Jewish community leaders
Throughout the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries the Petersburg Jewish community was led by the Gunzburg family. The Gunzburgs headed the Synagogue Board as well as the most important charitable and other communal institutions. After the death of David Gunzburg, the Synagogue Maintenance Board was chaired by Mark Abramovich Varshavsky, the director of the boards of a number of companies and partnerships, a member of the board of the Russian-English Bank, Chairman of the Joint Stock Company for Inexpensive Apartments for the Jewish Population, and Chairman of the JCS Central Committee. The board included Jewish businessmen who were not only connected to banks, joint stock and insurance companies, but also well-known for their social and charitable activity.
Besides financiers and businessmen, the synagogue board in the 20th century also included representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia, such as attorneys Sliozberg and Mandel, while prominent scholars (though not wealthy) Garkavy and Markon served as synagogue wardens. The boards of district prayer places were composed of less rich and educated people. While the Peski district prayer place board was headed by attorney Alshits, its other members were wholesalers and industrialists. The boards of the Moskovsky and Semenovsky district prayer places consisted of contractors, lumber dealers, traders, and shop owners.
The synagogue board leaders simultaneously headed traditional Jewish organizations. Thus, the chairman of the Society for Relief of Poor Jews and his deputy were members of the Synagogue Maintenance Board (Mandel and Baron A. Gunzburg). However, if in the 19th - early 20th centuries the leadership of the St. Petersburg Jewish community was synonymous with the Synagogue Board, new informal Jewish leaders connected with scientific, educational and charitable societies and political associations emerged later. Among these informal community leaders were ORT and OPE chairman Galpern, chairman of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society, and member of the Central Committee of the Constitutional Democrats' Party, Vinaver.
Women - wives and daughters of the most well-off and socially active community members - played a leading role in certain Jewish charitable institutions. It is noteworthy that very few names of Synagogue Board members are encountered among trustees of the 1st and 2nd Jewish people's canteens, while the 2nd canteen board included members of the Peski district prayer place board, among them a number of prominent Jewish lawyers, physicians, and educators. Baroness M. Gunzburg played an important role in the trusteeship of Jewish orphanages. Other members of the Gunzburg family also took part in charities.
The St. Petersburg Jewish community experienced no acute conflicts between Chasidism and Mitnagdim, Orthodox and reform, only a greater or lesser orthodoxy on the part of the board.
The growing influence of emancipated Russian-speaking Jews in community leadership generated differences between orthodox and reform-minded community members. The less orthodox wing of the board was headed by Sliozberg. However, the majority of community leaders under the guidance of Horace Gunzburg insisted in 1908 on electing D.-T. Katzenelenbogen of Suvalki - a man known not only for his great scholarship and piety, but also for steadfast orthodoxy - as the spiritual rabbi. In 1912 the emancipated part of St. Petersburg elected as the public rabbi a member of many cultural societies, Doctor of philosophy Aizenshtadt, who preached in Russian and took an active part in educational work. The Chasidic community of Petersburg was headed by merchant and factory-owner Shmuel Trainin.
Interior of the Big Choral Synagogue