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Jacob De La Motta

Jacob De La Motta (1789-1845), physician, born in Savannah, Georgia, USA, who received his degree in medicine from University of Pennsylvania in 1810. At first De la Motta practiced at Charleston, South Carolina, until the outbreak of the Anglo-American war in 1812, when he volunteered to join the American forces. He served as a surgeon. After the war he practiced in New York City, USA, and became one of the leaders of the medical, scientific, cultural and Jewish life of the city.

In 1818 he returned to Savannah, where he engaged in research into yellow fever and became active in politics. Five years later in 1823 he again returned to Charleston and became a well known and popular physician there. For ten years he was secretary of the Medical Society of South Carolina, then a trustee of the State Medical College and assistant commissioner of health. He established a large pharmacy in the town. De la Motta ran for Congress but lost. President Harrison, however, whom he had supported, appointed him to be receiver general of South Carolina in 1841. In 1844 he was elected grand commander of the supreme council of the Masonic Lodge to which he was affiliated.

An Orthodox Jew, he was strongly opposed to the reform tendencies of the Bet Elohim Synagogue in Charleston and gave his support to a break-away congregation in the town, Shearit Israel, of which he became the first president.

Date of birth:
1789
Date of death:
1845
Place of birth:
Savannah, GA
Personality type:
Community Leaders
,
Physician
ID Number:
119344
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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New York City

The largest urban Jewish community in history; metropolitan area population 11,448,480 (1970), metropolitan area Jewish population 2,381,000 (1968), of which 1,836,000 live in the city itself.

The New York Jewish settlement began in 1654 with the arrival of 23 Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews from Recife, Brazil (a Dutch possession) who were defending the city from Portuguese attack. The director general of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, did not welcome the Jews. They protested to their coreligionists in the Dutch West India company and privileges were granted them. However, they were not allowed to build a synagogue.

The surrender of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664 brought a number of changes to the Jewish settlement.

Generally, civil and religious rights were widened, Jews were permitted to hold and be elected to public office, and restrictions on the building of a synagogue were lifted.

"Shearit Israel", the first congregation in New York, was probably organized in 1706. Between 1729 and 1730, the congregation erected the first synagogue. During this period, the Jewish merchant took a major interest in the business of overseas trade. Jews were the first to introduce cocoa and chocolate to England and were heavily engaged in the coral, textile, and slave trades, and at times had virtual monopolies in the ginger trade.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews represented between 1% and 2% of the total New York City population and in 1701, it is estimated that Jews comprised 12% of all businessmen who engaged in foreign trade.

The advent of the American revolution found the Jewish community divided. Some were supporters of the American cause, while others supported the British. The end of the revolution brought many distinct changes. Civil liberties, which were often a matter of governmental whim under the English, became part of the New York State constitution. Opportunities were expanded and new fields opened. One of the distinctive changes in post-war New York was Jewish involvement in the political life of the community, perhaps best seen in the career of Mordecai Manuel Noah, who was High Sheriff of New York in 1821.

The period after the revolutionary war also saw the proliferation of congregational organizations and divisions within the Jewish community as well as mutual aid societies and Landsmannshaften. There were also numerous fraternal orders founded, the most important being the independent order B'nai B'rith, founded in 1843. In 1852, "Jews' hospital" was founded, which later became known as Mount Sinai.

Beginning in the 1870's and continuing for half a century, great migration from Eastern Europe radically altered the demography, social structure, cultural life, and communal order of New York Jewry. During this period, more than 1,000,000 Jews settled in the city. They were overwhelmingly Yiddish speaking and impoverished. On their arrival, East European Jews found a Jewish settlement dominated by a group strikingly different in its cultural background, social standing, and communal outlook. By the 1870's, this older settlement had become middle class in outlook, mercantile in its economic base, and reform in group identity. In 1870, the less affluent and those whose occupations required it lived in the Southern Ward of the Lower East Side, while the German Jews moved half way up the East Side of Manhattan. The relocation of synagogues and the establishment of other Jewish institutions underscored this process of removal and social differentiation, thus dividing the Jewish populace into "uptown" and "downtown" Jews.

In the decade after the civil war, fathers and sons entered the dry-goods business and transformed their establishments Bloomingdale's, Altman's, Macy's, Stern's, Gimbel's, and Abraham and Strauss. A significant number of German Jews entered the field of investment banking. They also played a central role as entrepreneurs in the city's growing ready-made clothing industry. In 1888, of 241 such clothing manufacturers, 234 were Jewish. The immigrant Jews entered the apparel trade in great numbers because it was close at hand, required little training, and allowed the congeniality of working with one's own kind.

During the 1901-1909 period, the groundwork was laid for the emergence of an aggressive, responsible, and progressive Jewish labor movement. The socialist newspaper, "Forward", was developing into the most widely read Yiddish daily and became a major educational medium for the Jewish working class. The "uprising of the 20,000" - a strike of the waistmakers, mostly young women - in the fall of 1909, was followed by the "great revolt" of the cloakmakers a half year later. These strikes increased the numbers and stability of the international ladies garment workers' union (I.L.G.W.U.).

During the last third of the 19th century, the established community built - in addition to imposing temples - a number of large and progressive philanthropic institutions.

Two developments of major significance for the future course of orthodoxy in New York took place between 1910 and movement and in the year 1915 Yeshivat Etz Chaim and the Rabbi Elchanan theological seminary united.

The sharp rise in immigration after 1903 underscored the need for more rational use of the resources and communal wealth which the community possessed. Some downtown leaders recognized the ineffectualness of their own institutions.

In both sectors of the community, the alienation of the younger generation from Judaism and Jewish life was viewed with alarm. These concerns led to the development of the short-lived New York Kehillah, an attempt to create a united community structure. The immediate catalyst was the accusation of the New York police commissioner in 1908 that 50% of the criminals in the city were Jews. Led by Judah Magnus, a coalition of representative leaders established the Kehillah as a federation of Jewish organizations in 1909. Magnus served as chairman until its demise in 1922. The establishment in 1917 of the federation for the support of Jewish philanthropies proved more lasting than the Kehillah.

