JEWS & JUDAISM.  The beginning of the Jewish community in Cleveland is easy enough to date. A group of fifteen Jews from Unsleben, Bavaria, arrived in the city in July 1839. They had most likely been encouraged to move to the city by the fur trader SIMSON THORMAN, their neighbor who had left Unsleben earlier, traveled throughout the United States, and then returned and decided to stay in Cleveland. Thorman was one of a handful of Jews who passed through the growing city in the 1830s. He made Cleveland his home and reached back to his birthplace to bring over friends and family members. This small group of immigrants built the congregations in which Jews would pray and study. Their descendants established the community’s infrastructure, the educational, social services, and cultural organizations that continue to serve Jewish Cleveland.

 Before they left, Lazarus Kohn, their religious teacher in Unsleben, wrote a letter to his friends who were leaving their hometown for “a land of freedom” – namely, Cleveland. Kohn’s letter, perhaps best described as an ethical will, appeared in a small booklet with a heart on its cover and, almost as additional signatures to the letter, 233 names of Unsleben Jews who remained behind. Kohn’s message to his friends was clear. He asked them to “promise to remain good Jews”, to resist the “tempting freedom” of their new land, where they would have the opportunity to live “without compulsory religious education.” Kohn’s farewell was an admonition, a warning that the greatly changed circumstances of his friends’ new lives would present significant challenges and, at least in some sense, imperil their identities as Jews. This dichotomy – between tradition and the temptations of the immigrants’ new world, between one’s own community and the larger society – was certainly not new for Jews in the Diaspora, nor, indeed, is it unique to the Jewish community. But Kohn’s letter is notable both because it helps us to date the beginnings of larger scale Jewish settlement and because he states explicitly the challenge of “earthly pleasures” to religion. His fear, that his friends would break their promise and be lost to the Jewish community, is implicit. Kohn’s letter, known as the Alsbacher Document, after MOSES ALSBACHER, the early settler to whom the document was entrusted, is widely seen as the community’s foundational document.

Kohn’s challenge to his friends to remain Jewish, however that might be defined, is central to Jewish life, as experienced both individually and communally. The story of Jewish Cleveland is a tale of upward mobility, from a community of fifteen Bavarian Jewish immigrants to a population of over 80,000. The Jewish population of Northeast Ohio grew most dramatically in the first two decades of the twentieth century, reaching a high of 86,540 in the 1920s. Population reports from the 1980s reported lower figures of 65,000-70,000, pointing to a conclusion that Jews left the area just as so many others did in response to industrial decline. But in 1996 the Federation announced a revised, more likely estimate of 81,500, a change, according to the report, reflecting less a dramatic growth than improvements in technology allowing for a more accurate count. In truth, it appears that the community remained largely stable throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, even as the population aged. An estimate of just over 80,000 for much of the late twentieth century to the present is more likely correct. In addition, the community remained geographically concentrated in the eastern suburbs, since its move there starting around 1918. Following their mid nineteenth century settlement in the CENTRAL MARKET district downtown and in later decades in the Woodland neighborhood around East 55th Street, Jews moved in the early twentieth century to two geographically separate neighborhoods to the east, GLENVILLE and MOUNT PLEASANT-KINSMAN. Jews left these neighborhoods from the 1930s to the 1940s for the contiguous suburban neighborhoods known as the Heights, including CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, SHAKER HEIGHTS, and UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS. By the 1950s, several congregations and Jewish institutions were already locating further east, especially in BEACHWOOD. Over the decades the concentration of Jews shifted from the Heights to an outer suburban core, including Beachwood, CHAGRIN FALLS, GATES MILLS, HUNTING VALLEY, MORELAND HILLS, ORANGE, PEPPER PIKE, and WOODMERE. Yet the inner ring suburbs of the Heights retained its Jewish population. By 1960, one of Cleveland’s most prominent Federation leaders, Sidney Z. Vincent, described the city of Cleveland proper as a “city without Jews.” Jews established themselves firmly on Cleveland’s East Side, in spite of earlier restrictions from settling in some of these suburban neighborhoods through the exclusionary policies of developers. As throughout the nineteenth century, a small number of Jews continued to live on the West Side, but the community became definitively associated with the eastern suburbs.

