Port on the lower Danube, in Walachia (Romania); the town was called Braillago in the fourteenth century and was known as Ibraila while under Turkish rule from 1542 to 1828. The presence of Jewish merchants in Brăila was first documented in the seventeenth century. In 1828, there were 105 Sephardic Jews in the town. A cemetery opened in 1819, and a synagogue was built in 1820. After the town was annexed to Walachia in 1829, Ashkenazic Jews also settled in Brăila and their synagogue was founded in 1836.
In 1837, there were 485 Jewish inhabitants of Brăila. Their numbers increased to 1,095 in 1860; to 5,520 in 1882; to 6,752 in 1890; to 9,830 in 1899; and to 11,099 in 1913. In 1930 there were 11,327 Jews, involved mainly in grain exports, local trade, crafts, industry, and banking. The community’s organization system, which relied financially on a tax for kosher meat, remained in force until 1862. In 1863, a reformist (modernizing) Choral Temple was founded. After the emancipation of Jews in Romania in 1919, the community reorganized and acquired legal status in 1922. Political rivalries for its leadership existed among Zionists, the Union of Romanian Jews, and representatives of Romanian political parties. Zionist candidates won the elections of 1920. Jews also participated in municipal elections. Just before World War II, there were 14 active synagogues in Brăila. Among the town’s most important rabbis was Me’ir Thenen (d. 1947), who translated the High Holiday prayer book into Romanian.
Brăila’s first Jewish hospital was founded in 1860. A “modern” heder for boys functioned between 1865 and 1873 with a curriculum that included secular subjects. In 1897, an elementary school for girls was established and became sponsored by the community in 1903; a secondary school for boys was founded in 1913. The Zionist movement became active in Brăila in 1881 with the establishment of a Yishuv Erets Yisra’el committee, followed in 1893 by a group representing Ḥoveve Tsiyon that eventually joined the World Zionist Organization. The Yiddish and Romanian writer and physicist Iacob Sotec-Liteanu translated Lev Pinsker’s Autoemancipation into Romanian in 1882 and published it in the journal Stindardul, edited in Foscani. Other intellectuals with ties to Brăila included Yitsḥak Horowitz; Mihail Sebastian (Iosif Hechter), Ury Benador (Schmidt), Camil Baltazar, Solomon Savin Semilian, and Simon Schafferman-Păstorescu. The town was also was a center for Jewish periodicals: between 1896 and 1936, 29 Jewish newspapers and newsletters of different orientations were published in Yiddish and Romanian.
In November 1940, the Iron Guard’s reign of terror began, and Jews were forced to hand over their possessions and businesses to the Commission for Romanianization. However, on 8 January 1941, when Jewish tradesmen who had refused to turn over their shops were arrested, Romanian notables intervened on their behalf. On 4 August 1941, Jewish men aged 18 to 50 were organized in labor detachments and sent to perform hard labor in Brăila and the neighboring villages of Făurei, Țăndărei, Vizireni, and Turcoaia.
During the Holocaust years, the Jews of Brăila maintained the community’s educational and social systems. Two separate Jewish high schools, for boys and for girls, were established, and when Romania joined the Allies (23 August 1944), the community made efforts for Jews to reintegrate socially and economically. Jewish leadership was taken over by the Jewish Democratic Committee. Although Jewish schools were nationalized in 1948, some of them continued to teach the Yiddish language. Hebrew classes were organized from 1970 to 1980. Jews emigrated in large numbers. In 2003 there were 155 Jews remaining in Brăila; just one synagogue was still active.
Nissim E. Derera, Monografia comunității israelite din Brăila (Brăila, Rom., 1905); Theodor Lavi, “Brailah (Brăila),” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 78–88 (Jerusalem, 1969); Ion Ursulescu, Valori ale patrimoniului evreiesc la Brăila (Brăila, Rom., 1998).
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea