NORWALK AND WESTPORT


NORWALK AND WESTPORT, U.S. towns in southeast Connecticut on Long Island Sound, which are joined together with Wilton in a federation. The Jewish population of the communities in 2005 is an estimated 11,500. As early as 1760 there was a small Jewish community in Norwalk. Michael Judah is mentioned in the Connecticut historical annals of that period, and David Judah was a soldier in the Connecticut Line in 1776. In 1776 Norwalk received an influx of Jews from New York, mainly from Congregation Shearith Israel, who were fleeing the British. In 1777 Jews were among the signatories to a petition asking for a patrol vessel for the Norwalk shore. The early community came to an end when Norwalk was burned down by the British in 1779. It was rebuilt in the 1870s by Eastern European immigrants, who were merchants and storekeepers. After 1925 more Jewish families from New York moved to Norwalk, and after World War II many more Jewish families moved to Norwalk in the general move to suburbia and in response to the development of Norwalk as an electronics and engineering center.

Beth Israel Congregation, Orthodox, founded in 1906, was the first synagogue in Norwalk and remained the only one until 1934, when Temple Beth El, Conservative, was organized. The Reform Temple Shalom was formed in 1957. Shortly after World War I, a Young Men's Hebrew Association was founded; it later became the Jewish Community Center. Norwalk has a communal Hebrew school. The United Jewish Appeal drives are sponsored by the Jewish Community Council, formed shortly after World War II to coordinate the efforts of local organizations and fund-raising campaigns.

Participation in community life is extensive. About two-thirds of the Jewish families of Norwalk are affiliated with at least one synagogue; almost 40 percent of the Jewish families belong to the Norwalk Jewish Center; and two-thirds of the adult Jews of Norwalk contribute to the Federated United Appeal Drive. Small Jewish populations in Wilton, Weston, Darien, and Georgetown also participate in Westport and Norwalk's Jewish communal life.

Prominent members of the Jewish community have included Harry Becker, who was superintendent of schools 1952–70; Malcolm Tarlov, the 1967 national president of the Jewish War Veterans; Charles Salesky, who was president of the Hat Corporation of America; and Jack Rudolph, state senator in 1970. Several chairmen of the Board of Education have been Jewish as well. As in most of the United States, most barriers have fallen. There is little discrimination. Employment appears free of anti-Jewish discrimination, but there is still a sense of distinction, though not outright discrimination, in upper-class social clubs.

There are ten synagogues within these towns, which often are joined for Jewish communal activities. Beth Israel Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk, Adat Torah Conservative Congregation, and Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk use both towns in their name. Chabad has come to Westport and runs the only Jewish day camp in the towns. There is also a Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Westport, in which God is not part of the service. Westport itself has a Conservative Synagogue, which is called The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, and a Reform synagogue, Temple Israel, while neighboring Georgetown is the home of Temple B'nai Chaim. There is also a conservative congregation in Wilton, Adat Torah.

The Federation provides all the usual services of a local federation including Family Services and a Home for the Elderly. In addition, it sponsors Kesher, a program for Jewish developmentally challenged adults, which meets to celebrate Jewish holidays with discussion, music and refreshments and Positive Directions (formerly Alcohol and Drug Council), which works with the local Jewish Family Service to offer a 12-step program for Jews in recovery. It belies the myth that Jews don't have these problems.

Many of the Jews are professionals. Some work locally and many commute to neighboring New York City as part of the seamless suburbs of New York in which the Jewish community stretches from the City through Fairfield County and beyond.

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


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