By the turn of the twenty-first century, about 5.1 million Jews were living in the United States, primarily in larger cities and their suburbs. Most Jews are considered part of the U.S. middle class, and do every type of work. A high percentage are business executives, professionals, or skilled workers, and many are in the fields of art, literature, and theater. Among Jews’ primary concerns are education and philanthropy.
Jews were present in what is now the United States as early as the colonial period of the seventeenth century. The earliest Jewish communities consisted of
Early settlers in
After Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam fell to the British and became New York City in 1664, Jewish religious services continued in homes until 1695, when the Jewish immigrants were given permission to build a synagogue. This was finally accomplished in 1728. English became the standard language of these immigrants, and until the early 1820’s Jewish immigrant religious practices reflected the Sephardic tradition, and Shearith Israel was regarded as the “mother synagogue.” Sephardic rituals were also adopted by
Business was the occupation of the early Jewish settlers. Some were traders and craftsmen; others were wealthy merchants. Eventually, some of them were not satisfied to remain in New York and left for other colonies. Jewish settlements were established in
Editorial cartoon in an early 1881 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper showing “Columbia” welcoming Jewish refugees of German persecution.
The lifestyles of colonial Jews generally mirrored those of their neighbors, except in their rituals and religious practices. Following kosher dietary laws, keeping proper Jewish homes, observing holidays, and educating children constituted significant challenges for Jews living outside the large cities. By the end of the eighteenth century, only about 3,000 Jews lived in the entire United States. More than half of them lived in the South.
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the country’s boundaries expanded, and a number of
Jewish immigration began increasing significant during the mid-nineteenth century, Between 1840 and 1860, the Jewish population of the United States rose to about 200,000, due in large part to an influx of immigrants from central Europe seeking refuge from the strife surrounding the failed revolutions of 1848, worsening economic conditions, and anti-Jewish legislation in many of the German-speaking states. These new immigrants were generally better educated and more financially secure than earlier Jewish immigrants, and brought with them higher culture, a tradition of charity, and reform Jewish practices to their new homes. Among these new immigrants were
By 1880, approximately 250,000 Jews were living in the United States. Many of them were highly educated and largely secular
Other immigrants during that era came from the poor rural Jewish populations of Russia,
During the nineteenth century, most Russian Jews lived in confined areas as laborers and small merchants.
After reaching the United States, many Russian Jews gravitated to
Between 1881 and 1890, 3.7 percent of all immigrants to the United States were Jews. By the first decade of the twentieth century, Jews constituted more than 10 percent of all immigrants, and by 1920, 23 percent of the world’s Jews lived in the United States. Two million Jews had arrived from eastern Europe alone by 1924. As distrust of immigrants grew after World War I, the Immigration Act of 1921 and the national origins quota system established by the Immigration Act of 1924 severely restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe after that time.
A dialect of German written in Hebrew characters, the
Because the borders of the United States were effectively closed to new Jewish immigrants, the earlier immigrants were becoming Americanized and assimilated more quickly. Consequently, Jewish ghettoes, the
Nevertheless, Jews made their mark in many areas. Jewish Americans achieved success in entertainment. Levi Schubert, Albert Zukor, Marcus Loew, and Louis B. Mayer founded theaters and film production companies; Jewish composers/songwriters
Austrian Jews were also forced from their homes and sent to a camp called Mauthausen after Germany occupied Austria in 1938. On November 9-10, 1938, Nazi troops destroyed Jewish homes and synagogues and brutally beat and murdered Jews during Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass). The event spurred U.S. president
By the middle of 1942 confirmed reports came out of Poland
New U.S. laws enacted after the war greatly increased the number of displaced persons permitted to enter the United States. Between 1946 and 1952, more than 80,000 Jews came to America. Assisted by the
Diner, Hasia. The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Survey of American Jewish history that emphasizes religious issues, while also covering economic and cultural issues. Finkelstein, Norman H. American Jewish History. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2007. Introduction to the historical, cultural, and religious heritage of American Jews. Contains numerous photographs, maps, and charts. Friedman, Saul A. No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1938-1945. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973. Examination of anti-Semitic hostility toward Jews fleeing from the Holocaust during Germany’s Nazi era. Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976. Story of the eastern European Jews who came to America and their efforts to retain their Yiddish culture. Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. The Golden Land: The Story of Jewish Immigration to America. New York: Harmony Books, 2002. Tells the story of Jewish immigration to America through removable documents and artifacts. Wenger, Beth. The Jewish Americans. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Comprehensive history of Jews in the United States. Includes numerous first-person accounts of the Jewish experience and numerous photographs. Worth, Richard. Jewish Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2005. Concise history of Jewish immigration written for young readers. Well illustrated.
American Jewish Committee
Former Soviet Union immigrants
World War II