Jews started to settle in Chersoń at the end of the 18th century. As in other parts of Novorossiya, the first Jewish people arrived there from the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Displaced people from Volhynia and Podolia joined them shortly after. In 1799, there were 39 Jewish merchants and 180 Jewish burgesses in the town and in 1806 – 36 merchants and 344 Jewish burgesses. In 1816, a hospital and a refuge were opened in the town.

In 1847, there were 3,832 Jews living in Chersoń. The town was one of the 19 communes visited by Maks Lilienthal in preparation for the launch of the Jewish state education (1842). In 1848, a school for girls was opened in the town, followed by a boys school in 1850. In mid-19th century, Chersoń became an important centre of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch community. There were two well-known rabbis hailing from the Chabad movement: Szlomo Zalman Pinsker (died in 1886) and his son Gerszon-Ber Pinsker (1845–after 1912)[1.1]. In the second half of the 19th century, there were three large synagogues and eight houses of prayer in Chersoń.

Jewish merchants significantly contributed to the development of the town. In 1862, even the governor of Chersoń sought to appoint a Jewish mayor as the Christian merchants “are not highly evolved to the degree sufficient for them to take on the responsibilities of the representative organisation of the town… The Jewish merchant association connects a great number of merchants who have considerable wealth. Receiving good education and travelling abroad, they gained knowledge and enjoy great respect.” The request was supported by the Governor-General of Novorossiya, yet it was rejected by the authorities of St. Petersburg[1.2]]. Jehuda Bechak (1820–1900), a teacher, Jewish grammar scholar and an author of annotations to the Bible, resided in Chersoń during the second half of the 19th century, In the years 1860–1880, F. Sz. Blumenfeld (1826–1896), an alumnus of the rabbinical school of Zhytomyr, became the official rabbi of Chersoń. He attempted to introduce progressive reforms to the Jewish daily life and education.

At the end of the 19th century, Chersoń became one of the centres of the Zionist movement. Z. Smiliański (1873–1944) and Jakow Czertok (1860–1913) were some of its local promoters. In 1894, the latter became the father of the future Prime Minister of Israel – Moshe Sharett. In 1896, E. Pepper, who introduced teaching Hebrew in the ivrit b’ivrit system, become the principal of the Talmud Torah school. In 1897, there were 17,555 Jews living in the town, constituting 30% of the total population. The majority earned their living as tailors (1,016 men and 363 women), and worked in other branches of craft and in trade.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were three Talmud Torah schools in Chersoń (the first one was purely Orthodox, the second one and the third one ran craft workshop classes), a female vocational school, Saturday schools for boys and girls, and five private general secondary schools for boys and girls. In 1904, after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, the so-called “mobilisation” pogrom befell Jews in Chersoń. Another pogrom took place on 18 and 19 October 1905, affecting primarily markets and suburbs. One person died in the aftermath of the riots, which were eventually put down by a military intervention. In 1910-1923, Jakow Izrael Rabinowicz (Yaakov Yisrael Rabinowitz, 1880–1942), who later became famous for being the first leader of the ultra-Orthodox community t take residence in Tel Aviv, lived in Chersoń. A weekly Zionist paper, Słowo Żydowskie (“The Jewish Word”; 1919–1920) was printed in the town and edited by S. Nevelstein.

There were 14,837 Jews (10% of the total population) living in the town in 1926. The religious life of the community survived for much longer than in many other parts of the USSR. In the early 1930s, Kalmanowski became a rabbi of Chersoń. According to the 1939 census, there were 16,145 Jews in the town that year, constituting 16.7% of the total population.

Germans invaded Chersoń on 19 August 1941. Two thirds of local Jews managed to escape. On 25 August 1941, the remaining Jews were ordered to wear an identifying badge with a Star of David. Jews were registered and ordered to surrender their valuables to the Judenrat. After the termination of the registration on 27 August, a ghetto was established in the town. After a series of mass executions on 24 and 25 September 1941, the ghetto was liquidated. All Jews were taken to the town prison and then outside of the city, where they were kill in mass executions. Eight thousand bodies were discovered in one of the anti-tank ditches. In January 1942, the Nazis killed 400 people from mixed families.

In 1959, there were 9,500 Jews (6% of the total population) living in Chersoń. The synagogue was closed down in 1959. In 1970, according to the official data, there were approximately 9,700 Jews in Chersoń. The major part of the community moved out to Israel, the United States and Germany at the beginning of the 1990s.

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Khierson [in] Elektronnaya yevrieiskaya enciklopediya [online], http://www.eleven.co.il/?mode=article&id=14504 [Accessed: 30.03.2020].
  • [1.2] Khierson [in] Elektronnaya yevrieiskaya enciklopediya [online], http://www.eleven.co.il/?mode=article&id=14504 [Accessed on 030.03.2020