ATLANTIC CITY, one of the most frequently visited tourist sites on the East Coast of the United States, located off the southern New Jersey coast and part of a two-county area rich in Jewish culture and identity opportunity. At the outset of the 21st century, over 15,000 year-round Jewish residents lived in the Atlantic/Cape May bi-county area, which more than triples in population in the summer months. The gaming mecca with its nearby historic Boardwalk exists basically on Absecon Island, which includes Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, and the downbeach community of Longport. The area has various synagogues of most denominations including two thriving Reform congregations, several well-attended Conservative congregations, and a small but growing Orthodox population. Wildwood, part of Cape May County, is home to another Conservative congregation.
The first Jewish settlers arrived in 1880, when the city was already a summer resort for Philadelphians. Ten years later the first congregation, Beth Israel (Reform), was founded, followed by Rodef Sholom (Orthodox) in 1896. From the outset Jews gravitated to the tourist-oriented industries. They have continued in this capacity and in the professions, while also playing a leading role in the city's cultural and philanthropic activities. Jewish organizational life developed gradually. As precursors to what now exists a Young Men's Hebrew Association was founded in 1911, and in 1916 the Hebrew Sheltering Home was founded to provide a temporary haven for indigent persons needing food and lodging. This then evolved into the 155-bed Hebrew Old Age Center, now formally known as Seashore Gardens Living Center, providing geriatric care. From the Montefiore True Sisters, who provided food baskets to the needy, evolved the Federation of Jewish Agencies, founded in 1923 to coordinate all fundraising, budgeting, and community planning for local, national, and overseas agencies. There was a community weekly, the Jewish Record, founded in 1939, which existed until the early 1990s. As with many northeastern cities and even the famed Catskill Resort area in New York, during the middle of the 20th century, Atlantic City underwent a decline. With the advent of air conditioning and with non-Jewish hotels ending their policy of excluding Jews, the Jewish hotels declined and went out of business. The introduction of gaming was intended to revive investment in the city and to make it a tourist destination once again. By then many Jews and most Jewish institutions had left the city. By the turn of the 20th century Atlantic and Cape May counties rather than Atlantic City had become the center of Jewish life.
Atlantic County boasts two popular kosher restaurants, two day schools (Jewish Community Day School of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, housed in a new building in Northfield, and the Trocki Hebrew Academy, which is located in Egg Harbor Township), a mikveh, and a newly expanded network of social service agencies. They include the brand new Katz Jewish Community Center and Jewish Family Service, both housed as part of the "community campus" environment in Margate City. Also part of the campus is the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties as well as the local Board of Jewish Education. During the summer season the well-known Camp By the Sea is a thriving area for local and summer youth held at the JCC.
Atlantic City is home to the Jewish Older Adult Services agency and in nearby Galloway Township the Seashore Gardens Living Center accommodates both assisted living and long-term care in a magnificent facility opened in 2003. Seashore Gardens offers kosher living to all of its residents. Nearby Cape May is a peaceful paradise for summer and year-round visitors who want pristine beaches, a beautiful walkway, lots of hotels, and bed and breakfast choices along with top-notch restaurants. A newspaper, the Jewish Times, located in Pleasantville, serves the local community with its weekly publication.
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, a growing college in the New Jersey State Higher Education system, is also the center for the Holocaust Resource Center. Here those interested in this academic area find a study environment conducive to this highly regarded program. The rscnj campus offers a myriad of degree choices, including a baccalaureate degree in Jewish Studies and a masters degree program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.