hirsch) Shapira (1848-1898), one of the first leaders of the 'Hibbat Zion' movement.
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Arie Shapira (1943-2015), composer, born in kibbutz Afikim, Israel. He studied philosophy at Tel Aviv University (1962-1965) and then at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv (1962-1965). His teachers included Ödön Pártos, Abel Ehrlich, Artur Gelbrun, Noam Sheriff, Andre Spirea, Shalom Ronly-Riklis and Gary Bertini. In 1968 he started teaching music theory, harmony and counterpoint at several institutes. In 1986 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition. Shapira was also the recipient of the 1994 Israel Prize.

His list of compositions includes STRING QUARTET (1967), SUBSTITUTES for guitar (1971), MISSA VIVA for symphony orchestra with rock group (1978), OFF PIANO for piano (1984), JINGLE, Concerto for flute and symphony orchestra (1983); LAMENT FOR LOTAN, electro-acoustic music (1987), WE ARE HEADING HIROSHIMA, TOWARDS THE RISING SUN for actor/singer, chamber orchestra and electro-acoustic equipment (1989), UPON THY RUINS OPHRA, electro-acoustic music (1990), CLIP for clarinet, viola and piano (1990), THE PROPHET IS A FOOL for soprano, flute, oboe, trumpet and two guitars (1991), POST PIANO for piano and magnetic tape (1991) and THE KASTNER TRIAL, electro-acoustic opera (1991-1994).


A small town in the district of Siauliai, northern Lithuania.

In 1897 there were 482 Jews in Gruzdziai (41% of the total population). The community was well organized with a prayer house and the usual charity institutions.

Before World War I there were 120 families in the community; after the war the number dwindled to 40.

Among the rabbis of the community Rabbi Moshe Bar Yeshayahu Raphael Shapira was well known.

Most of the Jews made a living from shop keeping, artisanship and agriculture. Wednesday was the weekly market day and there was a yearly fair in the town.

In 1929 a fire broke out in the town and about a quarter of the Jewish houses were burnt down. The Jewish bank helped the victims of the fire.

In 1941 there were 27 Jewish families in Gruzdziai (about 150 people).

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 29, 1941 about a week after the German attack on the USSR the German army took the town. The same day armed nationalistic Lithuanians dragged the Jews out of their houses and locked them up in the prayer house. To the dissatisfaction of the Lithuanians, the Germans freed the Jews and they returned to their homes.

On August 5, the Jewish men and women without children were imprisoned in the prayer house. The next day they were shot to death at the Jewish cemetery and buried in a pit dug beforehand. The murder was carried out by the Lithuanians while the Germans watched and took pictures.

After about a month the rest of the community were taken to the town of Zagare and on the day of atonement (September 1941) the Jews of Gruzdziai together with the Zagare Jews were murdered and buried in a massgrave.

After the war a fence was built around the masgrave near the Jewish cemetery in Gruzdziai where 50 members of the community are interred.


In Jewish sources: Ponevezh, Ponivezh

A district town in northern Lithuania.

Panevezys originated as a small settlement in the 14th century. In 1568, after it had become a town, the jurisdictional functions for the area were transferred to it, and its importance increased. In 1795, with the third division of Poland, the area was annexed to Russia and Panevezys became a district capital. The district was part of independent Lithuania between the two world wars.

Families of Karaites, a Jewish sect founded in the 8th century which considers the Bible as being the sole source of Jewish law, were brought as captives from the Crimean peninsula. They settled in Panevezys and became the second largest Karaite community in Lithuania. The largest Karaite community was in the town of Troki. Most of them lived on one street, where their house of prayer was also situated. In the course of time their numbers dwindled, and their local community ceased to exist.

Jews began settling in Panevezys in the 17th century. They erected a tall, wooden synagogue with a decorated holy ark and an ornamented pulpit. At the same time, a cemetery was consecrated in the western outskirts of the town, and the community also had a bath house.

