DAYTON, city in S.W. Ohio. Dayton's Jewish population in the mid-1990s was estimated to be 5,500 and by 2005 some 5,000 in a total population of around 160,000, down from around 7,500 in 1970. Like many smaller cities in Ohio, Dayton has been losing its Jewish population as manufacturing and other job opportunities open up in the South and the West, elderly Jews leave for warmer climates, and young natives who go off to college do not return home.
The first Jews to settle in Dayton came from Germany in the 1840s. They founded the first synagogue, Bnai Jeshuran, in 1850. The synagogue joined in the formation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873 and adopted the Reform ritual. The first B'nai B'rith chapter was established in 1864. Traditional Judaism began in the 1890s with the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They established two synagogues, Beit Abraham and Beit Jacob, based upon the traditions of their native Lithuania and Romania. They also established a Hebrew school and Zionist societies. Gradually many other benefit societies, women's organizations, and landsmanschaften developed. The first Federation of Jewish Charities was formed in 1910. In 1944 the various social welfare agencies of the Jewish community were coordinated into the Jewish Community Council, which became the local agency of the United Jewish Appeal and the central organization for the Jewish Home for the Aged, the Jewish Community Center, the Community Relations Council, and the Dayton Community Hebrew School. The marked differences between German and Eastern European Jews gradually faded and all segments of the community worked together, especially on behalf of Israel and overseas Jewry.
Members of the Dayton Jewish community have made important contributions to the cultural life of the general community. Paul Katz was the longtime director of the Dayton Philharmonic; Sidney Kusworm served as a member of President Truman's Civil Rights Commission, and as a national officer of B'nai B'rith; Robert Nathan served as an adviser to four American presidents; Miriam Rosenthal served as a planner for the University of Dayton. Temple Israel, which was an outgrowth of Bnai Jeshuran Synagogue, was at one time an outpost of classical Reform but in recent years it has moved toward Jewish tradition. A second Reform synagogue, Congregation Beth Or, was established in 1984 in Washington Township. Beth Abraham has affiliated with the Conservative movement. There were two Orthodox synagogues, Beth Jacob and a Young Israel Synagogue, which closed in the early 21st century; the latter had been attended mainly by scientists and professionals who had settled in the community. Chabad also serviced the community and there were several ḥavurot. There were several synagogues in nearby communities. In 1961 the Hillel Academy, a widely recognized progressive Jewish day school combining religious and secular studies, was established at the Conservative synagogue.
Among the community's amenities is the Jewish Community Complex. The Complex serves as the central location
for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton and its departments: Covenant House resident care facility, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Dayton Jewish Community Center, the Dayton Jewish Education Commission, the Dayton Jewish Observer, Jewish Family Services, United Jewish Campaign, Women's Division, and the Dayton Jewish Federation Foundation.
In 1992, the Federation opened the JCC on Far Hills Ave. In the fall of 2002, the Federation expanded its services, with the opening of the Center for Jewish Culture and Education in Centerville to meet the needs of the South Jewish community.
Through the efforts of the community's leaders, recent years have been marked by a renewed spirit of unity among Dayton's Jewish congregations. Collaborative holiday celebrations, shared education programs, Hillel Academy Jewish day school, B'Yachad supplementary high school for Jewish studies, and the new Melton Adult Mini School are part of its educational matrix.