Some did not have enough money to feed their families. Jewish intelligentsia included doctors, lawyers, and pharmacists. Most of the doctors were Jews, which included Marshov, Shapiro, Zimeev, and Apperbaum. The lawyers were Khrahovsky and Lazarov. Lazarov had been an honor student and completed Odessa University. Some Jews were considered to be Burghers, which was the term used to signify town inhabitants, middle class, or prosperous citizens.
In the beginning of the 1900’s, Konotop had four Heders for the boys and one synagogue. Baransky, Slobodkin, Kalmanov, and Hazanov owned these schools. Three other schools were designated as Talmud-Torah or Yeshivot for teenage boys. The melameds (teachers) were Zalman Evselev Fainickly, Leiba Evselev Komisarov, and Kusiel Evdeev Zavadsky. These teachers held certificates from the Jewish School’s Committee of Nezhin.viii Religious lessons continued from morning until evening prayers.
Donna Goldberg taught twenty-five girls in another school. She was a primary elementary teacher and was certified for teaching Jewish children by the Teacher’s Council of Konotop, 2-Class town’s College. The Talmud-Torah school in Konotop, which trained fifty boys, was under the supervision of the Kahal system. The melameds were Moishe Leibow Kozlovsky, who had a certificate from Nezhin’s Jewish College Commission; and Izrail Aron Goldenfarb, who had a certificate of Elementary Private Teacher from the School Board of Nezhin.
Konotop was a relatively peaceful Jewish community during the 19th century. Only occasionally was there an incident in which local non-Jewish boys would enter Heder or the synagogue to disrupt the prayers and classes with shouting and commotion. Fights between the Ukrainian and Jewish boys did occur, but the Jewish youths could defend themselves.
Higher education was not accessible to the majority of Jews. Usually they worked in the factories that were owned by other Jews. Jews were specifically restricted from working in factories owned by non-Jews or in government services. Only affluent people could afford to send their children for further study abroad. Except in rare circumstances Russian universities were closed to Jews. However, if a Jew graduated from a Russian institute or university, he was freed from the national laws that had restricted Jews and limited where they could live or which occupations they could pursue. Honor graduates could travel outside the Pale of Settlement.
Merchants of the First Rank having served more than five years, private teachers, special craftsmen, and highly skilled technicians could travel outside the Pale. Short-term privileges required a special permit issued by the local police or the governor. Jews could not own land or permanent structures and were denied servants. All of those rules changed after the Revolution in 1917 and formation of the Soviet Union.
After the Revolution, Jewish workers were caught in a social dilemma. Strikes against factory owners were organized, but the Jewish workers wanted stability in their factories. They needed mutual aid during hostile times.
There was charity in business. If a merchant were going bankrupt, his colleagues and competitors alike would gather money to pay off the merchant’s debts. There was no expectation of repayment of the charitable loan. That practice was called dmilaskhesed. The loan was always repaid if the economic situation normalized.
Charity was extended to the beggars, but was given in such a way as to id any personal humiliation. Often such people had physical or psychological handicaps. There may have been twenty beggars in Konotop at any one time, but none of them asked for alms. Instead each rich household had a special day to provide help. Housekeepers placed a dish in the kitchen near the doorway with three to five kopecks. The visitor entered quietly to take the coins. In those days three kopecks could buy a French roll at the bakery.
In times of severe famine, Konotop received hungry peasants from neighboring towns. Some immigrants had Jewish names and were taken in by the Jewish community. Each person was given one echelon of grain.