According to the tax records of 1776, there were 254 Jews in the town who paid the head tax. From that time, the settlement grew continuously. In 1847 there were 1,447 Jews in Panevezys, by 1897 they had increased to 6,627 (about 50% of the overall population) and before World War I approximately 7,000 Jews were living there (39% of the overall population).

Attorney Naftali Friedman was the representative of Panevezys in the third Duma (former Russian parliament) from 1912 to 1917.

In 1915, during the course of World War I, the Jews were exiled into the Russian interior together with the Jews from the Kaunas district, because the Russian authorities suspected them of being disloyal. The Jewish quarter Slobodka was burned down and plundered.

The Jews who returned to independent Lithuania (1918-1939) after the war were granted cultural autonomy; this brought about the renewal of community life. The community committee became active again, the large Jewish hospital, the orphanage for 75 children and the home for the aged accommodating 30 old people were reopened, among other institutions. The public libraries also resumed their activities.

In 1921 about 8,000 Jews were living in Panevezys. The community was known as a fortress of ultra-orthodox Judaism. It had 15 houses of worship, yeshivot and five additional houses of worship in the courtyard of the Shul Hof Glikel and a house of study with a sun dial.

The pride of the community was the yeshiva the Panevezys Group, which was founded by Rabbi Isaac Jacob Rabinowitz (Rabbi Itzile of Panevezys) with the support of the Gebronski family of Moscow, in memory of the daughter of the well-known philantropist Kalonymus Zev Wissotsky, owner of the tea company. Many studied at the yeshiva for extended periods of time, sometimes for as long as twenty years. From the Panevezys group there emerged many rabbis of great repute, at the head of the Panevezys rabbinate Rabbi Jacov, son of Yitzchak Halevi; Rabbi Shaul Shapira, author of Hemdat Shaul; rabbi shmuel, son of rabbi abraham shapira, author of "me'il shmuel"; rabbi moshe yitzchak segal; rabbi hillel, son of rabbi zvi milaikovsky, known as "rabbi hillel haharif"; rabbi eliahu david rabinowitz-te'umim (ha'aderet); rabbi chaim yaakov chovadunsky, who was rabbi in Panevezys during Wirld War I, author of David Hamelech (commentaries on Rambam) and Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Rabin (Moreh Zedek).

The last rabbi of Panevezys, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Cahaneman (born in 1887) founded there a big yeshiva of 400 students, a yeshiva preparatory program, and an elementary and a secondary school for girls. In Panevezys there were also heders and a kloiz (small prayer house) of the hasidim.

During this era Panevezys was also a center for the Haskala movement, and was called Little Vilna. The poet Yehudah Leib Gordon (Yal'ag) lived in the town and it was here that he wrote his first poems.

Before World War I, the Jewish youth studied in the town's Russian elementary schools and the Russian secondary school. In the 1870s there was a local modern Hebrew elementary school, which taught Hebrew, the old testament and secular studies. Among its teachers were the authors Yitzchak Romash, one of the school's founders, and the poet Yehudah Leib Gordon.

In the days of independent Lithuania a Hebrew secondary school was established, in which thousands of students from Panevezys and the vicinity studied. The school was housed in a magnificent building and became the cultural center for the Jews of the entire surrounding area. In the school lectures and evening classes were held, as well as a people's university for adults in which Chaim Nachman Bialik, Zalman Schneur, Nachum Sokolow and other men of renown lectured. Also a Hebrew school of the tarbut network was established, during the same period, a religious Hebrew secondary school for girls yavneh, the popular school in which the language of instruction was Hebrew, an additional school with Yiddish as the language of instruction and a vocational school of the Ort network were founded. At the initiative of Rabbi Cahaniman a religious school was built which later became the yeshiva preparatory school.

The Jews participated in the economic life of Panevezys, and the trade in linen and produce for export was in their hands. They were owners of large flour mills and supplied most of the flour consumed in Lithuania. Jews also owned several factories and sold their products in all parts of the country.

In addition to merchants, agents and clerks there were also artisans in the community. In 1939 their organization had about 300 members.