The Yiddish speaking masses who settled in New York created a rich and varied cultural life. Between 1872 and 1917, 150 journals in Yiddish appeared. The Yiddish theater reinforced the press.

During the 1920's, the New York Jewish unions entered areas of activity never previously known to U.S. trade unions. They conducted large scale adult education, health clinics, a bank, summer resorts, built modern urban housing, and generously subsidized struggling trade unions.

Jews constituted 51% of enrollment in the city's academic high schools in 1931, and 49.6% of the city's college and university students in 1935. Also by the 1930's, over half the city's doctors, lawyers, dentists, and public school teachers were Jews.

As the largest single ethnic group, Jews were a highly important factor in the political life of the city. In no other city could Jews as a group weigh so heavily in politics or were real or alleged Jewish political interest reckoned with so carefully.

In 1967, there were 539 orthodox, 184 conservative, 93 reform, and five unclassified synagogues known in Greater New York; all but 163 of the total were within the city's boundaries. Actual synagogue affiliation tended to be low, however. The city's conservative congregations leaned close to orthodoxy in which most of their members and leaders, at least before 1950, had been raised. The Jewish Theological Seminary is the focal institution of the conservatives and exercised broad spiritual influence in the Jewish and general community. Jewish education in New York followed nationwide trends in the slow disappearance of the Cheder, the rise and decline of the communal Talmud Torahs, and Yiddish schools in the period from 1915 to 1950.

The city of New York is home to the largest Jewish population in the entire United States. Behind the central districts of Israel, New York City has the highest number of Jews in any metropolitan area in the world. By 2013 there was approximately 1.5 – 1.7 million Jews living throughout New York City, accounting for nearly 18% of the city’s total population (8.3 million).

Serving the Jewish people of New York City are several organizations. Many of these focus on Jewish religious practice, healthcare, education and family services. Throughout the city’s five boroughs are many foundations which support local communities and advocate for Jewish and Israeli causes. Some of the major organizations include UJA Federation of New York, The Jewish Communal Fund, The World Jewish Congress, The American Jewish Congress, AJC (Global Jewish Advocacy), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and COJECO, the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations. There are additionally many local organizations that specialize in the needs of their respective communities, such as the Bensonhurst Council of Jewish Organizations, which is the oldest in New York City, the Bronx Jewish Community Council, the Crown Heights Community Council, the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, and the Boro Park Community council.

Found across New York City are hundreds of synagogues, representing nearly every movement within Judaism. While the majority of these are in permanent buildings, some are held in temporary places. Many of these are not found in directories. There is an estimated 50 Orthodox synagogues, 8 Conservative, 17 Reform, 2 Reconstructionist and 5-7 which are unaffiliated with any particular movement. Among the wide range of Jewish educational services, are more than 350 private Jewish day schools which serve over 140,000 students. These include 191 high schools, 247 elementary schools and 159 preschools. Outside of school are many programs for Jewish youth, such as the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist Youth Movement, Friends of Israel Scouts (Tzofim) and Young Judea.

New York City is well known for its numerous cultural institutions and museums. Many are internationally known and visited by thousands every year. Among those of which are culturally focused, are several Jewish museums and Holocaust memorials, such as the Anne Frank Center (USA), Bernard Museum of Judaica, and The Center for Jewish History. Other museums include the Derfner Judaica Museum, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Jewish Museum (New York), Living Torah Museum, Yeshiva University Museum and the Jewish Children’s Museum. New York City also has many Jewish cultural centers including the JCC Manhattan, YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research), the Leo Baeck Institute, the American Jewish Historical Society and the American Sephardi Federation.

Significant Jewish immigration began in the late 1800s with major waves taking place between 1881 and 1945. Additional waves of Jewish immigration began following the establishment of the State of Israel. During the 1950s and 1960s as many as 300,000 Israelis immigrated to the United States. Israeli Immigration continued throughout the 1970s and has ever since. By 2000, approximately 30,000 Israeli Jews were living in New York City. The Israeli community is well known for its entrepreneurship, having opened many startups and branches of existing Israeli businesses. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, new waves of Jewish immigrants began arriving to New York City. In the 1980s and 1990s, the city’s Jewish population was greatly augmented by the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe and the Caucasus region. These included the Georgian and Bukharian communities as well as Ashkenazi Jews from the Baltic Republics, Moldova and the Ukraine. In 2012, the more than 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union in New York City were Jewish.

Over generations, Jews have developed various communities throughout New York City creating several Jewish enclaves. Boro Park in Brooklyn for example is home to the largest Orthodox community in the world. Other notable Jewish neighborhoods include Crown Heights, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Midwood Brooklyn, Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows Queens, the Upper East and Upper West Side as well as Lower East Side in Manhattan, and the predominantly Hasidic neighborhoods of Willowbrook, New Springville, Eltingville and New Brighton.

Serving these neighborhoods as well as the rest of New York are several hospitals and health care facilities which were established by the Jewish community. In addition to Mount Sinai, one of New York’s oldest and largest hospitals, are several medical centers including Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, the Montefiore Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Maimonides Medical Center, the Sephardic Bikur Holim, Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Jewish Home Life Care, and the Hebrew Home for the aged. Found throughout these Jewish neighborhoods are many historic landmarks. In some cases, the neighborhoods themselves are the landmarks. The Lower East Side is a perfect example. Others include historic synagogues such as the Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only Romaniote (Greek) synagogue in the entire western hemisphere, or the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first Eastern European Orthodox synagogue. Another group of landmarks include famous restaurants like Katz’s Delicatessen and Streit’s Matzo Company.

