Jewish Settlement till after World War 1
Jews apparently settled in Tavrig in the middle of the 18th century, but already in 1589 a Jew was known to be a leaseholder of a local farm.
The border with Prussia and the customs office beside it provided the Jews with their living, as they controlled almost all the trade with Germany. They exported grain, poultry, geese, various types of fruit and cattle to Tilzit and Koenigsberg, and the timber trade was also in Jewish hands. In spring, hundreds of craftsmen would go to the woods, which had been leased by Jewish traders, in order to make wooden shingles, which were sold mainly to Germany. Jews were also the main suppliers of food products for the Border Guard regiments stationed in Tavrig. Many Jews were craftsmen: blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, builders and oven builders. At the end of the 19th century, many Tavrig Jews made their living from smuggling goods across the border into Germany, this included smuggling Jewish emigrants on their way to America and South Africa.
At this time Tavrig Jews enjoyed prosperity and the town was considered one of the richest in Lithuania.
In 1845 a cholera epidemic rampaged in town, causing a slowdown in the economic development, but the completion of the road from Tavrig to Tilzit in 1858 compensated for previous tribulations. In 1847, 410 Jews lived in Tavrig.
During the famine years of 1869/72, Tavrig Jews sent help to suffering communities. In "HaMagid" from the years 1871/72 there are lists of 163 Tavrig donors (see Database at Jewishgen.org URL page).
During the eighties of the 19th century there was quite some emigration of Tavrig Jews to America and South Africa, the reason being the pogroms which took place in many places in Russia. The names of E.Arkhinovitz and M.Rapoport appear in a list of emigrants.
Tavrig was one of the nineteen Jewish communities which refused to obey the order issued by the government in 1853, the aim of which was to exile all Jews living within a 5o km zone along the borders, to some Gubernias deep inside Russia.
In the beginning of 1884, at the initiative of leaders of the community, a "Talmud-Torah" was established. About 80 children studied with four "Melamdim" in a big spacious house, rented and renovated for this purpose. Several learned people volunteered to teach the children German and Russian. Women were also active in establishing a "Malbish Arumim" (clothing the naked) society, to supply garments for poor children.
At the end of the year the Hebrew newspaper "Hameilitz" published a request signed by a resident of the town, Tuviyah Chaim Shwartz, that Tavrigers abroad send donations to the address of the local Rabbi Gershon Mendel Ziv, for maintaining the "Talmud-Torah".
By 1888 this school had grown, with more than 100 pupils in several classes, each with its own teacher. In addition to the religious subjects at this Talmud-Torah, Russian and Arithmetics were also taught by a teacher named A.Koran, who was employed specially for this purpose.
At the turn of the 19th century there were several Jewish schools in Tavrig, with teachers such as V.Lazovsky, Menakhem-Mendel Tsukerzis, Mosheh-Yosef Gordon, David Levin, Chaim-Yitskhak Faivel, Pesakh Margolin.
There was a "Yeshivah" before WW1, headed by Rabbi Avraham Aharon Burstein.
Some Jewish children studied at the private high school of Prince Vasilchikov where they were willingly accepted, because the tuition fees their parents paid enabled more children to study at that school.
At the beginning of 1884 the society of "Khovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion) was established in Tavrig. Learned people and even orthodox people, headed by Rabbi Gershon Mendel Ziv and Dayan Benjamin Beinush, joined the society. In November 1884 Tsevi Herman Shapira (born in Erzhvilki in1840, who grew up in Tavrig till 1866), visited Tavrig. He was the man who suggested establishing the National Fund "Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael". As a result of his speech at the big Beth Midrash on "The Settlement of Eretz Yisrael", which aroused much enthusiasm in the audience, they ordered 25 pictures of Moshe Montefiore (1784-1885) at the "Khovevei Zion" in Warsaw, in order to sell them and dedicate the money to the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. 15 of these pictures were sold by the locally born writer Shaul Pinkhas Rabinovitz. A list of 1413 names of Tavrig donors from the years 1893-1903, mainly for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, was published in "Hameilitz" (see Database at Jewishgen.org URL page). The fund raisers in the above mentioned years were: J.M.Mendelevitz, R.A.Segal, M.Y.Gordon, P.Margolin, Leib Fogel, Yitskhak Verblovsky, Yakov Hirshovitz.
In 1898 the representative of the Tavrig "Khovevei Zion" was Mosheh-Yosef Gordon, assisted by Gershon Epstein, Yosef Gorfinkel and Dayan Barukh-Nathanel Naividl.
In 1901 the ladies society "Benoth Zion" organized lectures on Jewish History and Zionism. There was also a reading room for the Zionists.
Nathan Fridland, the local "Magid" (Preacher), was one of the pioneers of the idea of settlement of Eretz Yisrael in Lithuania. His articles on this subject were collected in the book " Kos Yeshuoth VeNekhamah" (Cup of Salvation and Consolation) in 1859. He was the right-hand man of Rabbi Tsevi Kalisher and Eliyahu Gutmakher, the chairmen of the "Society for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael", who sent him to Paris and London for meetings with the Jewish leaders Adolf Cremieux (1796-1880) and Moshe Montefiore in order to interest them in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. He also presented a memorandum to Napoleon III on this issue. In 1882 he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael, where he died one year later. In the old Jewish cemetery of Jerusalem there are at least 5 headstones of Tavrig Jews who died there at the end of the 19th century:
Rabbi Shimon, son of Rabbi Zerakh, who was Rabbi and teacher in Tavrig and in Jakobstat, died 1860.
Esther, wife of Rabbi Shimon Zarkhi, died 1861.
Moshe, son of Eliyahu from Tavrig, died 1879 (descendant of the Vilna Gaon's family).
Nathan, son of Yosef Fridland from Tavrig, died 1883.
Tankhum, son of Rabbi Shimon Zarkhi, died 1892.
The Tavrig Zionist society sold 150 "Shekalim" (Shekel - a quasi membership card of the Zionist organization) in 1901-02. At this time there were also supporters of "Poalei Zion", Z"S, and the "Bund". The local Rabbi Avraham Aharon Burstein participated in the conference which established "Agudath Yisrael" in Katowitz in 1912.
The religious life of Tavrig Jews was concentrated in the three Bathei-Midrash and the "Shinglers Kloiz". During all these years, the Rabbis who served in Tavrig were Torah scholars as well as public workers, honored and appreciated in all of Lithuania.
For the list of Rabbis who served in Tavrig see Appendix 1.
Tavrig Jews, enjoying a sound economic situation, established many welfare institutions in town. In 1860 the "Gemiluth Khasadim" society was established for lending loans without interest, but after funds were stolen, it had to be closed.
The "Somekh Noflim" society, which gave interest free loans to the needy, was established in 1881, having obtained its capital from the will of the rich Kislovsky. In 1894 the "Linath HaTsedek" society with 150 members, and in 1895 the "Tsedakah Gedolah" society for helping the poor and the passers-by, were founded.
There was also a "Bikur-Kholim" society for supplying medical help and medicines to the poor.
In 1897 there were 6,655 residents in Tavrig, of which 3,634 were Jews (55%).
During WW I, on the 5th of May 1915, the retreating Russian army exiled Tavrig Jews to Poltava and Jekaterinoslav Gubernias. Many of the exiles did not return to Tavrig.
The town and its surroundings were totally ruined. Only four houses were left unharmed.