In 1817, when a pioneering watchmaker, Joseph Jonas, settled in Cincinnati, OH, from his native England, a permanent Jewish presence in Ohio was established. The Cincinnati Jewish immigrants held their first communal synagogue service in 1819, which led to the founding of Ohio’s first synagogue, the Orthodox B’ne Israel, in the Ohio Valley.

Two decades later, German Jews, led by Simson Thorman, raised in the Reform tradition, relocated to Cleveland, on the other side of the state. The first known Jew in Cleveland was Daniel Maduro Peixotto, who arrived in 1835 to teach at Willoughby Medical College. In 1839, these German immigrants founded the Israelitish Society, Cleveland’s first synagogue and Ohio’s second. Jewish German immigrants also arrived in Cincinnati in 1841 and founded the Bene Yeshurun Congregation. By 1850, Ohio’s six Jewish houses of worship were located exclusively in Cincinnati (four) and Cleveland (two). Prior to the American Civil War in 1860, Jewish communities were founded in five other Ohio cities: Columbus (1838), Dayton (1850), Hamilton (1855), Piqua (1858) and Portsmouth (1858). The Civil War saw 1,004 Jewish Ohioans participate as soldiers, a Jewish delegation second only to that of New York State.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews moved to Ohio in large numbers, populating cities such as Youngstown, Akron, Toledo and Canton. The American Jewish Year Book in 1902 recorded an organized Jewish presence in 18 Ohio cities, practically every major city, with 16 of them hosting over 50 Jewish organizations.

The founding of the U.S. Reform movement cannot be chronicled without mentioning Cincinnati. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded the Israelite in 1854, the first English language Jewish paper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. Rabbi Wise organized the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873 and, in 1875, he founded the first American rabbinical seminary (Reform), Hebrew Union College, all in Cincinnati.

It wasn’t until 1941, 65 years later, that the famed Telshe (pronounced “Telz”) Yeshiva, was relocated from war-torn Lithuania, to Cleveland.

At the close of the 20th century, 90% of Ohio’s Jews lived in one of three cities: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, with approximately 80,000 Jews in the greater Cleveland area, and about 25,000 each in Columbus and Cincinnati. As of 2017, approximately 148,000 Jews resided in Ohio.

Joseph Jonas, the first Jew in Ohio, died on May 5, 1869, corresponding to Iyar 24.

This Treat was originally posted on May 29, 2019.

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