LANCASTER


LANCASTER, U.S. city in S.E. Pennsylvania; general population 55,182 (2004); estimated Jewish population, 3,000 (mid-1990s). Lancaster is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the U.S. and was the main city of German settlement from colonial times ("Pennsylvania Dutch"). The first known Jew to come to Lancaster was Isaac Miranda (c. 1730). By 1735 a few Jewish traders were known to be in Lancaster, including Joseph *Simon, a trader and landholder who was known throughout Pennsylvania. Lancaster was then the gateway to the West and a place of trade with the Native Americans. A Jewish cemetery was established in 1747, making it the fourth oldest Jewish cemetery in the United States, when a plot of land was deeded to Joseph Simon and Isaac Nunes Henriques for that purpose. Many early Jewish settlers of Lancaster were buried there and the cemetery is still maintained by Congregation Shaarai Shomayim. When Lancaster ceased to be a frontier town, several Jewish families migrated to the Port City of Baltimore. Lancaster's first congregation was gathered in the home of Joseph Simon. (A portion of the ark used there is preserved at the American Jewish Historical Society.) From 1740 to the mid-19th century the Jewish community remained small, consisting of about 10 or 15 families. New families began arriving from 1850 and Congregation Shaarai Shomayim (Reform) was founded in 1856. Its first synagogue was built in 1867 and another one in 1896. The influx of immigrants continued, and in 1895 Congregation Degel Israel (Orthodox) was chartered. By 1904 there were 50 families of German-Jewish extraction and 150 of Russian-Jewish extraction in Lancaster, the latter group having arrived after 1884. Among the Jewish organizations established in the town were the Harmonie Club (1875); Ladies Aid Society (1876); Temple Sisterhood (1894); Council of Jewish Women (1919); Organized Jewish Charities (1927); United Jewish Community Council (1928); Temple Brotherhood (1929); and Hadassah (1936). Congregation Degel Israel maintains a talmud torah and a cemetery. In more recent years, a Conservative congregation, Temple Beth-El, was established and several new organizations were established that have helped contribute to Jewish life in Lancaster. The Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley was created in 1972 to help with missions such as resettlement, counseling, and emergency assistance in the wider Lancaster County. Franklin and Marshal College, with a student body of 1,850 students, contains a Hillel house that provides Jewish services and life to the 220 students enrolled, and a local Jewish community center offers several classes, summer programs, and religious education to the community as well.

[Benjamin Paul (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.