Since early Jewish immigration, New York City’s Jewish leaders developed foundations to keep medical centers like communal organizations alive. A number of Jewish Federations are overseen by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Other funding and support come from organizations like the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the Jewish Communal Fund, Hadassah, Yeshiva University and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Being a community that numbers nearly 2 million, the Jews of New York City enjoy several Jewish media outlets, including radio and print news. Notable periodicals include the Jewish Week and the Jewish Post of New York. Others include the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, the Long Island Jewish World and Five Towns Jewish Times. There is even a Yiddish language newspaper known as The Jewish Daily Forward.   

Savannah, Georgia, USA

Third oldest Jewish community in North America

On July 11th, 1733, the first 41 Jews of the city arrived aboard a ship chartered by London's Sephardi synagogue. In spite of objections from London's Georgia trustees, the Jews won the legal right to settle in Savannah and own property there. These original settlers included Dr. Samuel Nunes, who helped save colonists during an epidemic of yellow fever, and his son-in-law, Abraham de Lyon, who introduced viticulture to the area, which became extremely helpful in the colonists' attempts to produce wine. Other early settlers were Abraham Minis, who became the supplier for the militia of James Edward Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, and Benjamin Sheftall, an interpreter for the German Salzburger settlers. Sheftall and his son Levi also kept the community's vital records from 1733 to 1809.

Though the early settlers had brought religious objects over from England, a community could not be established until 1735, due to conflicts between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim of the community. That year, Congregation Mickve Israel was founded, the third-oldest congregation in the United States (behind congregations in New York and Newport, Rhode Island). A mikvah (ritual bath) was opened in 1738. The synagogue still has the Torah scroll brought from London.

In 1740 the Jewish population had reached about 100, but an economic crisis in Georgia, coupled with Spanish raids from Florida, gradually dispersed the community. The feuds between the Ashkenazi minority and Sephardi majority were finally resolved, rather unfortunately, in 1741with the War of Jenkins' Ear. The Sephardim, who were worried about the Spanish invading the area, fled to New York and South Caroline. Ultimately, only the Minis and Sheftall families, both of whom were Ashkenazi, remained in the area.

Fluctuations in the local Jewish population led to the occasional abandonment of public worship. In 1790, Mickve Israel was granted a perpetual charter by the governor. It was 30 years, however, until Jacob de la Motta prevailed upon his coreligionists to build an actual synagogue building, which was ultimately opened in 1820. Nine years later the building burned down, and was replaced by a brick building that remained in use until 1878, when the synagogue was renovated into a gothic structure.

Oglethorpe granted the original settlers land to establish a cemetery, but the community ultimately used land willed to Mickve Israel by Mordecai Sheftall, one of Benjamin Sheftall's sons. It was opened in 1773, and continued to operate until 1850. The remainder of Mordecai Sheftall's property was sold, and the proceeds were used in 1902 to build a school and social center, the Mordecai Sheftall Memorial. Other community organizations that were opened during the 19th century included the Hebrew Benevolent Society (1851), the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society (1853), a Young Man's Hebrew Association (1874), Orphan Aid (1880), which was affiliated with the B'nai B'rith Atlanta Orphanage, and the Hebra Gemiluth Hessed (1888). In 1906 a Yong Women's Aid was also founded. These and other agencies were incorporated under the umbrella of the Jewish Education Alliance, which was chartered in 1912. Designed as a center to aid in the Americanization of new immigrants, the Alliance developed into a center of Jewish activity.

Mickve Israel preserved Sephardi traditions until the early 1900s, when it joined the Reform movement. Prussian and Polish immigrants who arrived in Savannah during the 1850s organized an Orthodox congregation, which eventually became known as Congregation B'nai B'rith Jacob. Eastern European immigrants continued to arrive in the city, which caused the Jewish population to grow. By 1909 a new synagogue, which also housed a Hebrew school, was built to accommodate the growing community. Congregation Agudath Achim, which was Orthodox at its founding in 1901, became Conservative in 1941.

Jews in Savannah were active in local politics. Of particular note are Herman Myers, who was the mayor of Savannah from 1895 to 1897, and again from 1899-1907. Additionally, Rabbi Morris Samuel Lazaron served as an army chaplain during World War I, and represented the American Jewish community as one of the four chaplains at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

In the 1960s Savannah had a total population of 149,000, of which 3,500 were Jews.

Charleston

City in South Carolina, USA.

21st Century

As of 2016, Charleston had a Jewish population of approximately 9,500.

The city has four active synagogues; two are modern orthodox, Brith Sholom Beth Israel in the historic downtown area, and Dor Tikvah established in 2006 in the West Ashley suburb; one is reform, Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim; one is conservative, Synagogue Emanu-El.

There is a Chabad center in the suburb of Mount Pleasant.

In the fall of 2015, the Addlestone Hebrew Academy, the only Jewish day school in Charleston, with students from across the Jewish spectrum, moved to its own free-standing state-of-the-art facility.

The Charleston Jewish Federation is active and runs a Shalom Charleston program to welcome new members to the community.

The Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Study Center was established in 2002 as the center of Jewish activity at the College of Charleston.  An addition, built in 2016, doubled its size, including additional classroom space and Marty’s Place, a dining hall offering kosher, vegan, and vegetarian options.

The Jewish Community Center sold its building because of what it felt were the changing demographics and needs of the population it served. It is now known as the “Jewish Community Center Without Walls,” and continues to offer a range of programs centered on the goal of “building relationships through a Jewish lens.”

 

History

Charleston is the home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the US.  Jews began to settle in Charleston in 1695, 25 years after the city was founded. Governor John Archdale of the Carolinas mentions an unnamed Spanish-speaking Jew as his interpreter in his dealings with captive Florida Indians. The early Jews were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England via the Caribbean islands. They were drawn by the commercial opportunities in the growing South Carolina Atlantic seaport as well as the civil and religious liberty available to Jews. The South Carolina charter of 1669 had granted liberty of conscience to all settlers, expressly mentioning Jews, heathens and dissenters.

