The ALSBACHER PARTY was a group of Jews from Unsleben, Bavaria, who came to Cleveland in 1839 and were instrumental in establishing a viable Jewish community in the city. The party brought with it an ethical testament of the Jewish values to guide the formation of the new community. The document, dated 5 May 1839, which had been drawn up by Lazarus Kohn, religious teacher of Unsleben's Jewish community and addressed to Moses and Yetta Alsbacher, exhorted the group to adhere to their religion and culture and practice their ethical teachings in America, "a country without compulsory religious education or Jewish law . . . a land of tempting freedom."
The use of an ethical testament to transmit Jewish beliefs dated back to the middle ages, when parents wrote wills addressed to their children outlining the values that they deemed important for their progeny to live by. Apparently Moses Alsbacher, a 34-year-old dyer, was the nominal leader of the party of 19 which arrived in New York from Hamburg, Germany, 12 July 1839. Their ship, the Howard, was met by SIMPSON THORMAN, a fur trader based in Cleveland, who likely influenced 15 of them to settle here. Among the 15 was Simson Hoffman, who carried the Torah necessary to establish a congregation. Hoffman was also qualified as a chazzan (cantor) and a shochet (responsible for the ritual slaughter of animals for food), and his son, Isaac, was a mohel (qualified to perform the requisite male circumcision). Shortly after the party's arrival in Cleveland, the Israelite Society was organized, the first congregation in the city; the German-speaking immigrants from Unsleben, by their numbers, ensured that the group initially would exercise considerable influence in the new community.
See also JEWS & JUDAISM.