BUFFALO, the second largest city in New York State and the seat of Erie Country. Erie County had a Jewish population in 2004 of between 15,000 and 18,000. In heavy industry, the principal support of Buffalo's economy, Jews have occupied relatively minor roles. They are chiefly involved in trade distribution and professional services. In 2004 a major hi-tech bioinformatics and health sciences campus was built in Buffalo, attracting Jewish scientists and researchers in growing numbers.
Most Buffalo Jews are descendants of the Eastern Europeans who came after 1880. These newcomers worked as peddlers, tailors, junkmen, and storekeepers, and with the immigration, the main location of the Jewish residential population shifted from lower Main Street to the East Side. A community house, a Jewish library, and about twelve Orthodox synagogues were set up in the area.
While the synagogues were unable to bring unity into the ghetto, the lodges and charitable organizations were a unifying force. A ḥevra kaddisha appeared early in the life of Buffalo Jewry. Montefiore Lodge of B'nai B'rith dates from 1866 and was the first of many groups which provided social companionship and mutual aid. In the 1850s the Buffalo Young Men's Hebrew Association, one of the first in the U.S., aided Jews traveling through the city and also offered cultural programs. Other institutions that were set up included an orphans' home, operated in conjunction with Rochester Jewry, a sheltering house, and Zion House, established by Beth Zion's Sisterhood to care for the newly arrived Russian Jews. Zion House was popularly known as the Jewish Community Building and formed the nucleus for the Federated Jewish Charities of Buffalo, which was established in 1903. The Federated Jewish Charities incorporated several rival societies and became the direct ancestor of the present United Jewish Federation. While Buffalo Jews early established afternoon and Sunday Hebrew schools, it was not until the late 1920s that a bureau of Jewish education was established which in 1928 established The High School of Jewish Studies, which today has over 200 students. In 1959 the Kadimah School created an elementary and middle school. The weekly Buffalo Jewish Review has been published since 1917.
Following World War I the Jewish East Side began to deteriorate. Greater Jewish affluence and the increased speed of urban transportation resulted in a general exodus, first to the West Side of the city, then to the Humboldt-Utica-Ferry section of mid-Buffalo, and still later to the North Park-Hertel Avenue part of North Buffalo. The Humboldt area was served by Temple Beth David, established in 1923, and Congregation Ohel Jacob, established in 1926. In North Buffalo, Anshe Zedek, later named Ner Israel, eventually merged with Beth David which had also resettled in the northern part of the city. Temple Emanu-El, Conservative, was founded in the mid-1920s. In 1967, Emanu-El and Beth David joined as Shaarey Zedek. Then many of the former East Side congregations were now situated in the North Park area. As industries expanded in western New York, bringing general prosperity, Jews moved to Kenmore, the town of Tonawanda, Snyder, and other suburban settlements. Beth Zion (Reform), Beth Am (Reform), Sinai (Reconstructionist), Beth El (Conservative), Havurah (Reform), B'nai Shalom (Traditional), Amherst Synagogue (Orthodox), Kehillat Ohr Zion (Orthodox), Shaarey Zedek (Conservative), and Young Israel (Orthodox) are among the congregations in the suburbs.
While Beth Zion decided to rebuild its main sanctuary in the central city after it was destroyed by fire in 1961, the congregation also has a suburban branch. The population shift has continued from North Buffalo to the suburbs. In 2004 the Jewish population was higher in the suburbs than in the city.
S. Adler and T.E. Connolly, From Ararat to Suburbia: History of the Jewish Community of Buffalo (1960); Falk, in: Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, 1 (1879), 289–304; Plesur, in: Niagara Frontier (Summer, 1956), 29–36.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.