The Jews helped build Charleston’s colonial prosperity largely as shopkeepers, traders, and merchants.  Among them was Moses Lindo, who was made “surveyor and inspector-general of indigo” and played a major role in turning South Carolina’s indigo trade into the region’s second leading agricultural industry.

Community life began in 1749 when the Jews who had been worshiping in each other’s homes were sufficiently numerous to organize a formal congregation called Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) that followed sephardic orthodox ritual practice.  Its founders were Joseph Tobias, president; Michael Lazarus, secretary; Moses Cohen, rabbi; and Isaac Da Costa, chazzan. In 1764 the congregation purchased Isaac Da Costa’s family burial ground as a communal graveyard, now known as the Coming Street Cemetery, and the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the southern USA.

During the American Revolution, more than a score of Charleston Jews served in the armed forces, several as officers.  In 1775 Francis Salvador was elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s revolutionary Provincial Congress assembled in Charleston to frame a bill of rights, becoming the first Jew to hold elective public office in the New World.  He was killed and scalped by Cherokee Indians led by Tory British sympathizers on August 1, 1776, the first Jew to die fighting for American independence.

In 1784, the Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded, the first Jewish charitable association in the USA.  The Hebrew Orphan Society was founded in 1801.

Charleston is considered the birthplace of reform Judaism in the USA.  In 1824, 47 KKBE members resigned from the congregation when the trustees refused to make changes to the sephardic orthodox ritual.  They organized the Reform Society of Israelites which pioneered what later became practices of reform Judaism in the US.  After nine years, the group rejoined the old congregation.  In 1840 however, when a new synagogue building was constructed to replace the old one that had been destroyed by fire in 1838, an organ was installed.  The first service in the new building introduced a liberalized ritual, with prayers and a sermon in English. The new building, which is still in use today, is a colonnaded Greek revival structure, and the second oldest synagogue building in the USA.

Those adhering to the sephardic orthodox ritual seceded and in 1846 incorporated their own congregation, Shearit Israel, with its own cemetery adjacent to that of KKBE, but separated from it by a brick wall.

In 1854, an ashkenazi congregation Berith Shalome (known today as Brith Shalom Beth Israel) was formed by Yiddish speaking immigrants from eastern and central Europe who were uncomfortable both with the sephardic ritual of Shearit Israel and the reform orientation of KKBE.

During the first decade of the 1800s, Charleston with 500 Jews had the largest as well as the wealthiest and most cultured Jewish community in the USA. In 1816 the Jewish population rose to over 600 constituting approximately one-fifth of all the Jews in the nation.  In the following years however, economic recession led to a demographic decline.

Members of the Jewish community were merchants, blacksmiths, journalists, teachers, seamstresses and public servants. By 1830, 83 per cent of the Jews owned slaves, a rate comparable with that of the city’s non-Jewish population.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Jews of Charleston joined the Confederate cause and members of the community fought in the Confederate army. The defeat of the South left the city and its Jews decimated and impoverished.

The waves of Jewish immigration of the late 19th century tended to bypass Charleston. In 1901, however, a naval base was opened on the outskirts of town that spurred economic growth, especially after the US entered World War I.  More immigrants from Eastern Europe began joining the community.

In 1902 the number of Jews living in Charleston was less than 2000.  In 1929 it was about 2,800, less than one percent of the total population of the metropolitan area.

After World War II, industrial growth and port development, along with expansion of military facilities brought a new prosperity to Charleston that was shared by its Jewish citizens. There was an influx of Jews from other parts of the US, drawn by economic opportunities, mild climate and a good quality of life.

Jews were prominent in the city’s business, professional and cultural life.  There was a shift away from retail trade to the professions medicine, law, and education.  Jews were active in civic clubs, charitable organizations, and supporters of the arts. They took part in politics and were often elected to office. Social acceptance, however, was limited, and the number of Jews admitted to membership in country clubs was restricted. The Jewish community responded by forming their own social groups and athletic clubs modeled on the ones that excluded them.

By the middle of the 20th century there were three religious congregations, with a combined membership of over 1,200 families, some of whom belonged to more than one synagogue because of family ties.  Beth Shalom Beth Israel, traditional orthodox, was the largest, and established a Hebrew Day School in 1956, the Addlestone Hebrew Academy, for pre-school through eighth grade.  About equal in membership were the reform Kahal Kodesh Beth Elohim and the conservative Synagogue Emanu-El founded in 1947 as a break off from Beth Shalom Beth Israel.

The community had a burial society, the Chevra Kadisha of Charleston, composed of members of the Orthodox and Conservative Synagogues, a kosher bakery, a kosher meat market and a mikveh (purification bath).

A Jewish Community Center was established in 1944, offering cultural, physical, and educational activities. It managed the Sherman House, located on its campus at 1645 Wallenberg Boulevard, a USA Hud-22 housing complex for the well-elderly composed of 56 private apartments, and offering an extensive program of social activities.

The Charleston Jewish Federation was established in 1949 to be the central unifying organization of the local Jewish community, supporting synagogues and educational institutions, providing social services and caring for the needs of vulnerable populations, and raising money for local, national, and international Jewish causes. It published an award winning monthly periodical with a circulation to over 2000 homes. The Community Relations Council, an arm of the Federation, provided outreach to the general community and advocated on issues of importance to Jews and in support of Israel.

There were active local chapters of national Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, with over 500 members, the National Council of Jewish Women, and ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training).  Annual banquets honoring community leaders were given by the Jewish National Fund, ORT, and Israel Bonds.

The Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program was established at the College of Charleston in 1984, and expanded in 1998, providing Jewish educational opportunities to the community.