The Jewish People's Bank, established before World War I, had 984 members in 1929. In the town there were also branches of the Central Jewish Bank, the Bank of Commerce, the Mutual Credit Bank and Elitzur Bank. Mondays and Thursdays were the town's market days.

Prior to World War I the presence of the Zionist movement in Panevezys was slight, but in the days of independent Lithuania, it was the center of Zionist activity of Zionist Youth (united), S. Z. (socialist Zionists) and the revisionists.

Clubs were opened for the sport organizations Maccabee, Hakoach and Hapoel, and they had hundreds of members.

The variety of activities of the youth movements, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Pioneer-Scout Youth, S. Z. Youth and Betar included performances, parties, public discussions and processions in the streets of the town. Libraries were opened for young people, having Hebrew books also.

The Jewish National Fund and the National Foundation Fund were active within the Zionist public, and when a branch of Hechalutz was established, an agricultural training camp was set up for residents of the town and its environs planning to emigrate to Eretz Israel. Many of them settled in Israel, where they were active in the Haganah and among the builders of the country.

In Panevezys there was also a central branch of the Bund" Jews participated in the municipal life of the town, and a Jew officiated as deputy-mayor.

Rabbi Cahaniman, an active member of Agudath Yisrael, was also a member of the Presidency of the Rabbinical Association of Lithuania and was elected as a delegate to the Lithuanian Sejm (parliament).

In 1939 there were approximately 7,000 Jews in Panevezys and the Jewish community was the third in size in Lithuania, with only Vilna and Kovno greater in number.

The Holocaust Period

After World War II broke out (1 September 1939) and the German conquest of Poland, Lithuania came under Soviet jurisdiction. In August 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Jewish public life was paralyzed, yeshivas and Hebrew schools were closed and the Zionist parties and youth movements were dissolved. The nationalization of property pressed heavily on the economy; goods did not reach the shops and the merchants who were mainly Jews were badly affected. The standard of living continued to decline. There were Jews who integrated into the government's bureaucracy. Immediately following the German attack on the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, and before the Germans reached Panevezys, Lithuanian nationalists began harassing the Jews. They opened their own headquarters headed by the high school administration and other personalities from among the Lithuanian intellectuals, and organized the high school pupils, they later became the main
perpetrators of the slaughter of the Jews.

A false accusation, according to which a Lithuanian doctor had been murdered by Jews, served as a pretext for a brutal attack on the Jewish population of the town.

On the 26th of June the German army conquered Panevezys. Occupied Lithuania became part of the Ostland district of the German Reich. Ostland included the Baltic countries and Belorussia. Decrees in the spirit of the Nazi racial laws were issued against the Jews. Their property was confiscated, they were obliged to wear an identification mark, a Star of David on a yellow patch, their contact with the rest of the population was restricted, and forced labor was imposed upon them. Groups of extreme Lithuanian nationalists, organized and armed, placed themselves at the disposal of the Germans as an auxiliary police force.

At first the Panevezys Jews were required to present themselves daily for forced labor, and to be led through the town's streets exposed to the cruel treatment of the Lithuanian police. Young Jews were taken to work in the peat mines from which they never returned.

According to German instructions, the Jewish community leaders and intellectuals were incarcerated in the Panevezys prison, where they were subject to severe cruelty. Their arms were broken with iron bars in all sorts of accidents, they were forced to carry barrels of fuel each weighing 200 kilograms, and then the porters were tossed into pits of boiling lime.

Night after night gestapo broke into the prisons where Jews were imprisoned, and forced them to crawl on gravel in the yard and beat them with whips laced with wire thread. Those wounded were driven to the forests and shot to death.

A Lithuanian farm owner harnessed Jewish men to wagons, whipped them and shot some of them to death.

The Jews were given until July 11, 1941 to move to the ghetto which was set up in several of the town's streets, and to which Jews from surrounding towns were also driven. Seventy of the Jewish community's most prominent members were held as hostages to assure that the Jews would not run away. These hostages were taken to an abandoned military camp in Fayust, a distance of five kilometers from the town, and there they were murdered.

