Sunday, April 19th, 1903
The Kozaks ended their Easter prayers at the Orthodox Church in Kishinev (now the capital of Moldova, Chisinau), and on their way home to enjoy the holiday meal had began to slaughter Jews in the city. For three days the rioters mutilated bodies and scattered them throughout the city. They were hammering nails into the heads of the victims, gouged out eyes, and threw infants from high altitudes, beat and castrated men and raped women. During the riots, 49 Jews were killed. 92 were severely injured, over 500 slightly injured, and over 700 homes and businesses were looted and destroyed.
The local bishop rode through the streets of the city in his carriage during the riots and blessed the rioters. The Minister of Interior Affairs ordered the provincial governor to not come to the Jews’ defense. The police and the army stood on the sidelines, watching and doing nothing to prevent the massacre.
Images of the aftermath of the Kishinev Pogrom
All They Care About is Money
For a while, before the riots broke out, a local newspaper regularly published articles against the Jewish population, under titles such as “Death to the Jews” and “Crusade Against the Hated Race.” Then, in early 1903, the body of a Christian boy was found a few kilometers outside of Kishinev. It was later discovered that he was murdered by his uncle over a dispute regarding inheritance, but by then it was too late… the Jews were blamed for his death. The newspaper also accused the Jews of a capitalist exploitation of Christians, and gradually incited riots against them, at the encouragement of the bishop.
The Russian ambassador to the United States claimed in an interview conducted in May 1903 that, “The reason for the biased attitude [towards Jews in Russia, Germany, and Austria] is due to the fact that Jews do not work in the fields or in agriculture. They prefer to lend money.” A familiar claim: Jews deserve to be persecuted because money is all they care about.
My grandmother Zilpa was born in Kishinev in 1900. She was only 3 years old when these riots began and the locals, thirsty for blood, murdered her father, my great-grandfather. Shortly after the pogrom, Zionist activists convinced her mother to leave for Israel with her three children, along with over 50 kids, who were orphaned as a result of that pogrom. Zilpa later settled in the city of Rishon LeZion, where she established her home and gave birth to my mother, Ahuva. That is also where all my sisters and I grew up.
Savta Zilpa and me, age 1
King Cyrus of Persia issued his famous edict in 539 BCE. Despite the decree allowing all Jews to go back to their homeland, only around 42,000 returned to Zion. Researchers struggle to accurately estimate the exact number of Jews who remained in Persia inspite of that decree, but there is no doubt that their number was at least two or three times larger, maybe even more. Why didn’t they all come back? Why did so many of them prefer to stay in exile?
Judea stood desolate. In contrast, life in exile was comfortable. Persian kings were not as cruel as their Babylonian predecessors, and they allowed religious freedom throughout the empire. Moreover, by that time, most Persian Jews were born in exile and not in Judea. They were not familiar with life in the land, and have adopted much of the local culture. This is evidenced by pagan names we find in the OT, such as Esther (Ishtar), Belshazzar (the name given to Nehemiah), and Mordechai (named after the god Marduk), as well as Persian words that penetrated the OT (like paradise, religion, Purim, dictum, satrap).
Even Mordechai and Esther preferred to stay in exile. I find a hidden warning to the Jewish reader here: whoever delights in the comforts that the enlightened exile provides him, risks possible destruction or assimilation.
Did the threat of mass destruction, that hung over Persian Jews for months, lead to another wave of immigration to the Land? The Bible does not specify, but the dynamic is familiar. Waves of immigration to Israel increase in direct proportion to the rising in anti-Semitism in the same region.
Wars and Aliya (Immigration to Israel)
When a war breaks out somewhere, the media coverage usually centers around the geopolitical aspects, and the focus is placed on the agressor and the victim. In the war that has employed the media in the past year, Putin is of course the attacker and Zelensky the victim. And God? Is he hiding?
This is how, for the most part, the media presents things. But even when God and His outstretched arm are hidden from the lenses of the media, it is clear to us that He is the one pulling the strings behind the scenes. And what sometimes appears at face value as a series of random events, actually advances His plan. Always!
Wars have two important ramifications the media does not even realize that they need to pay attention to. Wars help spreading the Gospel to new areas, because every time borders are breached, the Gospel can reach new places; Believers move to safer places; refugees leave countries where they were not exposed to the Gospel as this was prohibited by law, and arrive in places where they are more exposed to it; and the horrors of war stir the fear of God in the hearts of people who until then were indifferent.
The second ramification is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. Jews living in danger zones begin to understand that a safer place is waiting for them beyond the so-called paradise of diaspora. And so, new waves of immigration to Israel begin. Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, more than 38,000 requests for immigration have been submitted to Israel’s embassies in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. More than 50,000 immigrants have already arrived in Israel since the beginning of the war (more than twice as many compared to the year before).
The Tables Have Turned
Whenever anti-Semitism is on the rise in any place, an obvious cloud of fear begins to hover over the heads of Jews living there. But the book of Esther describes the opposite. An interesting expression appears in chapter 9. “The tables were turned” – things switched over. Apparently, many of the peoples who lived in the Persian empire chose to convert to Judaism, that is to join the Jewish people.
“In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them” (Esther 8:17).
The reason is clear: a royal decree was published, allowing the Jews to avenge their enemies. So why not join them and be on the attacking side? It is certainly possible that many of the converts did so purely out of pragmatism. But I wonder if among them were also those who simply feared God, not the Jews. Were there some who understood that there is no point in worshiping false idols since there is only one true God who protects His people? If so, it means that throughout the ancient world, in the 127 countries that stretched from India to Cush in those days of king Xerxes, there were Gentiles who joined the Jewish faith and began to learn about God’s words and prophecies (see also 9:1-3).
Shortly after that era, the canonization of the Tanakh came to an end. Next we have 400 years of scriptural silence, and the next thing the Bible records for us starts with the birth of Yeshua and the Magi, who arrived in Bethlehem from the east. It’s almost as if the Bible picks up from the same geographical area it left. I wonder if these Magi grew up on the knees of the descendants of those converts, and learned from their mouths about the Messiah King and the star that will one day shine from Jacob.
Jews and Money
There is an interesting emphasis in the book of Esther. Twice it says that the Jews “did not stretch out their hand in plunder” (9:15-16). On the contrary, they invested money and sent gifts to the poor (9:22). The book makes it clear that there was no greed on the part of the Jews, no attempt to profit financially, and no capitalist exploitation of the locals. It was just a people fighting for their lives. Nothing more, nothing less.