The Charleston Holocaust Memorial was dedicated in 1999 on Marion Square in downtown Charleston.

 

 

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Jacob De La Motta

Jacob De La Motta (1789-1845), physician, born in Savannah, Georgia, USA, who received his degree in medicine from University of Pennsylvania in 1810. At first De la Motta practiced at Charleston, South Carolina, until the outbreak of the Anglo-American war in 1812, when he volunteered to join the American forces. He served as a surgeon. After the war he practiced in New York City, USA, and became one of the leaders of the medical, scientific, cultural and Jewish life of the city.

In 1818 he returned to Savannah, where he engaged in research into yellow fever and became active in politics. Five years later in 1823 he again returned to Charleston and became a well known and popular physician there. For ten years he was secretary of the Medical Society of South Carolina, then a trustee of the State Medical College and assistant commissioner of health. He established a large pharmacy in the town. De la Motta ran for Congress but lost. President Harrison, however, whom he had supported, appointed him to be receiver general of South Carolina in 1841. In 1844 he was elected grand commander of the supreme council of the Masonic Lodge to which he was affiliated.

An Orthodox Jew, he was strongly opposed to the reform tendencies of the Bet Elohim Synagogue in Charleston and gave his support to a break-away congregation in the town, Shearit Israel, of which he became the first president.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

New York City

New York City

The largest urban Jewish community in history; metropolitan area population 11,448,480 (1970), metropolitan area Jewish population 2,381,000 (1968), of which 1,836,000 live in the city itself.

The New York Jewish settlement began in 1654 with the arrival of 23 Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews from Recife, Brazil (a Dutch possession) who were defending the city from Portuguese attack. The director general of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, did not welcome the Jews. They protested to their coreligionists in the Dutch West India company and privileges were granted them. However, they were not allowed to build a synagogue.

The surrender of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664 brought a number of changes to the Jewish settlement.

Generally, civil and religious rights were widened, Jews were permitted to hold and be elected to public office, and restrictions on the building of a synagogue were lifted.

"Shearit Israel", the first congregation in New York, was probably organized in 1706. Between 1729 and 1730, the congregation erected the first synagogue. During this period, the Jewish merchant took a major interest in the business of overseas trade. Jews were the first to introduce cocoa and chocolate to England and were heavily engaged in the coral, textile, and slave trades, and at times had virtual monopolies in the ginger trade.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews represented between 1% and 2% of the total New York City population and in 1701, it is estimated that Jews comprised 12% of all businessmen who engaged in foreign trade.

The advent of the American revolution found the Jewish community divided. Some were supporters of the American cause, while others supported the British. The end of the revolution brought many distinct changes. Civil liberties, which were often a matter of governmental whim under the English, became part of the New York State constitution. Opportunities were expanded and new fields opened. One of the distinctive changes in post-war New York was Jewish involvement in the political life of the community, perhaps best seen in the career of Mordecai Manuel Noah, who was High Sheriff of New York in 1821.

The period after the revolutionary war also saw the proliferation of congregational organizations and divisions within the Jewish community as well as mutual aid societies and Landsmannshaften. There were also numerous fraternal orders founded, the most important being the independent order B'nai B'rith, founded in 1843. In 1852, "Jews' hospital" was founded, which later became known as Mount Sinai.

Beginning in the 1870's and continuing for half a century, great migration from Eastern Europe radically altered the demography, social structure, cultural life, and communal order of New York Jewry. During this period, more than 1,000,000 Jews settled in the city. They were overwhelmingly Yiddish speaking and impoverished. On their arrival, East European Jews found a Jewish settlement dominated by a group strikingly different in its cultural background, social standing, and communal outlook. By the 1870's, this older settlement had become middle class in outlook, mercantile in its economic base, and reform in group identity. In 1870, the less affluent and those whose occupations required it lived in the Southern Ward of the Lower East Side, while the German Jews moved half way up the East Side of Manhattan. The relocation of synagogues and the establishment of other Jewish institutions underscored this process of removal and social differentiation, thus dividing the Jewish populace into "uptown" and "downtown" Jews.

In the decade after the civil war, fathers and sons entered the dry-goods business and transformed their establishments Bloomingdale's, Altman's, Macy's, Stern's, Gimbel's, and Abraham and Strauss. A significant number of German Jews entered the field of investment banking. They also played a central role as entrepreneurs in the city's growing ready-made clothing industry. In 1888, of 241 such clothing manufacturers, 234 were Jewish. The immigrant Jews entered the apparel trade in great numbers because it was close at hand, required little training, and allowed the congeniality of working with one's own kind.

During the 1901-1909 period, the groundwork was laid for the emergence of an aggressive, responsible, and progressive Jewish labor movement. The socialist newspaper, "Forward", was developing into the most widely read Yiddish daily and became a major educational medium for the Jewish working class. The "uprising of the 20,000" - a strike of the waistmakers, mostly young women - in the fall of 1909, was followed by the "great revolt" of the cloakmakers a half year later. These strikes increased the numbers and stability of the international ladies garment workers' union (I.L.G.W.U.).

During the last third of the 19th century, the established community built - in addition to imposing temples - a number of large and progressive philanthropic institutions.

Two developments of major significance for the future course of orthodoxy in New York took place between 1910 and movement and in the year 1915 Yeshivat Etz Chaim and the Rabbi Elchanan theological seminary united.

The sharp rise in immigration after 1903 underscored the need for more rational use of the resources and communal wealth which the community possessed. Some downtown leaders recognized the ineffectualness of their own institutions.

In both sectors of the community, the alienation of the younger generation from Judaism and Jewish life was viewed with alarm. These concerns led to the development of the short-lived New York Kehillah, an attempt to create a united community structure. The immediate catalyst was the accusation of the New York police commissioner in 1908 that 50% of the criminals in the city were Jews. Led by Judah Magnus, a coalition of representative leaders established the Kehillah as a federation of Jewish organizations in 1909. Magnus served as chairman until its demise in 1922. The establishment in 1917 of the federation for the support of Jewish philanthropies proved more lasting than the Kehillah.