Jewish community institutions once clustered downtown and then in Glenville and Mount Pleasant-Kinsman. By the mid twentieth century, they followed those they served, relocating to Cleveland Heights and then Beachwood. For example, South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights, between Cedar Road and Mayfield Road, remains home to an important segment of the Orthodox community, hosting private Jewish schools and a kosher market. Similarly, the area surrounding the intersection of Cedar Road and Green Road (straddling the communities of South Euclid and University Heights) became home to a number of Orthodox institutions in the early 2000s, including Congregation Zichron Chaim, GREEN ROAD SYNAGOGUE, Young Israel of Greater Cleveland, Chabad House of Greater Cleveland, and Cedar Green Community Kollel. The importance of Beachwood for the area’s Jewish community deserves special mention. From the 1990s to the present day Beachwood has been home to a cluster of institutions, forming what might be described as a sizable Jewish campus. These institutions include THE TEMPLE-TIFERETH ISRAEL, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School (formerly Agnon School), the Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies (until its closure in 2012), Fuchs Mizrachi School, the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER, and Park Synagogue East. THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF CLEVELAND, located in downtown Cleveland since its founding in 1903, moved to a nearby location in 2011. This concentration of community institutions is in part the result of conscious planning. The building and relocation of institutions in Beachwood in the past thirty years attests to the need for convenient access and the desire to locate near similar organizations. This clustering fosters activity and, for many, a sense of belonging, even as some Jews continue the direction of migration further east and south.

Comparatively early arrivals in the city, Jews were part of a wave of German Jewish immigration that led to the establishment of Jewish communities throughout the Great Lakes region and the Midwest, such as St. Louis, Columbus, Rochester, Milwaukee, and Chicago. In addition to Thorman, two other Jewish men from Unsleben settled in Cleveland before 1839, Abraham Rosenbaum and Nathan Tuch. But not all of the early immigration was from Unsleben. The Amsterdam born DANIEL LEVI PEIXOTTO, who had studied medicine at Columbia College in New York City, came to Northeast Ohio in 1835 to take a position at Willoughby Medical College. He was the first Jewish doctor to teach medicine in Ohio. He and his family left the area in 1841 and so Thorman is credited as the area’s first permanent Jewish settler.

The Unsleben group came with the intent of establishing a community. The seven adult males of the group joined the three already here to make a minyan, meeting the minimum number of adult males for a traditional prayer service. The group brought a Sefer Torah with them, and Simson (Samson) Hoffman (Hopfermann, Hopfmann) was both a chazzan (cantor) and shochet (ritual slaughterer). His son Isaac (Seckel) was a mohel, qualified to perform male circumcision. The Unslebenites arrived in a Protestant community, a town of eight Protestant congregations and just one Catholic Church for the city’s Irish and German Catholics. They established the Israelitic Society in 1839. A splinter group founded ANSHE CHESED (People of Lovingkindness) in 1841, perhaps because of differences over religious practices. A fire destroyed the meeting place of the Israelitic Society in 1845, and the two groups came together again. They built the city’s first synagogue in 1846 and, in 1849, hired Rabbi ISIDOR KALISCH. He was dismissed less than a year later for making changes deemed too radical. A substantial number of members of Israelitic Society Anshe Chesed left with him to form TIFERETH ISRAEL (Glory of Israel) in 1850. Both congregations gradually adopted a focus on classical Reform Judaism in the nineteenth century, in an effort to appear similar to their Protestant neighbors, and both eventually affiliated with the Reform movement.

The community grew modestly from the 1840s to the 1880s, but Cleveland’s Jews succeeded in finding work, establishing families, and in creating religious, social, and cultural institutions to serve their community. The immigrants first worked as peddlers and shopkeepers and later in the garment trade. Many were also bankers, clerks, bookkeepers, and dry goods merchants. The garment industry, which, arguably, grew into the most significant industry in the city for Jewish immigrants, took root as early as the 1840s. Koch & Loeb, a wholesale clothing store selling men’s clothes and piece goods, relocated to Cleveland from Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1845 and developed into JOSEPH & FEISS, a well-known menswear manufacturer. George A. Davis, another Jewish immigrant from Germany, sold ready-made clothing in a shop he opened in 1847. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PEIXOTTO, son of Daniel Levi, returned to Cleveland as a young man and eventually entered into business with Davis. Davis, Peixotto & Co. manufactured thousands of uniforms for the Union during the Civil War.

