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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

JEWS & JUDAISM - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

JEWS & JUDAISM. Jewish immigration to Cleveland, as elsewhere in America, can be divided into 2 distinct, overlapping periods. The German era (1837-1900) witnessed the settlement of Jewish GERMANS; the principal years of immigration ran to ca. 1875. In the East European era (1870-1924), Cleveland Jews increased from 3,500 in 1880 to approx. 85,000 in 1925, as Jewish RUSSIANS, POLES, Galicians, and ROMANIANS settled in the city. The social and cultural character of the two groups differed markedly, and through the mid-1930s they most often developed parallel and separate institutions and communities. The first Jews to make their home in Cleveland arrived in 1839 from Unsleben, Bavaria; among them was SIMSON THORMAN†, whose son Samuel was the first Jewish child born in the city. By 1840 there were 20 families and probably 20 single males residing in the city. The nascent community settled near the CENTRAL MARKET, generally east of the river, where it built its first institutions. In 1839 the Israelitic Society of Cleveland was established, which soon evolved into ANSHE CHESED (later called Fairmount Temple). The congregation erected a synagogue in 1846 on Eagle St. across from the market. Four years later, following a doctrinal dispute, a second congregation formed, TIFERETH ISRAEL. The occupational background of the immigrants was in the petty trades and artisan pools of Central Europe. The Jews who settled in Cleveland were primarily shopkeepers and peddlers, although a few were skilled craftsmen. Peddling was a common avenue for entrance into a more stable commercial pursuit. By the 1870s the community had grown and businesses expanded: young or newly arrived Jews no longer peddled goods, but received their business training as clerks or bookkeepers in the firms of relatives or landsmen. Jewish businessmen were involved in retail and wholesale dry goods, hides and furs, and grocery and clothing establishments, and, to a lesser degree, as commission merchants, shippers, and bankers. Still others, upon accumulating sufficient capital, became interested in manufacturing, especially clothing and textiles. By 1900 Cleveland's largely Jewish-owned GARMENT INDUSTRY was among the most important in America.

As this community's population increased and gained greater wealth, Jews moved eastward along Woodland and Central. By 1875 many Jews already lived east of Perry St. (E. 22nd), with several residing in the fashionable neighborhoods around Case Ave. (E. 40th). During the 1890s, Willson Ave (E. 55th) became the center of the German Jewish population and its array of new organizations and institutions. While small cultural societies such as the Young Men's Hebrew Literary Society and the ZION MUSICAL SOCIETY (1861-73) were short-lived,, fraternal organizations such as B'NAI B'RITH (1853) and clubs such as EXCELSIOR (1872) and the Hungarian Benevolent & Social Union endured. In 1864 B'nai B'rith District Lodges Nos. 2 and 6 chose Cleveland as the site for an orphan asylum to serve 16 states. Dedicated in 1868, the Jewish Orphan Asylum was located at E. 51st and Woodland, presaging the community's move there. In 1882 the Order Kesher Shel Barzel established the Kesher Home for the Aged. Both agencies evolved into important service institutions, BELLEFAIRE and the MONTEFIORE HOME, respectively, and eventually came completely under Cleveland Jewish community auspices.

The most important institutions for 19th-century Cleveland Jewry remained congregations Anshe Chesed and Tifereth Israel for the Germans, and to a lesser extent, B'NAI JESHURUN for the Jewish HUNGARIANS. As the temples grew and members moved eastward, each erected new synagogues. In 1926 B'nai Jeshurun dedicated its Temple on the Heights, the first established Jewish congregation to move to CLEVELAND HEIGHTS Changes in appearance and ritual were also effected during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To minimize the differences between themselves and their non-Jewish neighbors, German Jews introduced family pews, organs and choirs, removed hats and prayer shawls, and hired rabbis who could preach in English on secular subjects.