The Yiddish speaking masses who settled in New York created a rich and varied cultural life. Between 1872 and 1917, 150 journals in Yiddish appeared. The Yiddish theater reinforced the press.

During the 1920's, the New York Jewish unions entered areas of activity never previously known to U.S. trade unions. They conducted large scale adult education, health clinics, a bank, summer resorts, built modern urban housing, and generously subsidized struggling trade unions.

Jews constituted 51% of enrollment in the city's academic high schools in 1931, and 49.6% of the city's college and university students in 1935. Also by the 1930's, over half the city's doctors, lawyers, dentists, and public school teachers were Jews.

As the largest single ethnic group, Jews were a highly important factor in the political life of the city. In no other city could Jews as a group weigh so heavily in politics or were real or alleged Jewish political interest reckoned with so carefully.

In 1967, there were 539 orthodox, 184 conservative, 93 reform, and five unclassified synagogues known in Greater New York; all but 163 of the total were within the city's boundaries. Actual synagogue affiliation tended to be low, however. The city's conservative congregations leaned close to orthodoxy in which most of their members and leaders, at least before 1950, had been raised. The Jewish Theological Seminary is the focal institution of the conservatives and exercised broad spiritual influence in the Jewish and general community. Jewish education in New York followed nationwide trends in the slow disappearance of the Cheder, the rise and decline of the communal Talmud Torahs, and Yiddish schools in the period from 1915 to 1950.

The city of New York is home to the largest Jewish population in the entire United States. Behind the central districts of Israel, New York City has the highest number of Jews in any metropolitan area in the world. By 2013 there was approximately 1.5 – 1.7 million Jews living throughout New York City, accounting for nearly 18% of the city’s total population (8.3 million).

Serving the Jewish people of New York City are several organizations. Many of these focus on Jewish religious practice, healthcare, education and family services. Throughout the city’s five boroughs are many foundations which support local communities and advocate for Jewish and Israeli causes. Some of the major organizations include UJA Federation of New York, The Jewish Communal Fund, The World Jewish Congress, The American Jewish Congress, AJC (Global Jewish Advocacy), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and COJECO, the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations. There are additionally many local organizations that specialize in the needs of their respective communities, such as the Bensonhurst Council of Jewish Organizations, which is the oldest in New York City, the Bronx Jewish Community Council, the Crown Heights Community Council, the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, and the Boro Park Community council.

Found across New York City are hundreds of synagogues, representing nearly every movement within Judaism. While the majority of these are in permanent buildings, some are held in temporary places. Many of these are not found in directories. There is an estimated 50 Orthodox synagogues, 8 Conservative, 17 Reform, 2 Reconstructionist and 5-7 which are unaffiliated with any particular movement. Among the wide range of Jewish educational services, are more than 350 private Jewish day schools which serve over 140,000 students. These include 191 high schools, 247 elementary schools and 159 preschools. Outside of school are many programs for Jewish youth, such as the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist Youth Movement, Friends of Israel Scouts (Tzofim) and Young Judea.

New York City is well known for its numerous cultural institutions and museums. Many are internationally known and visited by thousands every year. Among those of which are culturally focused, are several Jewish museums and Holocaust memorials, such as the Anne Frank Center (USA), Bernard Museum of Judaica, and The Center for Jewish History. Other museums include the Derfner Judaica Museum, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Jewish Museum (New York), Living Torah Museum, Yeshiva University Museum and the Jewish Children’s Museum. New York City also has many Jewish cultural centers including the JCC Manhattan, YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research), the Leo Baeck Institute, the American Jewish Historical Society and the American Sephardi Federation.

Significant Jewish immigration began in the late 1800s with major waves taking place between 1881 and 1945. Additional waves of Jewish immigration began following the establishment of the State of Israel. During the 1950s and 1960s as many as 300,000 Israelis immigrated to the United States. Israeli Immigration continued throughout the 1970s and has ever since. By 2000, approximately 30,000 Israeli Jews were living in New York City. The Israeli community is well known for its entrepreneurship, having opened many startups and branches of existing Israeli businesses. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, new waves of Jewish immigrants began arriving to New York City. In the 1980s and 1990s, the city’s Jewish population was greatly augmented by the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe and the Caucasus region. These included the Georgian and Bukharian communities as well as Ashkenazi Jews from the Baltic Republics, Moldova and the Ukraine. In 2012, the more than 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union in New York City were Jewish.

Over generations, Jews have developed various communities throughout New York City creating several Jewish enclaves. Boro Park in Brooklyn for example is home to the largest Orthodox community in the world. Other notable Jewish neighborhoods include Crown Heights, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Midwood Brooklyn, Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows Queens, the Upper East and Upper West Side as well as Lower East Side in Manhattan, and the predominantly Hasidic neighborhoods of Willowbrook, New Springville, Eltingville and New Brighton.

Serving these neighborhoods as well as the rest of New York are several hospitals and health care facilities which were established by the Jewish community. In addition to Mount Sinai, one of New York’s oldest and largest hospitals, are several medical centers including Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, the Montefiore Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Maimonides Medical Center, the Sephardic Bikur Holim, Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Jewish Home Life Care, and the Hebrew Home for the aged. Found throughout these Jewish neighborhoods are many historic landmarks. In some cases, the neighborhoods themselves are the landmarks. The Lower East Side is a perfect example. Others include historic synagogues such as the Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only Romaniote (Greek) synagogue in the entire western hemisphere, or the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first Eastern European Orthodox synagogue. Another group of landmarks include famous restaurants like Katz’s Delicatessen and Streit’s Matzo Company.

