Second-largest city of the Republic of Moldova. Bălți (Yid., Belts; Rus., Beltsy) was within Romania’s borders from 1918 until 1944; after World War II, the region in which it is located became part of the Moldavian SSR. Famous personalities from Bălți have included the artist Boris Anisfeld; the Hebrew writer Ya‘akov Fichmann; Yiddish authors Zelik Berdichever, Boris Sandler, and Michael Felsenbaum; and Lia van Leer, founder of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Jews began to settle in Bălți in the middle of the eighteenth century. After their legal status was formally established in 1782, their numbers increased steadily—from 244 families in 1817 to 1,792 in 1847, rising to 4,365 in 1857. After May 1882, Russian laws prohibiting Jews to live in villages were rescinded, and by 1897 the number of Jews in Bălți had increased to 10,348 (56% of the population).
In 1861, Bălți had 8 synagogues; by 1910 there were 14. Yisra’el Ioffe served as a rabbi from 1885. A network of Jewish institutions existed in 1930, including a teachers’ seminary, three elementary schools, two secondary schools, a school of commerce, a professional school for girls, a hospital, a home for the elderly, a cooperative credit bank, and libraries. Shurot, a Hebrew literary magazine, was issued in the town between 1935 and 1938.
By 1930, Bălți’s 14,259 Jews constituted the majority (60%) of the town’s population. Their primary occupations were in commerce and handicrafts; some suburban dwellers also had farms. In 1925, of 1,539 members of Jewish cooperative credit banks, 656 were engaged in commerce, 441 in handicrafts, and 156 in agriculture. Antisemitism was rampant at the time, with pogroms and desecrations of the Jewish cemetery occasionally taking place. A major pogrom occurred on 15 June 1930. In 1929 and 1933, however, Jews were elected as deputy majors.
Restrictions and poverty led to mass emigration from Bălți. At the end of June 1941, most of the town was destroyed by Romanian and German bombs. Jews escaped to neighboring villages, mainly to Valea-lui-Vlad, where many were murdered by local peasants. The town was captured by Nazi forces on 9 July 1941. A report of Einsatzgruppe D states that on 10 July, Romanian soldiers executed 400 Jews. In three camps near Bălți, many more Jews perished of starvation and disease; others were deported to Transnistria.
After the war, Bălți regained its status as a large Jewish center, with more than 15,000 Jews living there in 1970. A synagogue functioned from 1946 to 1959, with Lieber Zalman serving as its rabbi. In 1988 Jewish cultural life saw a revival with the opening of Menoyre, a Yiddish musical theater. A page on Jewish topics in the local newspaper Golos Belts began to appear in 1991. A new synagogue and Sunday school were established, and more than 1,000 Jews were living in Bălți in 2004.
Yosef Mazor and Mishah Fuks, eds., Sefer Baltsi Basarabyah: Yad ve-zekher le-yahadut Baltsi (Tel Aviv, 1993).
RG 1002, First Belzer Bessarabier Sick Benevolent Association, Records, 1925-1960; RG 40, Karaites, Collection, ; RG 81, Elias Tcherikower, Papers, 1903-1963.