In August 1941, under false pretenses, all the Jews were taken to Fayust, where they were forced to dig pits in which they were shot. At the order of the Germans, Soviet prisoners-of-war filled in the pits. Between the 16th of July and the 21th of August the Panevezys ghetto was liquidated; 8,745 Jews were slaughtered there.

After the war a monument was built in memory of those slaughtered and a Star of David is engraved upon it.

A Jewish youth, Shmuel Rappaport, a son of Panevezys, returned from the war in the ranks of the Lithuanian division of the soviet army. He dedicated himself to locating Jewish orphans who had remained in the hands of Lithuanians. The children were given to Jewish adoptive families. In 1948 Shmuel Rappaport was murdered by Lithuanians.

Rabbi Cahaniman migrated to Israel with his son in 1940. His family perished in Panevezys in the Holocaust. He established the big Panevezys Yeshiva in Bnei-Brak and also many public buildings and charity institutions.



Ukrainian, Russian: Житомир

Yiddish: זשיטאָמיר

Hebrew: ז'יטומיר

Other spellings: Zytomierz (Polish), Schytomyr (German), Zytomyr, Shitomir, Jitomir

A city in northwestern Ukraine, the administrative center of Zhitomir Oblast and the surrounding region.


21st Century

Zhitomir is home to about 5000 Jews.

There is an active Chabad Center in the community, led by Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm. It runs a day school, youth center with after school programs, and a Kollel adult education program.

In 2007, the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, with the support of the Keshet and Leviev funds, set up in a Zhitomir suburb the Alumim Children’s Home and Social Rehabilitation Center for Jewish Children.

 In 2016 the community began restoring the only surviving synagogue building from before the Holocaust.  The new complex is designed to include a Jewish Community Center, soup kitchen, “Simcha Home”, communal offices, classrooms, library, and mikveh.

In 2019 a monument, a 12- foot high marker, was unveiled, dedicated to the memory of the thousands of Jews of Zhitomir lying in a mass grave who were murdered during the Holocaust. It was funded by Alex Goldis of Michigan in the US whose grandparents were victims of the massacre.



Founded in the ninth century, Zhitomer became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the first part of the fourteenth century. The first mention of Jews in the town’s records is in 1486.  Beginning in 1569 it became the district center of Kiev province in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Jews were not officially authorized to live in Zhitomir under Polish rule, but some settled there under the protection of government officials. Jews appear regularly in judicial records after 1580.

In 1753, following a blood libel, fourteen Jews from nearby towns were tried in Zhitomir for ritual murder and executed, while others were compelled to convert.

In 1765, 460 Jews, including 114 living in neighboring villages were registered as members of the Jewish community.

In 1789 the Jewish community numbered 882, about a third of the total population. The Jews were innkeepers, merchants, and craftsmen.

 By the time of the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, when the town became part of the Russian Empire, there were 1,300 Jews living in Zhitomer.  By 1847 their number had risen to 9,500.  Zhitomir had become the largest Jewish community in the province of Volhynia, and  a center of the Hassidic movement.

Among the first preachers of Hassidism in the town were two disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch. They were  Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir (d. 1800), author of Or ha-Meir, dealing with the history of Hassidism and the teachings of its founders, and Aharon of Zhitomir (c. 1750- 1820), author of the Toldot Aharon, Kabbalistic homilies on the torah.  Another Hassidic leader was Avraham Dov Ber of Avritch, Rabbi of Zhitomir between 1826-1830, later Rabbi of Safed, and author of the Bat Ayin.

In the 19th century Zhitomer became a center for the publishing of Jewish books. The first Hebrew printing press in the city was established in 1804 by the wandering printer Tzevi Hirsch B. Simeon Ha-Kohen, who came from Zolkiew (Zholkva), where he had worked as a typesetter. He had worked in the printing press in the town of Nowy Dwor, and subsequently owned presses in Kopel (1796), and in Brezitz (Beresty) between 1803-04. Tzevi Hirsch operated his printing press in Zhitomir until 1806, and during the three years of its existence at least nine books were published, of which five were Hassidic and Kabbalistic works.