Since early Jewish immigration, New York City’s Jewish leaders developed foundations to keep medical centers like communal organizations alive. A number of Jewish Federations are overseen by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Other funding and support come from organizations like the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the Jewish Communal Fund, Hadassah, Yeshiva University and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Being a community that numbers nearly 2 million, the Jews of New York City enjoy several Jewish media outlets, including radio and print news. Notable periodicals include the Jewish Week and the Jewish Post of New York. Others include the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, the Long Island Jewish World and Five Towns Jewish Times. There is even a Yiddish language newspaper known as The Jewish Daily Forward.   

Savannah, GA

Savannah, Georgia, USA

Third oldest Jewish community in North America

On July 11th, 1733, the first 41 Jews of the city arrived aboard a ship chartered by London's Sephardi synagogue. In spite of objections from London's Georgia trustees, the Jews won the legal right to settle in Savannah and own property there. These original settlers included Dr. Samuel Nunes, who helped save colonists during an epidemic of yellow fever, and his son-in-law, Abraham de Lyon, who introduced viticulture to the area, which became extremely helpful in the colonists' attempts to produce wine. Other early settlers were Abraham Minis, who became the supplier for the militia of James Edward Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, and Benjamin Sheftall, an interpreter for the German Salzburger settlers. Sheftall and his son Levi also kept the community's vital records from 1733 to 1809.

Though the early settlers had brought religious objects over from England, a community could not be established until 1735, due to conflicts between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim of the community. That year, Congregation Mickve Israel was founded, the third-oldest congregation in the United States (behind congregations in New York and Newport, Rhode Island). A mikvah (ritual bath) was opened in 1738. The synagogue still has the Torah scroll brought from London.

In 1740 the Jewish population had reached about 100, but an economic crisis in Georgia, coupled with Spanish raids from Florida, gradually dispersed the community. The feuds between the Ashkenazi minority and Sephardi majority were finally resolved, rather unfortunately, in 1741with the War of Jenkins' Ear. The Sephardim, who were worried about the Spanish invading the area, fled to New York and South Caroline. Ultimately, only the Minis and Sheftall families, both of whom were Ashkenazi, remained in the area.

Fluctuations in the local Jewish population led to the occasional abandonment of public worship. In 1790, Mickve Israel was granted a perpetual charter by the governor. It was 30 years, however, until Jacob de la Motta prevailed upon his coreligionists to build an actual synagogue building, which was ultimately opened in 1820. Nine years later the building burned down, and was replaced by a brick building that remained in use until 1878, when the synagogue was renovated into a gothic structure.

Oglethorpe granted the original settlers land to establish a cemetery, but the community ultimately used land willed to Mickve Israel by Mordecai Sheftall, one of Benjamin Sheftall's sons. It was opened in 1773, and continued to operate until 1850. The remainder of Mordecai Sheftall's property was sold, and the proceeds were used in 1902 to build a school and social center, the Mordecai Sheftall Memorial. Other community organizations that were opened during the 19th century included the Hebrew Benevolent Society (1851), the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society (1853), a Young Man's Hebrew Association (1874), Orphan Aid (1880), which was affiliated with the B'nai B'rith Atlanta Orphanage, and the Hebra Gemiluth Hessed (1888). In 1906 a Yong Women's Aid was also founded. These and other agencies were incorporated under the umbrella of the Jewish Education Alliance, which was chartered in 1912. Designed as a center to aid in the Americanization of new immigrants, the Alliance developed into a center of Jewish activity.

Mickve Israel preserved Sephardi traditions until the early 1900s, when it joined the Reform movement. Prussian and Polish immigrants who arrived in Savannah during the 1850s organized an Orthodox congregation, which eventually became known as Congregation B'nai B'rith Jacob. Eastern European immigrants continued to arrive in the city, which caused the Jewish population to grow. By 1909 a new synagogue, which also housed a Hebrew school, was built to accommodate the growing community. Congregation Agudath Achim, which was Orthodox at its founding in 1901, became Conservative in 1941.

Jews in Savannah were active in local politics. Of particular note are Herman Myers, who was the mayor of Savannah from 1895 to 1897, and again from 1899-1907. Additionally, Rabbi Morris Samuel Lazaron served as an army chaplain during World War I, and represented the American Jewish community as one of the four chaplains at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

In the 1960s Savannah had a total population of 149,000, of which 3,500 were Jews.

Charleston, SC

Charleston

City in South Carolina, USA.

21st Century

As of 2016, Charleston had a Jewish population of approximately 9,500.

The city has four active synagogues; two are modern orthodox, Brith Sholom Beth Israel in the historic downtown area, and Dor Tikvah established in 2006 in the West Ashley suburb; one is reform, Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim; one is conservative, Synagogue Emanu-El.

There is a Chabad center in the suburb of Mount Pleasant.

In the fall of 2015, the Addlestone Hebrew Academy, the only Jewish day school in Charleston, with students from across the Jewish spectrum, moved to its own free-standing state-of-the-art facility.

The Charleston Jewish Federation is active and runs a Shalom Charleston program to welcome new members to the community.

The Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Study Center was established in 2002 as the center of Jewish activity at the College of Charleston.  An addition, built in 2016, doubled its size, including additional classroom space and Marty’s Place, a dining hall offering kosher, vegan, and vegetarian options.

The Jewish Community Center sold its building because of what it felt were the changing demographics and needs of the population it served. It is now known as the “Jewish Community Center Without Walls,” and continues to offer a range of programs centered on the goal of “building relationships through a Jewish lens.”

 

History

Charleston is the home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the US.  Jews began to settle in Charleston in 1695, 25 years after the city was founded. Governor John Archdale of the Carolinas mentions an unnamed Spanish-speaking Jew as his interpreter in his dealings with captive Florida Indians. The early Jews were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England via the Caribbean islands. They were drawn by the commercial opportunities in the growing South Carolina Atlantic seaport as well as the civil and religious liberty available to Jews. The South Carolina charter of 1669 had granted liberty of conscience to all settlers, expressly mentioning Jews, heathens and dissenters.

