Zvenigorodka is a Ukrainian city first settled in 1394. There was only one Jewish resident of the city in 1765. In 1750, the Jews in the town were victims of pogroms conducted by the Haydamaky. The Haydamaky were paramilitary gangs in 18th century Ukraine and were composed primarily of local Cossacks and peasants. By 1787 the Jewish community of Zvenigorodka numbered 387. The Jewish population increased rapidly in the nineteenth century. By mid-century the Jewish population was 2,341, and in 1897 there were 6,389 Jews (32% of the total population) residing there. The commercial life of Zvenigorodka were controlled by the Jews. Of the 46 merchants in the town, 35 were Jewish. By the turn of the century the Jews had established both a candle factory and a tobacco plant. Many of the Jewish residents worked on the estates, assisting with the grain harvest.
According to Lo Tishkach, by the late 19th century, Zvenigorodka had an active Jewish communal life. The town had five synagogues and a mikvah. A resident, Nuhim Shostakovich Zotulovsky, established a printing house. In 1892 Joseph Halpern became the community rabbi and head of the rabbinical court, and Tsal Shmulevich Dobrov served as the county rabbi. By the early 20th century, the Jewish population of Zvenigorodka, approximately 6,000 people, composed 40% of the population of the town, Because of the increased number of Jewish residents, by 1910, Zvenigorodka had seven synagogues, a Talmud Torah, three Jewish schools for boys, a Jewish hospital, a benevolent society and a Jewish cemetery.
Shortly after the Communists ousted the czar and Russia became the Soviet Union, there were three pogroms in Zvenigorodka.
In the first, in 1918, 27 Jews were murdered and 50 were wounded. Members of the Volunteer Army organized the second pogrom, in August 1919, and in January 1920 Cossacks attacked the town. The following year, the Jewish Section, whose purpose was to advocate communist doctrine, opened an office in Zvenigorodka, and in 1922, fifty residents of Zvenigorodka created a Jewish self-defense organization. In September of that year, members of the local Zionist organization were arrested.
In 1924, under the Soviet administration of the country, 360 Jewish artisans joined unions, and a number of Jewish families established a collective farm near Zvenigorodka. The Jewish community also organized two Yiddish-language elementary schools and a vocational school. By 1926 there were 6,584 Jews in Zvenigorodka (36.5% of the total population). The following year the Jewish community established a school for needy children aged four to eight. Also in 1927, a Jewish law court was founded. Four years later, residents of the town established a Yiddish-language agricultural school.
By 1939 the Jewish population of Zvenigorodka had dropped to 1957. Most of the remaining Jews were murdered when the Germans occupied Zvenigorodka in World War II, The Germans occupied Zvenigorodka on July 29, 1941. They created a ghetto to confine the Jewish residents of Zvenigorodka and Katerynopol. On June 14, 1942, the Nazis executed at least 1,500 Jews in the Oforny forest. The mass graves remain near the town.
A 1959 census showed approximately 700 Jews in Zvenigorodka. There was no organized Jewish life. In 1965 the militia dispersed private religious services. Most Jews left Zvenigorodka in the mass exodus of the 1990's. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, however, a Reform Temple in Succasunna, New Jersey, Temple Shalom, adopted the Zvenigorodka shtetl. The community had successfully petitioned the government for the return of a synagogue that had served the Zvenigorodka community prior to the Nazi occupation of the town. Although the building was in a state of disrepair after its use as a stable and a hospital, it still served as a magnet for the reborn Jewish community. Temple Shalom raised funds to restore the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery and to offer financial aid to assist the poorest of the elderly Jews remaining in the town. In 2000, ten members of the New Jersey temple traveled to Zvenigorodka bringing Jewish ceremonial items and a Torah scroll to the congregants. Rabbis from Kiev, England and New Jersey conducted a B'Nai Mitzvah ceremony for seventeen young people and one adult. In appreciation, the Zvenigorodka community named its synagogue Temple Shalom. With its revived synagogue, the community has become one of the major spiritual centers of the region, the focus of Jewish religious life for many nearby towns.
Noted Jews who were born in Zvenigorodka include the philanthropist Baron Horace Gùnzburg (1833-1909) and the Israeli writer Natan Agmon Bistritski (1897-1980).
Lo Tishkach list the following individuals as natives of the Zvenigorodka Jewish community:
Joseph Halpern - a rabbi and head of the rabbinic court
Tsal Shmulevich Dobrov - a county rabbi
Chaika Semenovna Watenberg-Ostrovskaya - (1901 Zvenigorodka-1952 Moscow) - a translator who was accused during
the trial of the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and shot on August 12, 1952
Boris Eltsin (1875 Zvenigorodka-1937) - a Russian revolutionary
Jacob Samoilovich (1889 Zvenigorodka-1942 Kiev) - a musician, violinist and teacher
Resources: Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007; The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust; Lo Tishkach
Compiled by Arlene Goldfus Lutz
Last updated May 18, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Arlene Goldfus Lutz
This site is hosted at no cost by JewishGen, Inc., the Home of Jewish Genealogy. If you have been aided in your research by this site and wish to further our mission of preserving our history for future generations, your JewishGen-erosity is greatly appreciated.