To Russian Jews, the synagogue was the center of religion and religion was the
most important thing in their lives. The rabbi was their leader, they came to him with
every problem they had. Jews were poor, but they all gave tzedakah. It was said that
even the poorest Jews could find someone poorer to help and give money to. According
to the Jewish religion, tzedakah is one of the most important mitzvahs you can do. The
same could be said about the Jewish holidays. They were observed very strictly, but
Shabbat was the most welcomed. In order to teach the importance of Jewish law, they
started their own schools, their own courts of law, and their own burial societies. even
though there were pogroms, religious persecution forced the Jews to create stronger
communities and made them more united.
In the beginning of the 1800s, Alexander I ruled Russia.
He promised the Jews
that they could become farmers, could live in two districts, and could buy unoccupied
land. Although Alexander was kind and helped the Jews, the tax they were forced to pay,
stayed. before he died in 1825, the Jewish situation became hard for them to bare. They
lived in poverty in small and crowded places and were oppressed.
For hundreds of years, Jews lived these ways in two communities - the ghetto and the
shtetl. To keep out thieves and rioters from coming in, they built walls around their
section of town. When they did this, the government and churches got an idea, they
would use the walls that the Jews built, to lock them in.
These walls were located near a foundry that made cannons, so they named it
"ghetto" which means "foundry". They would close the gates every night and the Jews
would be locked...