These early settlers and manufacturers left their mark. Davis and Peixotto founded the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1855. Peixotto founded the Young Men’s Hebrew Literary Society in 1860 and helped to found the Cleveland chapter of B’NAI B’RITH in 1863. As elsewhere, the Jews of Ohio adopted the views of their neighbors and took up the cause of the nation that had welcomed them as immigrants, fighting for the Union during the CIVIL WAR. The regional district of B’nai B’rith established the JEWISH ORPHAN ASYLUM in the city in 1868, to serve Jewish orphans from throughout the Midwest, partly as a response to the increased number of orphans during the period of the Civil War. Early settlers such as Thorman and Kaufman and Joseph Hays became well-known businessmen and community leaders. After joining Thorman in business in 1860, the Hays brothers established a clothing store; KAUFMAN HAYS later sold the store and became involved in finance, manufacturing, and local politics. Simson Thorman served a term on Cleveland City Council in the 1860s. Kaufman Hays won a seat on the City Council in 1886 and later, as the city’s acting treasurer, was instrumental in saving the city’s credit after a financial scandal. While not everyone was as successful as Thorman or the Hays family, the Jewish community gradually achieved a degree of professional success and economic stability. Institutions such as the Jewish Orphan Asylum and the Sir Moses Montefiore Kesher Shel Barzel Home for the Aged and Infirm Israelites (MONTEFIORE HOME), founded in 1882, provided for the community’s most vulnerable. Jewish merchants provided a sign of commercial success just as immigration was increasing in the 1880s and 1890s and many Jews were moving further out from the Central Market district to the Woodland neighborhood. Three of the city’s largest department stores were owned by Jews, THE BAILEY COMPANY, THE MAY COMPANY, and HALLE BROTHERS. Cleveland’s Jewish upper middle class was not yet accepted socially. Excluded from private, non-Jewish clubs, a group of Cleveland’s most prosperous Jews founded the EXCELSIOR CLUB in 1872. Excelsior merged with OAKWOOD CLUB in 1931.

Some immigrants from East Central Europe had already begun to arrive as early as the 1850s. They established their own congregations, with significantly different practices than in the Reform congregations. ANSHE EMETH (today’s Park Synagogue, founded by Polish Jews in 1857) and B’NAI JESHURUN (founded by Hungarian Jews in 1866) eventually adopted some of the innovative practices of Reform Judaism and came to occupy a space between Orthodox tradition and Reform practice, identifying with the Conservative movement. Together with Anshe Chesed and Tifereth Israel, these congregations are sometimes called “the Big Four”, because they remain the area’s largest congregations. The immigration from the 1880s to the 1920s increased the city’s Jewish population substantially and led to the formation of many smaller, more religiously traditional congregations. By 1918 there were twenty-four Orthodox congregations in the city[. Many of them were formed by immigrants who came from the same region, such as the Marmaresh B’nai Jacob Society, founded in the Woodland neighborhood in 1910 (see GREEN ROAD SYNAGOGUE). This congregation brought together Jews from Máramaros in pre-World War I Hungary (Maramureş in today’s Romania). The TETIEVER AHAVATH ACHIM ANSHE SFARD congregation formed in 1910 and had its roots in the organization of the Tetiever Verein, for Russian Jews from the town of Tetiev, around 1900. The Tetiever Verein (Tetiev Union) is just one example of Cleveland’s landsmanshaften, mutual aid societies founded by Jewish immigrants from the same town or region in Europe. The most significant among Cleveland’s Orthodox rabbinical leaders, RABBI ISRAEL PORATH retired from his position at Heights Jewish Center in 1972, having served earlier at Congregation Neveh Zedek and OHEB ZEDEK.

Chain migration is responsible for the growth of the Jewish community. Jews came to join family and friends who had already established themselves. The influx of immigrants from the 1880s on ultimately transformed the Jewish community. Their needs made plain the necessity of Jewish community institutions to grow and to help the recent immigrants. Cleveland’s small German Jewish community, which had long been English-speaking and religiously reform minded, was faced with migrants who spoke Yiddish and retained traditionally religious practices. The new migrants were also in dire need of employment assistance and education. They needed help to become Americans, and they also needed appropriate social services.

The charitable associations founded to aid the newer arrivals worked to bridge the differences between Cleveland’s established Jewish population and the more recent arrivals. Much of this activity is due to the work of women. THE COUNCIL EDUCATIONAL ALLIANCE, part of the work of the Cleveland Section of the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN, formed from the merger of smaller associations. These smaller groups were made up of middle class Jewish women who gathered together in an effort to help the new immigrants. Non-Jewish groups assisted as well, especially the social settlement Hiram House. Like the Council Educational Alliance, HIRAM HOUSE operated in the Woodland neighborhood and offered classes for children and adults, camping programs, counseling services, and musical and cultural events for the new immigrants. Some groups targeted their efforts more specifically. The Young Ladies’ Hebrew Association held fundraising balls that eventually resulted in the founding of MT. SINAI HOSPITAL in 1903. That same year, the Federation for Jewish Charities (today’s Jewish Federation of Cleveland) was established to centralize fundraising efforts; it quickly became seen by outsiders as representative of the organized Jewish community.

