The Asmonean (July 4, 1856)
We will now give some account of the Polish-German Jews of Wallachia. Their number, as we said before, is not very considerable. Their dress is principally European (French); even the old people rarely wear the national Polish dress. The appearance of the Jews is consequently much less distinctive at Bukarest than at Jassy, even in those streets where they voluntarily congregate (there is not, we are thankful to say, any ghetto in Bukarest). This improvement in the dress causes an improvement in the manners. There is not yet much education among the German Jews of Wallachia, either secular or Hebrew; but you do not find there those fanatics who oppose with all their power every reform, even that which is beneficial.
The Polish German Jews of Wallachia, although uneducated, are easily guided, provided they find that their leaders evince upright and disinterested motives, combined with intellectual superiority. They are engaged in commerce and trade. With regard to commerce there are few influential houses among them, but may middling establishments, which have a very honorable reputation. Lately, many have done a good business in military supplies. With regard to trades, we find among them stonemasons, bootmakers, joiners, lacemakers, tinners, glaziers; almost all these traders are followed by Jews. In the learned professions are found physicians and surgeons. When, some years since, the government had to appoint public physicians, it named two Jews (the signer of this article, and Dr. Dry, then at Odessa) as physicians, one of the quarantine, the other of the district. Since that time, the principle of admitting Jews to public offices, has been considered established, and other Jewish phisicians [sic] have been appointed to similar situations. The judicial functions have not yet been attained by our co-religionists; the state of the country and the legislation appear to reserve it for natives. No other learned profession is followed by them (the writer of this article excepted, who has [f]or many years filled the place of professor of natural history at the principal gymnasium at Bucharest).
The moral and religious state of this community may be termed lukewarm, which is the general character of the various races and religious observance of those who live in Wallachia. In their homes they practice forms of religion peculiar to their faith, but they say there is no rule without an exception, and they sometimes come under the rule, and sometimes in the exception. There exists however a strong attachment to the religion of their ancestors, and a horror of apostacy [sic], which has almost destroyed the efforts of the English missionaries.
With regard to the education of their youth, there are two public schools at Bukarest, one is called "Jewish Austro-Prussian School for Boys and Girls," the other, "Boys' School for Jewish Rayahs." The origin of these schools is as follows: For a long time cosher meat was subject to a tax which was kept by the heads of the community, (always rajahs,) and ought to have been appropriated to the use of the community.
For many years the money was spent, and none knew exactly for what requirements of the community it had bee[n] used. Such was the state of affairs on the arrival of the philanthropist, Mr. Laurin, the present consul-general of Austria (the same who behaved so nobly at Alexandria, at the time of the sanguinary affair at Damascus). This influential diplomatist having made himself acquainted with the position of the Jewish community, announced to the Wallachian government that he could not consent to the Austrian subjects paying, in despite of treaties, a tax such as that imposed upon the meat, without their being able to regulate the employment of it themselves, or even having an account rendered to them of the manner in which it was employed. He requested, therefore, that Jewish Austrian subjects should be separated from the rest of the community and form themselves into a distinct congregation with an administration under the consular authority. At his instigation, the consul-general of Prussia, Baron de Mensenbach, took similar steps for his Jewish subjects. After a long diplomatic correspondence, these efforts succeeded; the Austrian and Prussian Jews were separated from the rest of the community, and formed a separate congregation of about three hundred families, who received their portion of the tax upon the meat, and employed it for their own purposes; its annual revenue was 5,000 florins, the largest portion of which was spent in supporting the schools before mentioned, the existence of which was mainly owing to the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Laurin, and he has not any occasion to repent his good work. The salutary consequences of the institution of these schools are already evident in the education of the young, formerly so neglected, not only of the children of the united congregations, but of the other Jewish communities; even Christian parents of every denomination send their children to these schools (particularly girls) to learn the elements of German education and domestic employments. The number of pupils of both sexes varies from one hundred to a hundred and forty. The subjects of instruction are the same as the best establishments in Germany, besides which the Wallachian and French languages are taught there; the German language is the medium for instruction.
Some time after the opening of this Austro-Prussian school at Bukarest the Wallachian government founded a boy's school for Jewish rajahs. The zeal for good, and the spirit of tolerance which animated the principal council of these schools was evidence by this circumstance. The government interested itself warmly in this school; the Wallachian language is therein the medium for instruction. The management of this school is under the direction of the general superintendant [sic] of the national schools. It has about a hundred pupils; all boys. These two schools are supplementary to each other, one representing the German, the other the national element. The government does not disguise its intention of opening the career of public employments to Jewish students who have finished their education at the gymnasium of Bukarest, equally with young Wallachians, who are themselves only eligible after having gone through the same course of studies.
I cannot finish this short sketch of the present condition of the Jews of the Danubian principalities, without remarking that the great crisis which is now taking place cannot be barren in results for the Jewish inhabitants; for if, as may be foreseen, these principalities come more and more under Western influence, and escape that of Northern, the Jews need not fear that their position will become worse, or that new laws of exclusion will be passed against them, as would inevitabl[y] have been the case had Northern influence prevailed. The more the physical and intellectual state of these beautiful countries shall be developed, the more the position of the Jews will improve.