The first known Jewish resident of what is now the state of Illinois was John Hays, a grandson of a New York Jew, who moved west to Cahokia in 1793. Hays was a farmer and trader, who, in addition to his professions, possessed great dedication to civil service, having been a soldier, postmaster and sheriff.

The second known Jew who lived in Illinois prior to statehood was Abraham Jonas, who, in 1838, moved to Quincy from Cincinnati. In 1842, he was elected to the Illinois legislature, where he met a young Abraham Lincoln. The two would become lifelong friends. Another notable Illinoisan was Captain Samuel Noah, the first Jewish graduate of West Point Military Academy, who, in the late 1840s, worked as a teacher in Mount Pulaski, in Logan County.

Outside of Chicago, where Jews began settling in the 1830s, the oldest Jewish community in Illinois can be found in Peoria, where Jews arrived in 1847. Peoria’s Jewish Benevolent Society was created in 1852, and seven years later, Peoria’s first synagogue, Congregation Anshei Emeth was established. About 75 miles south of Peoria, a Jewish community in Springfield began to grow around 1850, and Brith Sholom, Springfield’s first synagogue was founded in 1858. In 1863, Jews ventured further south to Cairo, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters there.

Of course, today, the vast majority of Jews in Illinois live in Chicago and its suburbs. Jews first settled in Chicago in the 1830s, when Chicago was incorporated, coming mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe. Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM), Chicago’s first synagogue, was founded in 1847 by German immigrants. Within 5 years, 20 Polish immigrants broke away and created Chicago’s second synagogue, Kehilath B’nai Sholom. By 1859, Chicago had a United Hebrew Relief Association, established by 15 Jewish organizations. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Jews began moving to the suburbs. Yet, the late 1870s brought a new immigration wave of Jews to Chicago from Eastern Europe. Also of note, in 1923, the first campus “Hillel House,” established by the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation, was established at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

In 1933, one hundred years after its incorporating there were 270,000 Jews living in Chicago, representing 9% of the entire population of the “Second City.” One of the early settlers of Chicago was Henry Horner, whose grandson, of the same name, would become the first Jewish governor of Illinois. The only larger Jewish population centers, other than Chicago were in New York City and Warsaw, Poland.

Eventually, the Jews, like residents of so many other cities, moved to the suburbs. The largest Jewish sprawl moved west into the North Lawndale area, which housed 60 synagogues, the Hebrew Theological College and the Douglas Library, where a young Golda (nee Meyerson) Meir worked for a short period. After World War II, more wealthy Chicago Jews moved to West Rogers Park, on the far North Side. By the 1960s, 40% of the families in Niles Township (where Skokie is situated) were Jewish. Other Chicago suburbs that enjoy large Jewish populations are Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Evanston, and Oak Park.

As of a survey in 2013, Illinois’ Jewish population is a little less than 300,000, with 75% living in Chicagoland. Peoria and Quincy have the largest Jewish populations outside of Chicago.

On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state in the Union.

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