OMAHA


OMAHA, city in the state of Nebraska, whose total population is 390,000 and Jewish population approximately 6,500. A few Jews went to Omaha, along with Christian pioneers, when the city was first settled in the mid-1850s. The first two Jews to become permanent residents were Aaron Cahn and his brother-in-law Meyer Hellman, who opened a clothing store and eventually became well-known merchants and citizens. Another early arrival, and perhaps the most prominent early Omaha Jew, was Edward Rosewater, founder and editor of the newspaper the Omaha Bee. Another pioneer was Julius Meyer who arrived in 1866 and became friendly with the Ponca Indian chief Standing Bear; he learned to speak six Indian dialects and was adopted by the tribe. The Meyer family was interested in music and was instrumental in establishing the first opera house (1885). The Jewish population of Omaha remained small until after the Civil War. The year 1882 marked the arrival of the first contingent of Jewish refugees from Russia, and from that time until World War I the population increased markedly. Omaha Jews have been particularly active in the retail field.

Jonas L. Brandeis, who came to Omaha in 1881, founded the state's largest department store, and a number of other large retail establishments were founded by Jews. Omaha has had two Jewish mayors, Harry Zimman, who served temporary terms in 1904 and 1906, and John Rosenblatt, mayor from 1954 to 1961. Also active politically was Harry Trustin, who served many terms on the city council and was one of the drafters of the present city charter. Jews as a group have been politically influential since the 1890s.

The earliest recorded Jewish services were held in 1867; the Congregation of Israel was formally organized in 1871. Traditional services were held in the 1880s and a Conservative congregation was begun in 1929. Omaha has four congregations, one Orthodox, one Chabad, one Conservative, and one Reconstructionist. The Associated Jewish Charities was established in 1903 and the Jewish community was federated in 1914. Aleph Zadek Aleph, international junior B'nai B'rith lodge, originated in Omaha in 1924; Henry *Monsky, an Omaha citizen and civic leader, served as national president of B'nai B'rith. Edward Zorinsky was the popular Republican mayor of Omaha before being elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate. Omaha Jewry, generally influential in the community as a whole, has been characterized by a large degree of cohesion and cooperation since shortly after the turn of the century, when Orthodox and Reform Jews joined together to work for their common welfare. Rabbi Myer Kripke, the long-time rabbi of Congregation Beth El, maintains a modest lifestyle. Rabbi Kripke, who drove a three-year-old Chevrolet and lived in a $900 a month apartment, shocked his *Jewish Theological Seminary colleagues – who knew the size of his congregation and had a rough idea of his salary – when his contributions made the Slate 60, the 60 largest contributions of 1997, the year that he gave $7 million toward the reconstruction of the Seminary tower and $1 million to the *Reconstructionist Rabbinical College to fund scholarships. Myer and Dorothy Kripke met while both were students at the seminary in the 1930s. They married and moved to Omaha in 1946. The Kripkes became friendly with investor Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha and one of the most widely admired investors in the United States. Dorothy Kripke, a writer of children's books, urged her husband to invest with Buffett. Myer Kripke finally agreed in 1966, despite his concern that he had so little money to invest that he would look silly. Over the years, Myer Kripke continued as rabbi and Dorothy to write books and raise their three children. When Buffett closed his limited partnership in 1969, "suddenly we found ourselves wealthy people," the couple told the Omaha World Herald. Among the other charities they funded was the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University. Rabbi Kripke's son is the preeminent Princeton philosopher Saul *Kripke.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

N. Bernstein, in: Reform Advocate, 35 (May 2, 1908), 10–52.

[Carol Gendler /

Renee Corcoran and

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


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