In 1847 a second printing press was established in Zhitomir by the three brothers Chanina Lipa, Aryeh Leib, and Joshua Heschel Shapira, sons of the printer Samuel Abraham Abba Shapira of Slavuta, whose family business had been the victim of bitter in-fighting within the Jewish community as well as persecution by the government authorities.  Until 1862 the Shapira’s Zhitomer press was one of the only two Hebrew presses (the other being in Vilna) that the government permitted to operate in the whole of the Russian Empire. This press had 18 hand presses and four additional large presses. In 1851 Aryeh Leib broke away and established his own printing press in Zhitomir. These two establishments printed only religious books. During the years 1858-64 the press of the two brothers Chanina Lipa and Joshua Heschel printed a deluxe edition of the Babylonian Talmud together with the commentary of the Rif (Rabbi  Isaac Alfasi), while between 1860 and 1867 Aryeh Leib printed an edition of the Jerusalem Talmud.

In 1865 a Hebrew printing press was established by Abraham Shalom Shadov, and in 1870 another one by Isaac Moses Bakst. In 1888 the Hebrew press of Brodovitz was founded, which in 1891 passed into the possession of his successors. In 1890 a printing press was founded by Joseph Kesselman which in 1902 passed into the possession of his widow Rachel, who entered a partnership with Elijah Feinberg. These three presses printed many Hebrew and Yiddish books.

 In the 1830s and 1840s the Haskalah movement took hold in the town.  In 1847 the Russian government established a rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir (as it did in Vilna), as part of its plan to enforce the teaching of secular studies in Jewish educational institutions.  The first headmaster appointed by the Russian government was the Maskil Jacob Eichenbaum (1796-1861), an educator, poet, and mathematician. He was succeeded in 1862 by Hayyim Zelig Slonomski (1810-1904), an author, scientist, and inventor. Notable teachers in the seminary included Avraham Ber Gottlover (1811-1899), poet translator and historian, and Lazar Zweifel (1815-1888), journalist and writer of Hebrew and Yiddish poetry.  Students who were to become famous include Mendele Mocher Seforim (1836-1917), known as the “grandfather of Yiddish literature”; Abraham Jacob Paperna (1840-1919), poet and literary critic; and Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908), poet, playwright, stage director, and founder of the first Yiddish language theatre group.

 In 1873 the rabbinical seminary, due to its failure to produce rabbis with a secular education who were acceptable to Jewish communities, was converted into an institute to train teachers for the Jewish government schools. It was closed in 1885.

The first Jewish vocational school in Zhitomir was established in 1862. It was initially successful, but it was closed in 1884 due to the belief of the authorities that its instruction helped give the Jews economic advantage over their gentile neighbors.  In 1898 a Jewish vocational school for girls was established. In the early years of the 20th century the community had a Talmud torah, a government school, private schools for both sexes, and a Musar Yeshiva established by Rabbi Yosef Hurvich of Nowogrodek.

One of the most celebrated Jewish figures associated with Zhitomir is Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry, who spent his childhood there.

In the 1860s 90 per cent of the town’s tradesmen and 70 per cent of its artisans were Jewish. In the 1870s and 1880s, the community shared in the general economic decline of the town due to the dispossession of the region's Polish landowners and the construction of the railroads, which initially bypassed Zhitomir.  Jews, however, benefitted from the flourishing of the printing business during this period.

In 1897 there were 30,748 Jews living in Zhitomir who formed 46.6% of the total population; their number rose in 1910 to 38,427. There were two synagogues, about 50 prayer houses, a public library and a Jewish bank. There were active Bund and Zionist organizations

 In the spring of 1905 pogroms broke out in the town, instigated by the government. The Jewish youth, Zionists and socialists, organized a self-defense unit that fought with the rioters. About 15 Jews were killed, along with the Russian Christian student Nicholas Blinov, who joined the Jewish self-defense action. Ten Jewish youths from the town of Chudnov were murdered while traveling to Zhitomir to assist the Jewish community. After the massacre a committee was organized to collect funds for the families of the victims; it received about 33,000 rubles from Russia, 9,500 from England, 1,500 from Germany, and 6,000 from the United States.

