Monday, September 20, 2010

Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 1)

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the first part of a series.
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

LIGHTNING

An unusual natural disaster was that of lightning. At times, it affected individuals who were struck or buildings too. However, one such disaster I found was noted in the September 22, 1911 issue of The Jewish Chronicle in London.

They were advising that on the Saturday previous, during the afternoon service, when the Torah was being read, lightning had struck the synagogue in Czezanow, Galicia. As the article stated, “Everyone in the synagogue fell to the ground, insensible, and remained so for some time." It was further reported that one person was killed.

FIRE

Fires were the scourge of communities as they either had inadequate resources to curb fires or their housing stock was made of materials which could easily catch fire such as the case with wooden buildings or thatched roofs. Accidental sparks from fireplaces and people smoking pipes or cigarettes also were the cause of such conflagrations. Lastly, there were those arsonists, who set fires on purpose, but those are not areas which will be covered herein.


On the island of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, The Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim Synagogue was built in 1802, destroyed by fire in 1804 and 1806; rebuilt in 1813; destroyed yet again in 1832 and rebuilt in 1834. (November 11, 1842).


Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim Synagogue

The synagogue in Bayonne, France, was destroyed by fire in 1842. (February 4, 1842)

Fire destroyed the town of Rzezow, Galicia, June 26, 1842 . . . "the greater part of town reduced to ashes". Lost were five synagogues and the hospital. (January 20, 1843)

This particular disaster can also be confirmed as it was written up in the Yizkor Book for the shtetl. "On June 26, 1843 (Note: This date differs from the newspaper account which was written after the event, so may have been an error in translation or editing), the city suffered from a fire that broke out at night in an inn, and from there spread to Neistadt (the new city). In one house, a Jewish family with five members was burnt. Two large synagogues and two small synagogues, the Beis Midrash, the communal headquarters in which the rabbi lived, and the hospital were all burnt to the ground. This included the well-known synagogue in Neistadt, as well as 32 Torah scrolls."


Another fire was reported in Charleston, SC, where the Beth Elohim Synagogue was destroyed in 1838, but rebuilt in 1840. (July 21, 1843)


Further fires were reported in Bentschen where the synagogue was destroyed; in Smyrna, Turkey, where a portion of the Jewish area was destroyed; and in Loutsk, Poland, where the Jewish community lost all of their belongings. (September 26, 1845)


A terrible fire occurred in Constantinople, Turkey, October 25, 1845 (January 16, 1846). There, it was reported that “The conflagration which broke out here on the 25th October, consumed 600 houses in fourteen hours, has almost completely destroyed the Jewish quarter, and the synagogue. Distress and misery, famine and illness, prevail everywhere.”


And lastly, the Israelite Congregation synagogue in Cleveland, Ohio, was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1845. (May 9, 1845)


An interesting resource regarding fires is “The Insurance Year Book: Fire and Marine, Volume 43," which has a listing entitled “Notable Conflagrations in World History, Pages 480-481.”


Next: FLOODS/HURRICANES/CYCLONES

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