In the 1870s Reform Judaism began adopting a liberal theological view that was embraced almost immediately by Tifereth Israel, and somewhat later by Anshe Chesed. The former adopted a Reform prayerbook in 1866, and in 1873 joined the newly established Reform umbrella organization, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Under the direction of Rabbi MOSES J. GRIES†, Tifereth Israel departed radically from traditional Judaism, and even from the mainstream of the Reform movement. During his tenure the Temple, as it was popularly called, adopted the Union Prayer Book, eliminated Hebrew from the Sunday school curriculum and from religious services, substituted an English translation of the Torah to be placed in the synagogue's Ark, and changed Sabbath services from Saturday to Sunday. Less radical, Anshe Chesed embraced what became known as Classical Reform during the rabbinate of LOUIS WOLSEY† (1907-25).

When East European Jews fled the pogroms, restrictive social legislation, and economic dislocation of Eastern Europe and emigrated to America, they often discovered an affluent, entrenched German Jewish community that in most cases had more in common with its Protestant neighbors than with its newly arrived co-religionists. In Cleveland, the differences between the two groups embarrassed the German Jewish leadership and enraged the new immigrants. A handful of East European Jews lived in, Cleveland as early as the late 1850s, and by 1880 there were 4 or 5 Orthodox congregations. They were joined by thousands who immigrated to Cleveland, especially during the peak years, 1904-14. The new immigrants settled in the areas that had been abandoned by the German and Hungarian Jews, and in the 1880s and 1890s resided side-by-side with other non-Jewish immigrants, particularly ITALIANS around Berg St., and Hungarians and CZECHS along lower Broadway. Like their German predecessors, the early East European Jews soon moved out of the Central Market area.

German Jews made several attempts to address immigrant charitable needs in the 1880s and 1890s, but with limited success. The most important such agency was the Hebrew Relief Society (est. 1875), which provided case-by-case aid. German Jewish aid combined self-interest, humane concern for fellow Jews, and paternalism. Seeing the foreignness of the East Europeans as a threat to their social standing, German Jews attempted to Americanize the new immigrants. To this end, the local NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN (NCJW), CLEVELAND SECTION created the Council Educational Alliance in 1899. The council offered a variety of classes designed to help the immigrants' transition to an American way of life and served as the meeting place for the plethora of East European clubs and societies. Among the most important immigrant organizations were the social/benevolent societies, usually formed as landsmanshaften, groups of Jews from a common locale who banded together for social reasons and to aid and comfort members and assist newly arrived landsman in obtaining work. In addition to these functions, several landsmanshaften formed the nuclei for immigrant ethnic congregations, such as Anshe Grodno and TETIEVER AHAVATH ACHIM ANSHE SFARD.

Between 1895-1920 at least 25 Orthodox congregations were established in Cleveland. However, none approached the importance of the older ANSHE EMETH (PARK SYNAGOGUE). Before 1904, the Orthodox community had no rabbinical leader, although Rabbi BENJAMIN GITTELSOHN† was internally important for his scholarship and spiritual guidance. Rabbi SAMUEL MARGOLIES†, who came to the city in 1904, became the most influential Orthodox Jewish leader during the first quarter of the 20th century. His preeminence was based on his traditional Judaism, his appeal to Zionists, and his belief that Jews needed to Americanize as quickly as possible. The latter view led to the creation nationally of an American form of traditional Judaism--Conservative Judaism--that was embraced by Anshe Emeth in the 1920s and by B'nai Jeshurun somewhat earlier. Those two congregations by the mid-1920s ranked 3rd and 4th in membership behind the two Reform temples. None of the Orthodox congregations, which were primarily ethnic or landsmen shuls, could approximate the size of these 4 until after World War, II.

East European Jewish immigrants, like the Germans, tended to enter mercantile occupations when possible. However, the opportunities available in the wide-open economy of the 19th century did not exist for the early 20th century immigrants. Over 15% of the East European Jews were engaged as peddlers or hucksters during the century's first decades, while 25-33% operated small stores or worked as clerks in Jewish-owned establishments. The single most striking occupational difference between East European and German Jews was that 40-50% of the former worked in the skilled and semiskilled trades, especially as cigarmakers and in the building and needle trades. Fully 20% of the employed Jews in Woodland were found in the clothing industry, generally with large Jewish manufacturing firms such as JOSEPH & FEISS CO., PRINTZ-BIEDERMAN CO., and D. Black & Co. Despite the lack of opportunity to accumulate wealth on the same scale as the German Jews, the East Europeans did attain enough money to move to newer and more commodious areas. At the turn of the century, Lower Woodland was dilapidated, unsanitary, and unsafe. Most Jews had moved to the area around E. 35th St., and a decade later the center of the community had again pushed toward E. 55th St.