The Federation was founded just when Cleveland’s Jewish population began to increase exponentially, growing from 25,000 in 1905 to 75,000 in 1917. By 1920, Cleveland’s approximately 80,000 Jews represented ten percent of the city’s total population. Many of the new immigrants found employment in the growing GARMENT INDUSTRY, which included manufacturers of women’s wear, menswear, and knit goods. Nearly all of the manufacturers were Jewish, and they hired Jews, POLES, HUNGARIANS, CZECHS, SLOVAKS, SLOVENES, CROATS, SERBS, ITALIANS, GREEKS, and others. But Jews were also employed as peddlers and the proprietors of small shops, as carpenters and clerks and in cigar manufacturing. As their lives became more stable and they gained education, many entered service industries, the legal and medical professions, and businesses, especially real estate and banking. Many were also involved in the scrap metal industry.

The immigrants from East Central Europe also brought with them a stronger interest in Jewish education. Jewish children found a place in the public schools once they were established in Cleveland, sometimes receiving supplementary Jewish education in congregational educational programs. Though Christian influence was still strong in public schools, Jews, unlike Catholic immigrants, did not establish their own network of private day schools, preferring instead supplementary afternoon or weekend options. Nondenominational supplementary schools for instruction in Hebrew and religion served the community and grew throughout the early twentieth century.

The two broad strands of the community, represented by those from German-speaking areas who arrived in the 1840s and those who came later from East Central Europe, gradually learned to cooperate with each other in the first decades of the twentieth century. East European Jewish immigrants founded their own congregations and social service agencies, but they also learned English, gradually joined Cleveland’s older, less traditional congregations, and eventually improved their economic prospects. The established Jewish community learned that the new immigrants could not be seen simply as recipients of charity but as full-fledged members of the community who would eventually become active in community groups and take over their leadership positions. Though the new immigrants tended to live in the same neighborhoods as those Jews who had been here longer, social services within the community were for many years completely divided. Separate organizations, such as the ORTHODOX JEWISH CHILDREN’S HOME, opened in 1920, and the Hebrew Orthodox Old Age Home, Bet Moshav Zekenim (MENORAH PARK CENTER FOR THE AGING), founded in 1906, served Orthodox Jewish orphans and the Orthodox elderly. The Federation did not begin supporting Orthodox institutions until the 1920s. This rapprochement was a sign of growing unity within the Jewish community.

Since the 1840s Cleveland’s Jews had demonstrated their comparatively quick linguistic acculturation to English. There was no German-language Jewish press, and the English-language Jewish press did not develop until the founding of the first Jewish newspaper, the Hebrew Observer in 1889. The Jewish Review was founded in 1893 and the two newspapers merged to become THE JEWISH REVIEW AND OBSERVER in 1899. THE JEWISH INDEPENDENT appeared in 1906. Still both Yiddish and Hebrew played important roles within the community. A Yiddish title Yiddishe Tegliche Presse (Jewish Daily Press) was published briefly in 1908, but it was the Rocker family’s DIE YIDDISHE VELT (The Jewish World) which became Cleveland’s Yiddish newspaper, published from 1911 to 1952, until 1945 as a daily. Cleveland’s Yiddish-speaking Jews patronized the performances of the visiting Yiddish theater troupes, who came to Cleveland as early as the 1890s. The I. L. Peretz WORKMEN’S CIRCLE School also offered supplementary education in Yiddish for both children and adults from its founding in 1918. The educator A. H. FRIEDLAND was perhaps Cleveland’s foremost promoter of the use of Hebrew. His arrival in 1921 transformed Jewish education in the city. Friedland led the CLEVELAND HEBREW SCHOOLS and, later, the BUREAU OF JEWISH EDUCATION, infusing the schools with his Zionist Hebraist brand of education. Congregational and supplementary schools provided education in Hebrew as well.

