The largest community is in Kishinev, the capital, where some 15,000 Jews reside. There are other communities in Tiraspol (2,500) and Beltsy (1,000). Smaller numbers live in Bendery, Rybnitza, Soroky, and elsewhere.
Jews have lived in Bessarabia-the territory that constitutes the bulk of what is present-day Moldova-since the 15th and 16th centuries. At that time it was an important transit stop for Jewish merchants from Constantinople and from Poland.
On the eve of the German-Romanian invasion, there were more than 250,000 Jews in Bessarabia. Many of these were deported to camps in Transnistria, where tens of thousands perished at the hands of German and Romanian forces. In 1992 Moldova was torn apart by a civil war that resulted in a division of the country into two separate parts: the Republic of Moldova to the west of the Dniester, and the self-styled Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic of Transnistria to the east of the river. In response, the Federation of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Va’ad ) in Moscow and Israeli organizations arranged for the evacuation of the Jewish population.
The Republican Society for Jewish Culture is the umbrella organization for both parts of the divided country. Moldovan Jewry, for the most part Russian-speaking, is particularly concerned about new laws that require the use of the Moldovan language.
There are synagogues in all the important towns. The Chabad movement plays a significant role in the religious life of Moldovan Jews. There are three Jewish day schools in Kishinev and Sunday schools in Beltsy, Bendery, and Tiraspol. Jewish themes are a frequent topic of conferences organized by the Kishinev University together with the Republican Society for Jewish Culture, and some are attended by visitors from abroad. The proceedings are often published in book form, and several other Jewish books have also appeared. A Jewish music group is active, and plans are under way to organize a Jewish theater. There is a a Jewish newspaper called Yistoky.
Israel and Moldova have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1992. Israel is represented by its ambassador in Kiev. Aliya: Since 1989, 42,000 Moldovan Jews have emigrated to Israel.
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