Jewish history has been a part of American history since going back to the colonial times. In the beginning, the Jewish community of Charleston in South Carolina was the largest community in the country until the 1830s.
In the late 1800s, Jewish numbers in America would surge again with the rise of immigration movements. These included German Jews who often established clothing stores across the country and were involved in banking and formed Reform synagogues; as well as less wealthy Eastern Yiddish-speaking Jewish people who often worked in the garment industry, were centered in New York and brought along their Orthodox and Conservative characteristics regarding the Jewish faith. The numbers grew again with Jewish diaspora after World War 2 and again in the 1970s. Each group has continued to contribute to the country. Statistically, Jewish Americans have shown higher levels of social mobility and education than many of their fellow Americans.
To honor their contributions to the county over the centuries, in 2006, George W. Bush proclaimed that May would become known as Jewish Heritage Month.
Today, there are large Jewish communities in the country, as well as information and resources for Jewish people and those considering converting to Judaism.
Largest Jewish Communities in the U.S.
Jewish numbers in the small towns many occupied have dwindled as metropolitan areas became a preferred location, with New York City having the highest concentration and Miami and Los Angeles taking second and third place. In the 1940s the Jewish population swelled to become nearly four percent of the overall American population. Today, that population has shrunk by approximately half. This is, in part, due to small family size and marriages outside of the Jewish faith.
The states that have the largest number of Jewish Americans are New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, and Connecticut. In fact, the percentage of New York state residents who are Jewish is nearly ten percent. The states with the least number of Jewish Americans include West Virginia, Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
- Jewish Virtual Library: Vital statistics: Largest Jewish populated areas, United States
- Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: The Jewish communities of Western United States
- World Jewish Congress: United States
Jewish History Resources
If you would like to learn more about the history of Jewish people in America, there are online resources as well as traditional museums that you can visit. There are also a number of Holocaust memorials and museums within the country. These include, but are not limited to, The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan, and the American Jewish Museum in Pittsburg.
- American Jewish Historical Society: 360 years of American Jewish life
- The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives: Timeline in American Jewish history
- Jewish Women’s Archive: Jewish museums in the United States
Jewish Cultural Resources
Jewish individuals have contributed to the arts in America for almost as long as history remembers. This art can also be found in museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, and the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art. Famous Jewish American artists include David Ascalaon, a sculptor and synagogue designer, the painter Alex Katz, and many of the performing arts silver screen stars of today and yesterday.
In addition to contributions to the arts, the Jewish communities in America have kept their own unique culture alive, including traditional foods, religious observations, and often strong communities. They have been well accepted in the larger US community and have played a role in the country’s culture, development, entertainment, politics, and perspectives.
To learn more about Jewish culture in the United States, visit the following links.
- Pew Research Center: A portrait of Jewish Americans
- PBS: The Jewish Americans
- Jewish American Heritage Month: The Leonard Bernstein collection
Hebrew and Yiddish Language Resources
An important aspect of Jewish culture and religion is language. Hebrew and Yiddish are two distinct languages. Hebrew is spoken in Israel and is also a part of many Jewish religious traditions. Yiddish is a high German language that is a combination of Hebrew with German dialects as well as Aramaic and Slavic languages.
If you are interested in learning more about the languages or would like to learn either one, there are classes and resources both online and offline that may help you in your journey.
- University of Northern Iowa: Best Hebrew websites
- NBN: Ulpan and Hebrew learning resources online
- The California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language: Yiddish resources
- YIVO Institute for Jewish Research: Yiddish resources at YIVO
Jewish Health Resources
Jewish Americans also play a role in the country’s world-famous healthcare research and advances, with the National Jewish Health Hospital receiving top rankings for respiratory healthcare. Medicine has long been a traditional aspect of Jewish communities, as care for health is considered a vital aspect of a community’s functioning as well as a part of valuing human life, which is taught in the Torah. There has also been research conducted to study how diseases passed along genetically impact specific groups of the Jewish population.
- National Jewish Health: About us
- JGDC: Diseases Common to Jewish Groups
- My Jewish Learning: What Are Jewish Genetic Diseases?
Additional Jewish Resources
Do you still want to learn more about what it is like to be Jewish in America? There are plenty of resources online that delve into the communities, culture, and history of Judaism in America. Here are our top picks to start with:
The Pluralism Project at Harvard University offers an informative timeline on Judaism in America if you would like to learn more about how the Jewish community has grown with America.
Jewish in America has a more extensive Portal to American Jewish history that includes a variety of links to archives and historical resources.
The National Humanities Center also has Links to online resources for anyone interested in learning more about American Jewish culture, traditions, and history.
The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater has General Jewish resources including ones for parents, students, and those interested in human rights.