During World War I, there was an influx of refugees into Zhitomir.

In 1918, in the civil war following the Russian Revolution, Zhitomir became part of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, and the national capitol. In January 1919 pogroms were perpetrated by the Ukrainian army aided by a mob from the neighboring villages during which 80 Jews lost their lives and much property was looted. In March 1919, the soldiers of the Cossack commander Simon Petlyura, head of the breakaway Ukrainian state, instigated riots and 317 Jews were murdered.  When the Poles held the town for a brief period in 1920, the Jews suffered from the brutality of the Polish soldiers. When the Soviets gained control of the town later in the same year, the organized community was disrupted and Jewish life disintegrated.

 In 1939 there were 29,503 Jews in the town (38% of the total population).

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II many Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Poland came to Zhitomir. When the Germans occupied the town in July 1941, many of the Jews fled. The Nazis made Zhitomir Heinrich Himmler’s Ukrainian headquarters with the task of implementing Hitler ‘s plan to eradicate the Jews and Slavs from the East and resettle the land with members of the pure Aryan race. About 400 Jews were shot soon after the Nazi arrival.  In August about 1000 more Jews were murdered.  In September those that remained were forced into a ghetto outside the town where many died of starvation and disease, and the others (approximately 6000 persons) were executed on September 19, 1941.


After the end of the war several thousand Jews, former inhabitants as well as others, returned to Zhitomir.

In 1945 a local synagogue was officially registered, headed by Rabbi Motel Voshilo, and in 1955 the baking of matzo was organized. The Jewish cemetery was maintained.  During high holidays thousands congregated in and around the synagogue, and Yiddish was often heard in the streets.  According to a 1959 census, there were about 14,800 Jews (14% of the total population) in Zhitomir, but it was estimated that the real number was probably closer to 25,000.

The rebirth did not last, and in 1962 authorities closed the synagogue.  The community resorted to holding illegal prayer services in private homes. In 1975, with the opening of a common municipal cemetery, burials in the Jewish cemetery were suspended.

The community began to develop once more in the 1980s and 1990s.  The synagogue was reopened in 1980.  A Jewish Cultural and Education Society was established in 1989.  At the beginning of the 1990s a Jewish Sunday school and evening school were set up. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 and the establishment of an independent Ukraine, many Jews from Zhitomer immigrated to Israel, Germany, and the United States. A local office of the Jewish Agency and a Shahar Young Persons’ Club were opened.   In 1992 a Chabad Lubavitch community was officially registered and attracted 100 members. In 1996 the Joint Distribution Committee sponsored the establishment of Hesed Shelomoh, a welfare organization.

In 1997 there were approximately 5,500 Jews living in Zhitomir, of which more than 2,300 were pensioners.


In French: Spire; Eng. sometimes Spires

A city in Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. 

Although local traditions, mainly legendary, speak of Jewish settlement in Speyer in Roman times, Jews probably first came to the town in the early 11th century. Documentary evidence for a Jewish settlement in the town dates only from 1084. At that time Jews fled from Mainz for fear of persecution because of a fire they were accused of having caused. The Bishop Ruediger allotted them a special residential quarter and gave them a plot from church lands to be used as a cemetery. They were also allowed to build a protective wall around their quarter. Bishop Ruediger granted them unrestricted freedom of trade and considerable autonomy. The Jews were also expressly allowed to sell to Christians meat which was ritually unclean for Jews, and they did not have to pay any duties or tolls when entering or leaving the town. They were also given permission to employ Christian servants.. By 1096 a synagogue had been built. The Jewish community of Speyer was one of the first Rhine communities to suffer during the first crusade. On a Sabbath, the eighth of Iyyar (May 3, 1096) a mob of crusaders surrounded the synagogue intent upon attacking the community  while all were gathered in one spot. Forewarned, the Jews had concluded their service early and fled to their homes. Nevertheless, ten Jews were caught outside their homes and killed. When Bishop John heard of what occurred, he came to the defense of the Jews with his militia, prevented further bloodshed, and punished some of the murderers.

