Current name: Ruse, also transliterated as Rousse or Russe
Alternate names and spellings: Ruse [Bulg], Rusçuk [Turk], Rusciuc [Rom], Russe [Ger], Roussé [Fr], Rousse, Rustchuk, Rustschuk, Rushtuk, Rushchuk, Rusciuk, Rustciuk, Ruschuq, Ruschuk, Roustchouk, Rouschouk
Rousse is the fifth-largest city in Bulgaria. The city is situated in the northeastern part of the country, on the right bank of the Danube, opposite the Romanian city of Giurgiu, 300 km from the capital Sofia and 200 km from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. It is the most significant Bulgarian river port, serving an important part of the international trade of the country.
The Nobel Prize winning author grew up in Rustchuk and describes the city around 1905 in his memoirs "The Tongue Set Free: Remembrance of a European Childhood".
I include a few excerpts below as I believe they offer a vivid description of the world the Abraham brothers knew.
Note: the page numbers refer to the French edition, and the translations are my own.
p.12: Rustchuk (...) was a marvellous city for a child. (...) People from various origins lived there and one could hear seven or eight different languages during the day. Aside from the Bulgarians, most often from the countryside, there were many Turks who lived in their own neighborhood, and, next to it, was the neighborhood of Spaniard Sepharads, ours. One met Greeks, Albanians, Armenians, Gypsies. Romanians came from the other side of the Danube. (...) There were also some Russians, although not very many.
p.13: Most of the Spanish Spepharad had kept the Turkish nationaliy. It is true that they never had had to suffer from the Turks. (...) Many of them were wealthy merchants (...).
p.42: One spoke seven or eight tongues in our town. Everyone understood a little bit of each language used; it was only the young girls from the countryside who only knew Bulgarian, so they were said to be dumb. Everyone counted the number of languages they knew, it was very important to know as many as possible.
Roustchouk in 1905
Description from www.jewishencyclopedia.com
The foundation of the present Jewish community dates from 1792, when some natives of Belgrade, which city had been captured by Emperor Joseph II. of Austria in 1788 and retaken by the Turks in the following year, sought refuge in Rustchuk to escape the reprisals of the latter.
The Jews of Rustchuk flourished commercially until the Continental blockade; but the sieges of 1807 and 1811 destroyed the prosperity of the community. The Russians converted the synagogue into a stable for their horses, and finally destroyed it by fire.
By the time peace was declared, almost the entire Hebrew community had removed to Bucharest. Some time later ten families of refugees returned with several families from Nicopolis.
The War of Greek Independence in 1828 drove several thousand Mohammedan emigrants from Rumania to Rustchuk; and a Jewish resident named Perez Alkalai generously provided the fugitives with all necessary supplies, receiving as a reward a "berat" from Vali Pasha which exempted him permanently from all taxation. In 1837 and 1845 the city was visited by the sultans Maḥmud II. and 'Abd al-Majid respectively, and the Jewish congregation was the object of the imperial bounty.
The community of Rustchuk, which is the most prosperous in Bulgaria, possesses an excellent library, which is a legacy from Chief Rabbi Shabbethai Behar Abraham. The city contains two synagogues: one large one, and a smaller one called "Ḳahallah Ḳadosh Shalom." It possesses also two schools, supported by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, with an attendance of 272 boys and 204 girls, as well as a Zionist society, a ḥebra ḳaddisha, a chief rabbi, and a rabbinical tribunal. There is likewise a small Ashkenazic community, which has an oratory of its own.
A Jewish press was established at Rustchuk in1894; and two Judæo-Spanish papers, "La Alborada" and "El Amigo," have been published there for some time.
In 1904 the Jews of Rustchuk numbered 4 030 in a total population of 48 000. They are chiefly engaged in commerce and banking.
Another reference, from 1913, gave the Jewish popupation at 4 000, for a total of 33 632.
Excerpts from "The Jewish Community In Rousse" by Teodora Bakardjieva:
Whilst Jews in Rouschouk spoke Judeo-Spanish in their everyday contacts, all documentation of the commune was written in Hebrew.
At the end of the XVIIIth and begining of the XIXth century, the Jews settled permanently in Rousse. Good conditions of life and economic activity in the town caused the rapid increase of the Jewish community. Thirty-two Jewish families settled in Rousse until 1842. According to the register of the Jewish commune, Jewish households in 1852 was already 214. These data totally overlaps with the first official census results in Tuna Vilayet which show that the number of Jews living in Rouschouk amounted to 956 people.
The War of 1877/78 had no disastrous effect on the Jewish community in Rousse. Although a number of Jews left the town during the warfare, they came back to their homes soon after the war ended. The first national census in the Principality of Bulgaria points that the number of Jews living in Rousse then was 1943 people. In the years to follow, demographic indicators show a steady growth of Jewish population. The peak was reached in 1910 when there were 3 854 Jews permanently resident in Rousse. A lot of Jewish factories and firms were set up, most of them engaged in the manufacture of clothes, hats, explosives, cellulose, paper, polish, dyes and glues. No less successful was Jewish participation in metalworking, woodworking, cabinet making, the production of sugar and sugar products. A Jewish Popular Bank was set up and contacts of Jewish merchants went beyond the limits of the Balkan market.
References - Further Information
- THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN ROUSSE
- RUSTCHUK, in Jewishencyclopedia.com
- Russe Weddings, from sephardicgen.com