The Jews of Tetiev

(L to R) Sam Spike and his cousin, Ben Zake. The Spike family took in Ben’s father, Yone Zake, when he immigrated to Cleveland from Tetiev, Russia in 1910. The Spikes lived at 2740 Orange Ave., near where the downtown Cleveland Post Office is now located.

When Jacob Zaiko climbed aboard the RMS Empress of France ocean liner May 30, 1922 in Hamburg he was fleeing the hardship and terror experienced by many of the Jews of Tetiev, Russia.

Two years earlier in April, many of the 1400 Jewish families in the village, located about 100 kilometers southwest of Kiev, were slaughtered by a roaming group of bandits who killed any Jews they met and set fire to their houses. Some of the local peasants joined in with the bandits, burning the synagogue and killing hundreds of Jews trapped inside, including the local rabbi. Anyone who escaped the building was shot. It was one of the worst massacres of Jews prior to the Holocaust; the Jewish merchant district was destroyed and estimates of those killed went as high as 2600 men, women and children.

For years, he was separated from his father, Yone, and brother, Ben, who immigrated to Cleveland in 1908 and 1913. He survived the Russian Revolution, World War I, the Ukrainian Civil War and witnessed the murder of his mother, Bassia and sister, Dina at some unknown date after 1910.

The Zakes are one of the many families from Tetiev, now part of Ukraine, who settled in Cleveland in the early 1900s. They were and are known as “Tetiever Jews” and became part of the strong Jewish community that established itself in the city.

Yone, my husband’s great grandfather, came to Cleveland and initially lived with his wife’s cousins, the Spikes, on Orange Ave. downtown, near the old Central Market where today’s Progressive Field sits. Ben, my husband’s grandfather, used a horse-drawn cart and worked as a peddler in the Kinsman neighborhood and raised two children, Harry and Betty, with his wife Esther. Both stayed in Cleveland. Jake worked as a painter and was active in the Jewish Painters and Carpenters Union, but struggled with alcoholism until the last years of his life — his son Donald, a retired Air Force pilot, settled in Texas, where he and his wife Joanne raised five daughters.

Like Tevye and his family from “Fiddler on the Roof,” these Jews of Tetiev came to America for a chance to live and thrive in a brave new world free of violence and filled with opportunity.

This is their story.

— Susan Kirkman Zake

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