The Jews helped build Charleston’s colonial prosperity largely as shopkeepers, traders, and merchants.  Among them was Moses Lindo, who was made “surveyor and inspector-general of indigo” and played a major role in turning South Carolina’s indigo trade into the region’s second leading agricultural industry.

Community life began in 1749 when the Jews who had been worshiping in each other’s homes were sufficiently numerous to organize a formal congregation called Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) that followed sephardic orthodox ritual practice.  Its founders were Joseph Tobias, president; Michael Lazarus, secretary; Moses Cohen, rabbi; and Isaac Da Costa, chazzan. In 1764 the congregation purchased Isaac Da Costa’s family burial ground as a communal graveyard, now known as the Coming Street Cemetery, and the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the southern USA.

During the American Revolution, more than a score of Charleston Jews served in the armed forces, several as officers.  In 1775 Francis Salvador was elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s revolutionary Provincial Congress assembled in Charleston to frame a bill of rights, becoming the first Jew to hold elective public office in the New World.  He was killed and scalped by Cherokee Indians led by Tory British sympathizers on August 1, 1776, the first Jew to die fighting for American independence.

In 1784, the Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded, the first Jewish charitable association in the USA.  The Hebrew Orphan Society was founded in 1801.

Charleston is considered the birthplace of reform Judaism in the USA.  In 1824, 47 KKBE members resigned from the congregation when the trustees refused to make changes to the sephardic orthodox ritual.  They organized the Reform Society of Israelites which pioneered what later became practices of reform Judaism in the US.  After nine years, the group rejoined the old congregation.  In 1840 however, when a new synagogue building was constructed to replace the old one that had been destroyed by fire in 1838, an organ was installed.  The first service in the new building introduced a liberalized ritual, with prayers and a sermon in English. The new building, which is still in use today, is a colonnaded Greek revival structure, and the second oldest synagogue building in the USA.

Those adhering to the sephardic orthodox ritual seceded and in 1846 incorporated their own congregation, Shearit Israel, with its own cemetery adjacent to that of KKBE, but separated from it by a brick wall.

In 1854, an ashkenazi congregation Berith Shalome (known today as Brith Shalom Beth Israel) was formed by Yiddish speaking immigrants from eastern and central Europe who were uncomfortable both with the sephardic ritual of Shearit Israel and the reform orientation of KKBE.

During the first decade of the 1800s, Charleston with 500 Jews had the largest as well as the wealthiest and most cultured Jewish community in the USA. In 1816 the Jewish population rose to over 600 constituting approximately one-fifth of all the Jews in the nation.  In the following years however, economic recession led to a demographic decline.

Members of the Jewish community were merchants, blacksmiths, journalists, teachers, seamstresses and public servants. By 1830, 83 per cent of the Jews owned slaves, a rate comparable with that of the city’s non-Jewish population.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Jews of Charleston joined the Confederate cause and members of the community fought in the Confederate army. The defeat of the South left the city and its Jews decimated and impoverished.

The waves of Jewish immigration of the late 19th century tended to bypass Charleston. In 1901, however, a naval base was opened on the outskirts of town that spurred economic growth, especially after the US entered World War I.  More immigrants from Eastern Europe began joining the community.

In 1902 the number of Jews living in Charleston was less than 2000.  In 1929 it was about 2,800, less than one percent of the total population of the metropolitan area.

After World War II, industrial growth and port development, along with expansion of military facilities brought a new prosperity to Charleston that was shared by its Jewish citizens. There was an influx of Jews from other parts of the US, drawn by economic opportunities, mild climate and a good quality of life.

Jews were prominent in the city’s business, professional and cultural life.  There was a shift away from retail trade to the professions medicine, law, and education.  Jews were active in civic clubs, charitable organizations, and supporters of the arts. They took part in politics and were often elected to office. Social acceptance, however, was limited, and the number of Jews admitted to membership in country clubs was restricted. The Jewish community responded by forming their own social groups and athletic clubs modeled on the ones that excluded them.

By the middle of the 20th century there were three religious congregations, with a combined membership of over 1,200 families, some of whom belonged to more than one synagogue because of family ties.  Beth Shalom Beth Israel, traditional orthodox, was the largest, and established a Hebrew Day School in 1956, the Addlestone Hebrew Academy, for pre-school through eighth grade.  About equal in membership were the reform Kahal Kodesh Beth Elohim and the conservative Synagogue Emanu-El founded in 1947 as a break off from Beth Shalom Beth Israel.

The community had a burial society, the Chevra Kadisha of Charleston, composed of members of the Orthodox and Conservative Synagogues, a kosher bakery, a kosher meat market and a mikveh (purification bath).

A Jewish Community Center was established in 1944, offering cultural, physical, and educational activities. It managed the Sherman House, located on its campus at 1645 Wallenberg Boulevard, a USA Hud-22 housing complex for the well-elderly composed of 56 private apartments, and offering an extensive program of social activities.

The Charleston Jewish Federation was established in 1949 to be the central unifying organization of the local Jewish community, supporting synagogues and educational institutions, providing social services and caring for the needs of vulnerable populations, and raising money for local, national, and international Jewish causes. It published an award winning monthly periodical with a circulation to over 2000 homes. The Community Relations Council, an arm of the Federation, provided outreach to the general community and advocated on issues of importance to Jews and in support of Israel.

There were active local chapters of national Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, with over 500 members, the National Council of Jewish Women, and ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training).  Annual banquets honoring community leaders were given by the Jewish National Fund, ORT, and Israel Bonds.

The Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program was established at the College of Charleston in 1984, and expanded in 1998, providing Jewish educational opportunities to the community.

The Charleston Holocaust Memorial was dedicated in 1999 on Marion Square in downtown Charleston.