The Woodland neighborhood, especially around East 55th Street, was still a Jewish neighborhood in the 1920s. In 1916, Mount Sinai Hospital opened a new building on East 105th Street. A year later The Temple-Tifereth Israel hired a promising young rabbi, Abba Hillel Silver. In 1924 The Temple dedicated its new building, striking in its modified Byzantine style, right next to Mount Sinai. These two prominent institutions, The Temple-Tifereth Israel and Mount Sinai Hospital, anchored the southern end of the Glenville neighborhood. Glenville prospered as a densely populated neighborhood of larger Jewish institutions, storefront shops, small congregations, and large single-family and double-family homes from the 1920s to the 1940s.

The Jewish population of Glenville is usually described as middle class, while the Kinsman neighborhood is viewed as working class. Glenville was over twenty-five percent Jewish in the 1920s, while only fourteen percent of the total population in the Kinsman neighborhood was Jewish. Trade unions in the Kinsman neighborhood were stronger than in Glenville, and Kinsman was the home of the socialist Workmen’s Circle. Both Glenville and Kinsman hosted smaller congregations, supplementary schools, and branches of the Council Educational Alliance (one of the agencies that formed the Jewish Community Center in 1948). The Jewish communities of these neighborhoods were truly urban, centered around East 105th Street in Glenville and East 140th Street in Kinsman. They offered the grocery stores, dry cleaners, barbers, and other services that made up an urban neighborhood and, of no less importance, the public transportation that took Jews to their jobs throughout the city.  

Most striking about these neighborhoods is their transitory nature. Cleveland’s Jewish community has been stable geographically, but only when the eastern suburbs are viewed in their totality. Woodland, in the center of the city, declined rapidly as a Jewish center in the late 1920s. Anshe Emeth established a significant presence on East 105th Street, in the Cleveland Jewish Center, a synagogue complete with pool and recreation center, dedicated in 1922. But the congregation soon began raising money to prepare for a later move to Cleveland Heights. B’nai Jeshurun jumped over Glenville and Kinsman and relocated further east in Cleveland Heights. In 1906 B’nai Jeshurun opened a new building on East 55th Street in the Woodland neighborhood; in 1926, the congregation opened what became known as “The Temple on the Heights” on Mayfield Road. The geographic stability of the Jewish community is a phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s, by which time most of the Jews of Glenville and Kinsman had already moved out and some institutions had already located in Beachwood.

The towering figure of Cleveland’s twentieth century Jewish history is ABBA HILLEL SILVER. His tenure at The Temple, from 1917 until his death in 1963, encompassed a period of significant change, both locally and internationally. Silver was actively involved in local Jewish education, in the labor movement, and in fighting antisemitism. While becoming a beloved congregational leader, he also forged a career as one of the most important American Zionist leaders. Zionism had a significant presence in Cleveland before Silver’s arrival. Soon after Zionist groups formed in Cleveland in the mid 1890s, the city hosted in 1904 the conference of the Federation of American Zionists. Cleveland was again the site of a national Zionist conference in 1921, when Chaim Weizmann and Albert Einstein attended the conference of the ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA. But not all of Cleveland’s Jews supported the movement for an independent Jewish state when Silver arrived in 1917. Born in Lithuania to an observant family but trained at the Reform Hebrew Union College, Silver was able to communicate the need for the movement to all segments of the community. He became a dominant presence among local Zionists in the 1920s and 1930s. He also led the LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, formed in 1933 to promote a local boycott against Nazi-produced goods and to combat antisemitism. As chairman of the American section of the Jewish Agency, Silver advocated for the creation of an independent Jewish state in front of the United Nations in May 1947.

While mass emigration from Europe ended with federal restrictions put in place in 1924, the crisis and war brought on by the rise of Nazi Germany led to the arrival of refugees in Cleveland. About a thousand Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany arrived in Cleveland in 1939. Some of them formed a new congregation, Gates of Hope (Shaarey Tikvah).   At the start of World War II Rabbis Eliyahu Meir Bloch and Chaim Mordechai Katz escaped from Telšiai (Telshe), Lithuania, where they served on the faculty of the TELSHE YESHIVA, established in 1875. Bloch and Katz reestablished the yeshiva in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood in 1941. In 1943 they founded Hebrew Academy, a Torah-oriented school for Jewish boys. Their educational efforts also led to the establishment of the Yavne High School for Girls in 1957. Holocaust survivors who came to Cleveland after the war joined together in 1959 to form the Kol Israel Foundation, an organization offering social, vocational, and financial assistance to their members. The group erected Cleveland’s Holocaust memorial in 1961 in Zion Memorial Park, a cemetery in Bedford Heights. The organization remains active and strives to encourage the involvement of survivors’ children and grandchildren.