The Woodland district supported a vibrant Jewish culture from the late 1890s through 1915. Yiddish and Hebrew literary societies and debating societies abounded, the Yiddish theater flourished at the Perry and then the People's theaters, and in 1908 Samuel Rocker founded the Yiddishe Tegliche Presse, followed by his Die YIDDISHE VELT (1911-58). However, the community lacked the size and insulation of others, such as New York's Lower East Side; Woodland's Yiddish life could not survive amid the pull and lure of Americanization or the migration outward. One Americanizing influence was public EDUCATION, which Jews supported almost without concession. Yet Jewish education was recognized as the only way to ensure that children did not stray from Judaism. During the first half of the 20th century, the afternoon Hebrew school was the preferred local form of Jewish education. In 1883 the East European immigrants founded a Talmud Torah (later the CLEVELAND HEBREW SCHOOLS) that offered traditional Jewish education in the cheder style (emphasizing religious study and originally using Yiddish only except for Hebrew and Aramaic texts). After 1904 Rabbi Margolies, Joshua Flock, and Aaron Garber emphasized Hebrew and Jewish nationalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, Talmud Torah director ABRAHAM H. FRIEDLAND† infused it with an even more pronounced Hebraist and Zionist philosophy. In 1924 the BUREAU OF JEWISH EDUCATION was created, with Friedland as director, to coordinate resources and provide direction.

The vast charitable and philanthropic need coupled with the, competition for monies led the German Jewish leadership in 1903 to establish the Federation of Jewish Charities. This umbrella organization raised and disbursed funds to its beneficiary agencies, freeing them to concentrate on service. Initial recipients were the MONTEFIORE HOME, the Jewish Orphan Home, the Council of Jewish Women, Infant Orphan Mothers Society, Hebrew Relief Society, Mt. Sinai Hospital (later MT. SINAI MEDICAL CENTER), Council Educational Alliance, and Denver Consumptives Hospital. None of these were immigrant charities, reflecting federation policy of funding only "mature" organizations. This angered the East European Jewish leadership and led to the creation of 2 organizations that hoped to represent the entire community. The UNION OF JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS (1906-09) experienced some success in ridding the public school system of some anti-Semitic practices. However, the lack of adequate financial support and opposition from the federation and the Reform congregations ensured its demise. In 1913 the shorter-lived Cleveland KEHILLAH was created by the former union leadership, but it suffered the same fate. Other immigrant institutions that paralleled those of the German Jews were longer-lived. The Orthodox Old Home, established in 1906 in reaction to the Montefiore Home's refusal to maintain a kosher kitchen, has evolved into one of the largest and most advanced Jewish homes for the aged in the U.S., MENORAH PARK CENTER FOR THE AGING. And the Orthodox Orphan Home, created in 1920, ran a small but successful independent program until 1959, when it merged with the JEWISH CHILDREN'S BUREAU and later moved to Bellefaire.

The most divisive Jewish issue was Zionism. Small Zionist societies existed in Cleveland as early as 1897, but it was after the turn of the century, with increased immigration, that Zionism became the central force in the East European Jewish community. Zionist organizations proliferated in the early 1900s, from the Orthodox Mizrachi to the socialist Poale Zion and Farband. Rabbi Margolies, a well-known Zionist when he arrived in Cleveland, Rabbi Nachman Ebin, and ABRAHAM KOLINSKY† were among the principal leaders of Cleveland Zionism during the first 2 decades of the 20th century. Reform rabbis Gries and Wolsey opposed Zionism as separatist and as contradicting Reform ideology. However, in the 1920s Reform congregations came under the leadership of Rabbis ABBA HILLEL SILVER† (the Temple) and BARNETT ROBERT BRICKNER† (Anshe Chesed). Both rabbis were raised in the East European and Zionist milieu of the Lower East Side of New York, and both attained national and international stature in the Zionist movement.

