Immigration & Community Beginnings

Mikveh Israel’s burial ground – Philadelphia, 1740

Image of the inside of Mikveh Israel, including central bima, ark, and separated, gender-based seating on different levels.

Although Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s first synagogue, was not founded until 1782, the land for its cemetery has an earlier history. A burial plot was first bought by Nathan Levy in 1738 when he suddenly needed a burial place for one of his children, and land was made available to him by Thomas Penn, the son…

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Jews arrive in the New World

Artistic rendition of the arrival of Jews to New Amsterdam. Depicts a ship arriving at port, with wood-built buildings behind ocean waves and a cloudy sky.

The first known Jew to arrive in America was Jacob Barsimson on August 22, 1654, and he was joined by twenty-three more Jews four months later, although most of them stayed in New Amsterdam only for a short time. Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam, was not happy about having a Jewish population in the…

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AMERICA’S OLDEST STANDING SYNAGOGUE

Black and white image of the Touro Synagogue, undated.

December 2nd, 1763, Members of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue building in the United States. It is the only synagogue to survive from the colonial era. The synagogue was designed by Newport citizen Peter Harrison. At the onset of the American Revolution,…

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Emma Lazarus: Writings and Philanthropy

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote these words memorialized on the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus was born to a Jewish family in New York, near Union Square, on July 22, 1849. She held a strong classical education along with fluency in German and French.…

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The First Jewish Senator: David Levy Yulee 

Image of David Yulee Levy with the caption: "David Levy Yulee former U.S. Senator and Confederate Congressman."

David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was born to a Sephardic Jewish family in St. Thomas, West Indies, before relocating to Florida where he studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. When Florida became a state, Yulee was elected to serve. In 1841, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, though his position was disputed…

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Abigail Minis and Jewish Settlers in the Georgia Colony

Portrait of the life of Abigail Minis including a family portrait, depiction of the Minis family tavern, and her plantation.

Within six month of the founding of the Georgia Colony by James Oglethorpe in 1732, a ship carrying 42 Jewish settlers landed off the coast of Savannah. These Jews sailed from London, England, though most of them had Portuguese Jewish descent (refugees of the Spanish Inquisition), though there were among them two German-Jewish families, as…

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The Lynching of Leo Frank

Black and white photograph of Leo Frank at trial.

The name Leo Frank (1884-1915) rose to fame for highly violent reasons. Accused in 1913 of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl who worked at the Atlanta National Pencil Factory (where Frank was a manager), a sensational and heavily flawed trial ensued.  The body of Mary Phagan was found in the basement of the factory; most modern…

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Binationalism, Rabbi Judah Magnes, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 

Image of Judah Magnus.

Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes (1877-1948) is memorialized as a leader of Reform Judaism, a notable pacifist during WWI, and an advocate for a binationalist Jewish-Arab state during the years of the British Mandate of Palestine. Born in San Francisco, California, Magnes became one of the most widely recognized voices of American Reform Judaism in the…

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The Catskills Cultural Revolution: Jennie Grossinger

On June 16, 1892, Jennie Grossinger was born to a Jewish family in the province of Galicia, at the time a region of Austria – though later incorporated into Poland, and eventually into the Ukraine. Jennie Grossinger and her family immigrated to New York’s Lower East Side in 1900, a reprieve from the antisemitism, pogroms…

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