Cleveland’s Jews benefited from America’s postwar prosperity. The garment industry continued to prosper for about twenty years until its decline in the 1970s and 1980s, and Jews entered the professions and service industries in greater numbers. The move to the outer suburbs continued, though sometimes not without opposition. A lengthy court battle spurred in part by antisemitism delayed the construction in Beachwood of Anshe Chesed’s new building, dedicated in 1957. Jewish education, for both children and adults, developed significantly during these years. Two schools founded by Friedland in the 1920s to train Sunday school teachers and teachers of Hebrew merged to form the Cleveland Institute of Jewish Studies in 1947. The Institute developed into the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies (later, the Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies), granting degrees in Jewish studies and Jewish communal service and providing adult educational opportunities until its closure in 2012. Jewish students fared well in the suburban public schools, but they also attended the area’s private Jewish and non-Jewish day schools, most located in the eastern suburbs. 

The Federation opened a new building in downtown Cleveland in 1964, demonstrating the community’s commitment to a “city without Jews.” That decision came at a time when downtown Cleveland was still a vibrant metropolis, when many still worked downtown, commuting via the local rapid transit, which had been designed specifically to make downtown accessible from the eastern suburbs. The Federation remained downtown until 2011, when at last it relocated to Beachwood, which housed much of its constituency and hosted most of the community’s major institutions. The Jewish population in the eastern suburbs remained stable, though some migration continued to towns further to the east and south.

The Jewish community responded to challenges both local and international, especially the civil rights movement and the plight of Soviet Jewry, and its activism had national consequences. Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld of Anshe Chesed was especially active in the civil rights movement. While registering black voters in Mississippi in 1964, he was beaten by white segregationists. Cleveland’s role in the Soviet Jewish movement has been widely recognized. The CLEVELAND COUNCIL ON SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM began with a project of a men’s social justice group at BETH ISRAEL-WEST TEMPLE. The group worked from the 1960s to the 1980s to bring the plight of Soviet Jews to the attention of the larger community. Cleveland absorbed an estimated 12,000 Soviet Jews from the 1970s to the 1990s. Emigration from the former Soviet Union, often classical chain migration, continued into the 2000s.

The 2011 Greater Cleveland Jewish Population Study confirmed the community’s stability, estimating an 80,800 Jews in the area. In addition, twenty-three percent of the total Jewish population was under the age of seventeen, while only nineteen percent were over sixty-five. There was some growth in the southeast suburbs, especially in SOLON, but the population maintained its geographic stability as well. The Heights maintained its share of the Jewish population, twenty-seven percent into the twenty-first century. Cleveland’s Jewish community is largely Reform; the Orthodox make up ten percent of the total surveyed. Among those married, thirty-eight percent are intermarried. It is not only the community’s oldest congregations that attest to the stability of the community. The city’s Jewish newspaper, CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS, was born of a merger of The Jewish Review and Observer and The Jewish Independent in 1964; thus, it can trace its roots to the 1890. Similarly, eight smaller Orthodox congregations founded in the early twentieth century merged over the years to become Oheb Zedek Cedar Sinai Synagogue, established in 2012.

The general picture of the Jewish community in the twentieth century is one of growth and stability, but there has also been significant change. While Cleveland’s original congregations remain active, other institutions have closed. Mt. Sinai Medical Center was sold in 1995 to a for-profit company; the hospital closed in 2000, without having made the transition to the suburbs. The Siegal College of Judaic Studies closed in 2012, but part of its operations continued as the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. These closings reflect in part wide-ranging changes in the delivery of health care and in higher education. Like Jews elsewhere in the United States, Cleveland’s Jews at the turn of the twenty-first century participated much more broadly in non-Jewish institutions than in earlier decades. Changes within the community were evident as well. Friedland’s Hebraist education, always as much cultural as religious, eventually gave way to supplementary education in the congregations, even as Hebrew helped tie American Jews to the young state of Israel. Due to declining enrollment, Cleveland Hebrew Schools closed in 2009. Rather than auguring a decline, the closure of these significant institutions might also be taken to suggest the community’s flexibility and a willingness to transform to meet the needs of its members.

Sean Martin

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

Martin, Sean, Grabowski, John (eds) Cleveland Jews and the Making of a Midwestern Community (2020)

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

Rubinstein, Judah, Avner Jane.  Merging Traditions:  Jewish Life in Cleveland (2004)

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

Wertheim, Sally,  Bennett, Alan,  Rubinstein, Judah. (eds) Remembering:  Cleveland's Jewish Voices (2011)

See also RELIGION.


Article Categories