The community grew and prospered during the 12th century; its economic position was excellent, and it established itself as a center of Torah. Among the scholars of Speyer in this period were Eliakim B. Meshullam ha-Levi, a student of Isaac B. Judah of Mainz; Kalonymus B. Isaac, known as a mystic as well as a Talmudist; Isaac B. Asher ha-Levi; Jacob B. Isaac ha-Levi, a German Tosafist and author of a dirge on the crusade period; Samuel B. Kalonymus he-Chasid; Shemariah B. Mordecai, a correspondent of R. Jacob Tam and a great Talmudic authority; Meir B. Kalonymus, the author of a commentary to the Sifra, Sifrei, and Mekhilta; and Judah B. Kalonymus B. Meir, the author of a Talmudic lexicon, Yichusei Tanna'im ve-Amora'im.

In 1195, after severe persecutions following a blood libel, Emperor Henry VI demanded that the Jews be compensated for damages and that the burned synagogue and ruined houses be rebuilt.

In 1282 a blood libel brought suffering upon the community again. In 1286 many Jews of Speyer and the neighboring communities of Worms, Mainz, and Oppenheim were involved in the ill-fated attempt at immigration to Eretz Israel led by Meir B. Baruch of Rothenburg. The community had a high degree of autonomy, administered by a "Judenbischof" together with a Jewish municipal council. In this period the community maintained not only a synagogue and a cemetery, but also a communal wedding hall, a hospital for the indigent poor (Hekdesh), and a Matzot bakery.

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Speyer communities, Worms and Mainz, amended comprehensive community regulations in public affairs, which became known to have a decisive impact on the lives of Jews in the Ashkenaz communities.

The community suffered somewhat during a blood libel in 1342; it was, however, to meet its destruction during the Black Death persecutions in 1349.

With much difficulty the community was rebuilt, but without any of its prior standing as a center of learning. In 1405 the Jews were expelled from the town and allowed to return only in 1421. In 1430 they were again expelled, returning again in 1434, only to be driven out once more a year later. After an interval of 30 years they resided again in Speyer. Karl IV forgave the city's residents for the massacre and robbery they did to the Jews and allowed them to hold the robbery.

In 1467 the town granted the Jews their protection for a period of ten years. Yet in 1468 and 1472 Bishop Matthias von Rammung issued anti-Jewish decrees, including a ban on charging interest and practicing usury; forbidding Jews to appear publicly on Christian feast days; forcing Jews to wear distinctive clothing; forbidding the building of a school or synagogue without the bishop's permission; and an edict confining Speyer Jews to a ghetto.

By that time, however, the number of Jews in Speyer was very small. In fact, from the 16th to the 18th centuries only individual Jews lived in the town. Those who fled from Speyer settled in neighboring places, such as Bruchsal, Berghausen, Harthausen, Dudenhofen, Otterstadt and Landau. In the 19th century the community was renewed; by 1828 it was flourishing once more. A new Talmud Torah was opened and the synagogue was enlarged in 1866. A new Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1888. At the beginning of the 20th century Dr. Adolf Wolf Salvendi and Dr. Steckelmacher were rabbis of Speyer.

In 1933 there were 264 Jews in Speyer. That same year all the community's cultural associations as well as the Jewish youth societies were banned. In May 1934 the community initiated courses for the study of Hebrew. In 1939 there were still 77 Jews there; of these 51 were deported on October 22, 1940 to the Gurs concentration camp in France and almost all the rest to camps in Eastern Europe.

Jewish ritual objects from the 12th and 15th centuries were preserved in a museum in Speyer.