Connecticut is one of the six New England states located in the Northeast section of the United States. The earliest reference to a Jew in Connecticut is found in connection with an entry on November 9, 1659, in the General Court in Hartford , of one named "David the Jew" who was arrested for peddling. Shortly thereafter, in 1661, reference is made to Jews living in Hartford in the house of one John Marsh, and the extension of permission to continue to live in "ye Town for sea[v]en months."
Little or nothing is known of the first Jewish settlers and settlements in Connecticut prior to the latter part of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Jews were settled in New Haven as early as 1759 where a family named Pinto – the brothers Jacob, Solomon, and Abraham – were living in that year. Ezra Stiles , president of Yale College at the time, referred to these Pinto brothers as "men who renounced Judaism and all religion"; but he also refers to a new Jewish family (unnamed), who settled in New Haven in 1771 and describes them as the "first real Jews… that settled in New Haven." He says that there were about eight or ten members in this new family and reports a Sabbath service held "by themselves" as being probably "the first Jewish worship in New Haven." Despite the seeming apostasy of the Pinto brothers, they were active patriots of the community. Jacob Pinto was reported a member of an important New Haven committee of patriots in 1775. Solomon served in the U.S. Army until he retired in 1783. Solomon was one of the original members of the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut, which was a short-lived group of aristocratic veteran officers of the Revolutionary War. Another brother, Abraham, also served.
There is very meager information about organized Jewish communities in Connecticut prior to the 19th century. Part of that may be due to the fact that no Jewish congregations were permitted to incorporate prior to 1843, when the Statutes were amended by the addition of the following: "Jews who may desire to unite and form religious societies may have the same rights, powers, and privileges as are given to Christians of every denomination by the laws of the State" (Revised Statutes of Connecticut, 1849, Title III, Section 149). There is no doubt, however, that groups of Jews lived in the state who would assemble for worship even without statutory permission. The first Jewish congregations on record are the Beth Israel of Hartford and Mishkan Israel of New Haven. Beth Israel in Hartford was organized in 1843, but there is reason to believe that they held services as early as 1839. Mishkan Israel, in New Haven, assembled for worship as early as December 1840. By reason of population movement to the suburbs, The Congregation Beth Israel of Hartford (its corporate name) was located in the late 1960s in the town of West Hartford, and Mishkan Israel Congregation was located in the town of Hamden.
Growth of the Jewish Community
The Jewish population of Connecticut grew with the in-flux of Jews from overseas. Thus, it is estimated that in 1877 there were 1,492 Jews in Connecticut; in 1905, 8,500; in 1917, 66,862; in 1927, 91,538; and in 1937, 94,080. In 1969 it was estimated that the Jewish population of Connecticut was approximately 105,000. In the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 125,000 Jews residing in the state. Out of 50 states in the U.S., Connecticut was ranked 10th highest for Jewish population.
The largest growth was in the Southern part of Connecticut, considered suburbs of New York City, mostly around the Westport and Greenwich areas. It is axiomatic that the closer to New York Connecticut residents live, the more they see themselves as part of the New York community though they affiliate locally with congregations, institutions, and organizations.
According to the Jewish Federation of the Western Communities of Connecticut, the most recent growth trend has been an increase of Jewish population in the western part of Connecticut, around Litchfield Co. The increase is better than 10%. The town of Waterbury, in western Connecticut, saw especially large growth in the Orthodox community after Ye-shiva Gedolah opened its doors in 2000. In five years, membership grew to include 75 families and 175 students. Students come from all over the U.S. and the world. Yeshiva Gedolah anticipated membership growth of well over 30% in 2006. National
grocery chains in the area responded by stocking kosher items for their new clientele.
The largest Jewish population in Connecticut was in Greater Hartford with 34,000 Jews. In the early 1900s, Hartford saw an influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and at one point during the 20th century Hartford had at least 13 synagogues in the city. After World War II, Jews moved from Hartford to the suburbs and subsequently no synagogues remained in downtown Hartford. The second largest Jewish community is in Greater New Haven.
In the past, business was the major source of Jewish livelihood. Jews then moved into the professions as lawyers, doctors, and academics, and into real estate, mostly commercial. Two major real estate developers are both Holocaust survivors, David Chase and Simon Konover, with statewide and national developments.
Connecticut had nine Jewish Federations and JFACT, Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, a statewide government affairs office. The ADL and AJC both had statewide offices in Connecticut. The Jewish Ledger was a statewide Jewish newspaper. Around the state there were also 130 synagogues, six Jewish community centers (four big ones and two smaller ones in Sherman and Litchfield), three Jewish nursing homes, eight Jewish Family Service Offices, 13 Jewish day schools, and the Hebrew High School of New England. Connecticut saw a growth in Jewish day school enrollment throughout the state.
Jewish community centers were housed in splendid facilities, and the federations for the collection of philanthropic contributions were active. Mt. Sinai Hospital of Hartford was the only Jewish hospital in the state. B'nai B'rith was also active.
Connecticut Jews have played a distinguished role in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the state. Herman P. Koppelmann of Hartford (1933–38, 1941–43) and William M. Citron (1935–38) of Middletown served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Abraham A. Ribicoff , who represented Connecticut in the House of Representatives (1945–52), was a member of the U.S. Senate (1962–1981), and governor of Connecticut (1955–61). Many Jews in the course of the years have served in the state legislature and on all levels of the judiciary. M. Joseph Blumenfeld of West Hartford was a Federal Court judge. Justices Samuel Melitz of Bridgeport and Abraham S. Bordon and Louis Shapiro of West Hartford served on the Supreme Court of Connecticut. Some men served as mayors of their communities, as U.S. referees in bankruptcy, and as Federal attorneys. In 2005, 14% of CT's State senators were Jewish (5 out of 36); they were Judith G. Freedman, Jonathan A. Harris, Edith G. Prague, Gayle S. Slossberg, and Andrea L. Stillman. Sam Gejdenson represented the greater New London area in Congress from 1981 to 2000. Born in 1948 in an American displaced persons camp in Eschwege, Germany, Gejdenson was the first child of Holocaust survivors elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The most famous Connecticut political leader is Senator Joseph I. Lieberman , who was first elected to the United States Senate in 1988, making him the first and only Orthodox Jew elected a senator. In 1994 he made Connecticut history by winning 67% of the vote, the largest ever in a Connecticut Senate race. In 2000, Lieberman was elected to a third term. He is perhaps best known as the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000 and as the first Jew nominated for the position on a major party ticket. His career now spans more than three decades.
As of 2013, Connecticut's Jewish population was approximately 116,050.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.