March 28, 2003
100 YEARS AGO
• A project is underway in the Pale of Settlement to give Jews of small shtetls the same legal status as that of the peasantry. This is worrisome to the Jews, since this places them under direct control of the noble class, which has the legal right to physically beat their subjects. Up until now, it has been permissible for the administration to whip Jews who were engaged in political activity, but now, under the new “reforms,” it will be possible to whip any Jew, just like a peasant. It is currently unknown which shtetls will be first to undergo the reform of “equal rights” with the peasantry.
75 YEARS AGO
• The most recent census taken in the Soviet Union indicates that 73% of Russian Jews declared their mother tongue to be Yiddish. This statistic varies from region to region. In Belorussia, for example, the number of Yiddish speakers among Jews was 90%; in Ukraine, it was 76%, and in Russia proper it was 55%. It is notable that only 40% of Jewish communists in Ukraine declared their mother tongue to be Yiddish, though that percentage jumped to 74 in Belorussia.
• On Second Street and Avenue C, in the heart of the Lower East Side, sits the Israel Orphan Asylum, which houses, feeds and clothes more than 200 children from the ages of 1 to 6. The modern building also contains a school with a kindergarten, where the children learn English, Yiddish and Hebrew. Public school teachers also visit the orphanage and teach the 5- and 6-year-olds general subjects. A fundraiser is being held this week for the orphanage. More than 100 stars from the Broadway and Yiddish theater are expected to attend. Organizers say attendees will enjoy themselves and be supporting a good cause.
50 YEARS AGO
• Helene Benatar, a well-known Jewish lawyer from Casablanca, Morocco, is currently in New York working with the UJA, which will be providing funds for the impoverished Jews of North Africa. Benatar, who worked helping European Jewish refugees in Morocco during World War II, is attending meetings nationwide to talk about her experiences during the war and to discuss current problems facing North African Jewry. Among the issues she is discussing is a project to move Jewish families out of the decrepit Mellahs (ghettos) and into better, more hygienic housing.