The Early History of the
Skala Benevolent Society
(Skalar Unterstitzungs Verein)

Return to Skala Kehilalinks page

The Skala landsleit organization was founded in 1893 after the murder of a man from Skala by one of his co-workers in a factory. The murdered man's friends from Skala got together to buy a cemetery plot, so that he would have a place to be buried. The Skala emigrés arranged with the Chortkover Society, another Galitsianer landsleit organization, to buy graves in its plot in the Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The original purpose of the Society was to provide a place for burials and for benefits if people got sick. Money also was raised for charitable organizations in New York, such as orphans' homes, old-age homes, and HIAS. Regular meetings were held every second Thursday of the month, in rented halls at various locations. Society members also got together for social occasions. There were dances and meetings at which rabbis or other speakers lectured on subjects of Jewish interest.

1. 1938 Officers

2. Ida Wiesenthal (ca. 1930)
The Skala Ladies Auxiliary was founded in 1917 and incorporated two years later. Although she was born in Kalarash, Bessarabia, Jacob Wiesenthal's wife Ida was the first president of the Skala Ladies Auxiliary. As was common within marriages where the partners were born in different towns, Ida was active in the Skala organization and her husband Jacob was active in the Kalarasher-Bessarabier Progressive Association founded by Ida's parents. The Skala Ladies Auxiliary raised and distributed funds for emigrés from Skala who were in need.

At first, all of the charitable help given by the Society was to people and organizations in America. During World War I, the Society began to help people in Skala. A Relief Committee was formed consisting of Jacob Wiesenthal, Jacob Herzog, Mike Shor, and Samuel Weidenfeld. Pushkes [charity boxes] were distributed to the members of the Society, for the collection of funds to be sent to the people in Skala. Other fund-raising methods included theatre parties, raffles, and the journal for the annual banquet.

After World War I, shlichim [agents] were sent by the Society to Skala. Among the first shlichim were Jacob Mehlman and Jacob Herzog -- the latter of whom was for many years the Society's Recording Secretary. The shlichim brought money for individual families, sent by their relatives in America. They also brought money for the community, which was divided among the poor people in Skala who did not have relatives in America to send them financial help.

The Society also sent packages of clothing and medicine. Funds and packages were distributed to Skala's needy by a committee in Skala consisting of Feivish Wiesenthal, Srul Leib Freifelder, and Yingel Weidenfeld. The committee in Skala also would tell the Society what financial aid was needed and the money would be collected in America and sent to Skala. In 1922, for example, the Society raised money to erect a building in which there were beds for the homeless in Skala.

3. Jacob Herzog (ca. 1930)

4. Jacob Wiesenthal (ca. 1938)
By the 1930s, the Society was becoming less dynamic than it formerly had been. In an effort to revitalize the organization, members enduced their American-born children and their spouses into joining the Society, and attending its events. Most of the children of Skala natives had been raised in Yiddish-speaking homes, so they could follow conversations at these Society meetings and dances, where everyone spoke only Yiddish. Spouses who were children of American-born parents spent these evenings numbed by incomprehension.

A Relief Committee again was formed after World War II, with Jacob and Ida Wiesenthal as its co-chairs. Tragically, there was little need for this Committee, as few people in Skala had survived the Nazi atrocities. “There was no town left. The town was all gone,” Jacob Wiesenthal was to say many years later. The money collected to rebuild Skala and help its Jewish inhabitants after the Second World War was distributed instead among the refugees who came to America from Skala.

After World War II, the Society was re-energized by the enrolment of refugees from Skala who had survived the Holocaust. As members of the older generation died, these newest arrivals from Skala took over as officers and members of the landsleit Society.

The text of this article is excerpted from a 1980 interview with Jacob Wiesenthal, who became a member of the Skala Benevolent Society in 1910. Mr. Wiesenthal was president of the Society several times and held numerous other offices and committee chairmanships during his more than seventy-years of membership in the Society.
The Articles of Incorporation and the By-laws of the Skalar Benevolent Society are available from YIVO.

Text and photos 2, 3 and 4 copyrighted by Helene Kenvin
This page created by Max Heffler
Updated Jan 6, 2007. © Copyright 2005 Skala Research Group. All Rights Reserved.