Cleveland Jews began to desert Woodland and move eastward to GLENVILLE (28.5% by 1922) and to the Mt., Pleasant/Kinsman district (14% by 1922). By 1926 the Jewish population of Woodland decreased from 35,000 to 17,000, and 3 years later, to 1,400. The migrations had a slight class character. The Jews who moved to Glenville appear to have been the emerging European Jewish middle class, while the Jews of Mt. Pleasant/Kinsman have been characterized as proletarian, heavily concentrated in the trades. Many Jewish unions and Jewish socialist groups, most notably the WORKMEN'S CIRCLE, relocated in Kinsman.

Glenville was far more densely populated than Woodland. Its main thoroughfares were lined with small shops, kosher butchers, and delicatessens. Mt. Sinai Hospital was the first major social-service institution to relocate to Glenville (1916), followed by the Jewish Orthodox Old Home (1921). During the same year, Anshe Emeth moved to Glenville and dedicated the Jewish Center, the first such center west of the Alleghenies. By the early 1920s this Conservative congregation was the area's most important social and recreational institution, the focal point of intellectual ferment and Zionist activity. Just as Woodland served as the birthplace of several German Jewish fortunes, Glenville provided a similar setting for some East European Jews, such as LEONARD RATNER† (FOREST CITY ENTERPRISES, INC.) and Julie Kravitz (the Pick-N-Pay food chain).

Kinsman was almost twice the geographic size of Glenville but held only about half as many Jews. Its John Adams High School was never more than 25% Jewish, compared to Glenville High School, which ran as high as 90%. The Jews who moved out of Woodland to Kinsman in the early 1920s settled between E. 118th and E. 123rd streets. By the early 1930s, the center of the population was between E. 135th and 147th, on the streets adjacent to Kinsman Ave. The Jews of Kinsman were relative newcomers to the city, as reflected in the development of the area's congregations. Many Kinsman synagogues had existed for only a few years before moving from Woodland, and even more were established in Kinsman initially. Neveh Zedek on Union (est. 1920) was the largest area congregation, and the KINSMAN JEWISH CENTER (1930, synagogue dedicated in 1933) was smaller but of equal importance. Two other important institutions were the Council Educational Alliance and the Workmen's Circle. The alliance, originally at E. 118th St., moved to E. 135th St. and Kinsman in 1928, across from the Carpenters Auditorium, which offered social activities. Workmen's Hall, erected by Workmen's Circle in 1927 at E. 147th and Kinsman, became the center of socialist and fraternal activity in the neighborhood as well as for the preservation of Yiddish culture, with lectures, entertainment, and a day school.

A small number of Jews lived on Cleveland's west side before the turn of the century. By 1910 there were enough to form a congregation, B'nai Israel, known as the West Side Jewish Center in the, 1940s. Most of the west-side Jews owned small shops during this period. In 1954 a group of Jews formed Beth Israel, a Reform congregation which merged with the West Side Jewish Center 3 years later to form BETH ISRAEL-WEST TEMPLE. Several members of Beth Israel formed the CLEVELAND COUNCIL ON SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM (1963) to conduct activities on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

The Federation of Jewish Charities changed its name to the Jewish Welfare Federation in 1926. It implemented recommendations of a 1923 community study and admitted several immigrant institutions to constituent status in a move to patch up differences with East European Jews. A reorganization in 1930 created the Jewish Welfare Fund, and the Jewish Community Council was established in 1935. The former provided a more directed and systematic approach to community fundraising, and the latter addressed demands for democratization of community leadership. The council mediated internal community disputes, monitored anti-Semitism, and acted as the Jewish representative body to the general public. In 1951 the council merged with the Jewish Welfare Federation to form the JEWISH COMMUNITY FEDERATION, the community's fundraising and policy arm.

