FOCSANI (Rom. Focşani) town in E. Romania founded in the 17th century. Jewish settlement there dates from the second half of the 17th century; there were 20 tax-paying families by 1820. The community numbered 736 in 1838, 1,855 in 1859 (19.2% of the total), and 5,954 in 1899 (25.2% of the total), 4,301 in 1930 (13.2% of the total), and 4,935 in 1941 (10.5% of the total). Since this was a wine-growing area many of the Jews were vintners. Focsani was a center of anti-Jewish hostility. The oath "More Judaico" was introduced there for the first time in 1838. In 1859 there was a case of blood libel soon exposed as crime committed for gain. The antisemitic newspaper Paznicul was published in Focsani from 1900. The Romanians' Union, an association founded in 1910, proclaimed a boycott of the Jewish merchants. In March 1925 the trial was opened in Focsani of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, head of the Iron Guard, accused of murdering the chief of the police in Jassy. Antisemitic gangs took the opportunity to pillage 300 Jewish houses, among them the school and the great synagogue. On the eve of World War II the community had eight synagogues, the oldest dating from the 18th century, two primary schools, a kindergarten, a medical dispensary, and three cemeteries. Focsani was a center of early Zionist activity, and the first conference of the Yishuv Erez Israel movement took place there on Jan. 11–12, 1882, with representatives from 32 localities. Rabbis of Focsani include the Hebrew author Jacob Nacht (1872–d. in Israel 1959), who officiated there from 1900 to 1919, and through whose influence Focsani became the center of Zionist cultural activity in Romania. The Hebrew writer Israel Teller, teacher at the Jewish school, also lived in Focsani. Solomon Zalman *Schechter, discoverer of the Cairo *Genizah, was born in Focsani. Avram Moise Schwartz, known as *Cilibi Moïse, the first Jewish writer in the Romanian language, was also born in Focsani.
In 1941 there were 3,953 Jews living in Focsani out of a total population of approximately 37,000. At the beginning of the *Antonescu regime, the Jewish merchants were forced to hand over their shops to the Iron Guard; those who refused were sent to concentration camps at Târgo-Jiu and Caracal. Threeof the synagogues were blown up by military engineers on the pretext that the earthquake of November 1940 had damaged their foundations, making them dangerous constructions.
When the war with the Soviet Union broke out (June 1941), all Jewish males aged between 16 and 60 were imprisoned. A few weeks later they were released, except for 65 hostages including the rabbi and community leaders. Three months later the number of hostages was reduced to ten; each was held for a while and then relieved by other Jews. The number of Jews in Focsani increased considerably with the arrival of Jews who had been driven out of the villages and towns in the district, as well as Jews from *Ploesti. They were cared for by the local community which also aided a group of 400 Jews from southern Transylvania who had been brought to the district as forced labor. A number of Jews from Focsani were alsosent away on forced labor. In the spring of 1944, 210 Jewish orphans from *Transnistria were brought to Focsani and put under the care of the local community. On May 12, 1944, the local military commander mobilized all male and female Jews aged between 15 and 55, to dig anti-tank ditches for the defense of the town against the approaching Soviet forces.
In the postwar period the Jewish population, which numbered 6,080 in 1947, decreased to 3,500 by 1950 as a result of emigration. By 1970 continued emigration had reduced the number further to about 150 families. One synagogue remained open. In 1994, 80 Jews lived in Focsani, dropping to 70 in 2004.
Joint Foreign Committee, The Jewish Minority in Roumania (1927), 6, 8, 14, 34; M. Schwarzfeld, in: Analele Societăţii Istorice Iuliu Barasch, 2 pt., 1 (1888), 41, 73; idem, Momentedin istoria evreilor in România (1889), 7, 20, 23; M.A. Halevy, in: Anuarul evreesc ilustrat pentru România (1932), 126–8; Almanahul Ziarului Tribuna Evreiască, 1 (1937/8), 49–50; S. Cristian-Cris, Patru ani de urgie (1945), 122; M. Carp, Cartea Neagră 1 (1946), 156, 177; Y. Ariel, in Voinţa (Nov. 21, 1955), Th. Lavi, Yahadut Romanyah be-Ma'avak al Hazzalatah (1965), 147; idem, in Viaţa Noastră (Sept. 1, 1967). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Z. Ben Dov (Zilberman) Focsani, Sippurah shel Kehillah (2003); Bună dimineaţa Israel (July 19, 2004).
[Theodor Lavi /
Lucian-Zeev Herscovici (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.