HaMagid Persian Famine Donation Lists
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The Persian Famine donation lists, which were printed in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid in 1871 and 1872, provide a resource of names of over 40,000 Jews from the Pale of Settlement, including over 5,000 Lithuanian Jewish heads of families.
As a result of a famine in Persia in 1871, the London Jewish Chronicle ran a leading article on 4th August 1871 entitled "Famine in Persia". The article explains that Sir Moses Montefiore gave a hundred pounds for famine relief and laid the subject before the Board of Deputies. (The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has been in existence since the eighteenth century, is the parliament of British Jewry, with members representing constituents such as synagogues and communal institutions). "The calamity is fearful. The Persian Government can do little and all that it does will be for its Mussulman subjects."
The appeal was picked up by the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid and it was reported in the Jewish Chronicle on 17th November 1871 that "The Jews of Persia have addressed an earnest appeal for aid to their brethren in Bagdad". The famine in Persia has attained a most terrible point. The Magid has given a Hebrew translation of the leading article 'The famine in Persia' which appeared in a recent issue of the Jewish Chronicle.
HaMagid appealed in its columns for donations. Donations were collected in communities and forwarded to the editor. Names of donors were printed in the newspaper as proof of receipt and the money was forwarded to the London Committee and then on to the needy Jews in Persia.
The appeal "caught fire" in the Pale of Settlement, and particularly in Lithuania, where it had an especial poignancy because the Lithuanian Jews had been going through hard times and food shortages themselves and understood the meaning of food deprivation. Collections were made in many towns, often at the instigation of the local Rabbi. Sometimes collectors were appointed who went from house to house, and sometimes an appeal was made in the synagogue, for example, appropriately on Purim. Many of the donations were extremely small, but they were nearly all recorded.
The data included in these charity lists may be compared to that retrieved from prenumerantn subscription lists. However, these lists are far more comprehensive and "grass roots" than the subscription lists, sometimes demonstrating that a significant percentage of heads of families in a town were contributors, even of just a few kopeks. Also, because these lists were all compiled in a single year (1871-72), there is very little repetition. Some of the information recorded is genealogically significant. Fathers are listed with sons and sons in-law, for example.
The lists include donations from towns in Poland, Germany, Russia, Lithuania and so on. Lithuania is well represented. I have found 70 lists from 57 locations — almost 5,500 names. Most were extracted from photocopies made from a microfilm of the Hebrew Union College copies of HaMagid; some from original copies at the New York Public Library. It should be born in mind that the microfilms are not always easy to read, and there may be errors both of transcription and in the original printing, where the names were printed from hand-written lists and there are many spelling variations.
This database consists of the lists from Lithuanian towns, which I have already found to be a useful resource. (I picked a dozen or so advertisements requesting family information from Lithuania that were printed in Avotaynu and Search from several years ago, and found relevant information for about a third of them).
It should be noted that in translating (or transliterating) the Hebrew, the original spelling has as far as possible been followed, even when apparent members of the same family have variant spellings of their surname. The words "ben" and "bas" mean "son of" and "daughter of", respectively. Some towns recorded mostly first names, i.e. "Moshe ben Yosef"; presumably either the collectors or the donors thought that the Hebrew first names and patronymics were sufficient.
This is a list of the towns covered and the numbers of names. It will be seen that for certain towns, if these are heads of families and the average family has five members, a very significant percentage of the total population is listed.
To search for donors of a particular town in other years of HaMagid, see Town Index to Donor Lists in HaMagid, 1856-1900.
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