Following World War II, the Jewish community began to push into the Heights and eastern suburbs. A small number of Jews settled in the Heights during the first decade of the 20th century. In 1905 wealthy German Jews established the OAKWOOD CLUB near Mayfield and Taylor roads. A few Orthodox Jews founded the Heights Orthodox Congregation (later the HEIGHTS JEWISH CENTER) in 1923, and B'nai Jeshurun dedicated the Temple on the Heights on Mayfield in 1925. Due to hostility from non-Jews, new residents often fought court battles to set aside restrictive covenants and to secure building rights for Jewish institutions, particularly in SHAKER HEIGHTS, BEACHWOOD, and PEPPER PIKE. The fear that exposure to American culture and the lack of intensive Jewish education would estrange 2nd- and 3rd-generation Jews from traditional Judaism was well-founded. Although congregations often boasted large memberships in the 1930s and 1940s, synagogues were all but empty on the Sabbath; few Jews took an active interest. Orthodox congregations, despite the dynamic and scholarly leadership of rabbis such as ISRAEL PORATH† and DAVID GENUTH†, were losing their hold on the children of members. However, following World War II Orthodoxy in Cleveland, as in America generally, experienced a resurgence that continued into the 1980s. In part, increased membership and activity resulted from societal alienation and a search for personal identity. In Cleveland, the Young Israel, Chabad Lubavitch, and the religiously tinged Betar Youth appealed to young Jews on dual religious, and Zionist planes. Other factors--the proliferation of Orthodox day schools such as the HEBREW ACADEMY, the consolidation of congregations, and wealthy Orthodox philanthropists who freely supported religious causes--contributed to the increasing strength of the movement.

The postwar migration introduced an era of consolidation, especially among Orthodox congregations. The cost of relocating was more than small congregations could afford. The Jewish Community Federation effected mergers within the Orthodox community to increase memberships and treasuries, resulting in the creation of the TAYLOR ROAD SYNAGOGUE and WARRENSVILLE CENTER SYNAGOGUE, and the Heights Jewish Center. The area between Coventry Rd. and South Green Rd. in Cleveland Hts. became the heart of the Jewish community in the 1950s. Taylor Rd., the focal point by the late 1950s and early 1960s, witnessed the greatest concentration of Jewish institutions in the community's history: the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER, PARK SYNAGOGUE, Montefiore Home, Council Gardens, Taylor Rd. Synagogue, Bureau of Jewish Education, Hebrew Academy, JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE ASSN., and a host of smaller synagogues and institutions. Yet Jews continued to move eastward, populating Beachwood, Pepper Pike, and even HUNTING VALLEY. Estimating conservatively that another wholesale move of institutions would cost the community $100 million, in 1969 the federation extracted promises from all major Jewish institutions to remain in the Heights. Only the Temple on the Heights, which had already purchased land near Brainard Rd., failed to agree. The federation established the HEIGHTS AREA PROJECT to encourage Jews to remain in the Heights and worked with community organizations, the police, and local government to ensure that the Heights remain socially, residentially, and politically stable. The federation also built new offices at E. 18th St. and Euclid Ave. in 1965 to symbolize its commitment to the welfare of the inner city.

The Reform movement also experienced a surge following World War II. In 1948 TEMPLE EMANU EL was created with the assistance of Anshe Chesed, the Temple, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to reach out to the unaffiliated. Under the direction of Rabbi Alan S. Green, the concept was immediately successful, and Emanu El in the 1980s was a large and growing congregation. Soon after its founding, a group of Jews who were dissatisfied with Reform's return to Hebrew education and support of Zionism formed Suburban Temple, along ideological lines common to late 19th and early 20th century Reform. Reform, nationally in the 1970s and 1980s, established an aggressive outreach program to unaffiliated intermarried Jews. Many of its tenets, particularly recent decisions on issues such as patrilineal descent as a, determinant of whether one is Jewish, have brought Reform into direct and bitter conflict with the Orthodox. The deep divisions remain evident in the Cleveland Jewish community, yet the Jewish Community Fed., per capita the most successful in the U.S., enjoyed unprecedented financial support from the Orthodox. Despite religious divisions, in the 1980s the Cleveland Jewish community was probably better organized and more united than at any previous time.

Scott Cline

Seattle Municipal Archives

Gartner, Lloyd P. History of the Jews of Cleveland (1978).

Pike, Kermit J., ed. A Guide to Jewish History Sources in the History Library of the Western Reserve Historical Society (1983).

Vincent, Sidney Z., and Judah Rubinstein. Merging Traditions: Jewish Life in Cleveland (1978).

See also RELIGION.


Last Modified: 01 Jul 2008 12:00:00 AM

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