Berman’s Branches
Barbara Hacker Berman
Contents
Towns - Siauliai

Feinstein/Harris came from this area.

Jewish settlement in the city of Shavel began at a much later period than the settlement in other cities in Lithuania and Zamot. The reason why the community was not an old established one like the other communities is unknown.

There is a legend which was told in Shavel as follows:

Until approximately the year 5500 (1740) the city of Shavel was a village, and generally Jews were not permitted to live there. One day the Christian residents of this village were bringing a big bell for their church to the village. The bell fell into the river and they could not get it out. A Jew risked his life, the honored Reb Zev Nurok Ka"tz who had special permission from King Jan the Third in 1681 to live in Shavel, together with all his household. He got the bell out of the water. They said that they would give him whatever payment he requested and he answered that he didn't request anything for himself, just that they would let his brothers, the Jews, live here. This they did. Soon many Jews from the surrounding area collected in Shavel and founded a small community. 

The honored Reb Zev Nurok was killed. One of his children was the great leader Reb Israel Nurok (died in 1796) who was very famous in the whole region and by whose efforts the Jewish cemetery was founded in 1748. Before the Jews were allowed to settle in Shavel and to buy a field for a cemetery, they buried their dead in the nearby towns of Shaulenai and Lygumai, which already had Jewish communities. The first to be buried in the new cemetery was a youth, Gershon the son of Simcha, who came from another town and died in 1749. From then until the First World War, on the day of his death, a memorial candle was lit and the prayer of kaddish was said for him in the Kloiz of Gemilas Chesedim shel Emes (the synagogue of true loving kindness towards the dead) which was burnt down in the First World War.

Around the year 1749 a fine wooden synagogue was built, with windows high in the walls, shining with color, with a holy ark made by an artist. By the south wall a big brass menorah (candelabra) stood on a cup-shaped base. 

The reason that the synagogue was not built of stone was that the city of Shavel was under the supervision of Keidaniai and it was necessary to get the agreement of the Rabbi there. He would allow only a wooden synagogue to be built. This was because the city of Keidaniai was the regional center for the committee of the communities (Vaad HaKehilos) and the city of Shavel was then at the beginning of it's settlement. It had few people who did not have sufficient resources for the great expense of a stone building, and the Rabbi thought that this situation would continue for some time. Therefore, he would only let them build a wooden building. They prayed there until 1881 when it was shut by the government until 1889 when repairs had been carried out. It existed until it was burnt down during the First World War.

The community numbered almost 10,000 out of about 17,000 in 1902. At this period, it was already the 3rd most populous city in Lithuania, lying at a major road and railway junction. It was known for its leather industry, and was home to the biggest leather factory in the Russian Empire (owned by Chaim Freinkl). In 1915 the entire Jewish community was expelled by order of the Tsar, but many returned again when allowed to do so in the early 20's. The community was decimated during the Shoah: of 8,000 Jews still living in Shavl in 1941, only 500 survived. Only a handful of Jews remain there today.

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